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Greatest NASCAR moments: Nos. 30-21

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Jorge Andres Mondaca

Jorge Andres Mondaca is the senior NASCAR editor for FOXSports.com.

 
   
 
As we approach the running of the 50th Daytona 500 on February 17, and the start of NASCAR's 60th anniversary season, the NASCAR on FOX crew wanted to take a step back and relive some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport. With the help of Best Damn Sports Show Period, we have compiled the 50 greatest moments in NASCAR history. Also, make sure to check out the first two installments in the series which details moments 50-41 and moments 40-31.

What was he thinking?

Moment Number 30: Sterling Marlin fixes bumper at Daytona
Date: February 17, 2002
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: To call the conclusion to the 2002 Daytona 500 odd is an understatement.

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Sure, when you look at the list of lap leaders, it reads more like a who's who of NASCAR: Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Michael Waltrip, Kurt Busch, Sterling Marlin ... But then it hits you, the driver who led the final five laps of the Great American Race in 2002 is named Ward Burton. Huh? While Burton, who at the time was driving the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge for Bill Davis Racing, is an accomplished driver who has four additional Sprint Cup Series victories and two top-10 season finishes in 13 years of Cup racing, he was rarely a threat for victory at the two superspeedway tracks on the schedule — Daytona and Talladega. So how did he win? The chain of events that led to the surprise result began with six circuits remaining in the 200-lap classic when the race restarted and Jeff Gordon showed the way. However, second-place Sterling Marlin, who was in search of his third Daytona 500 crown, had different plans and tried to get past Gordon going into Turn 1 but instead hit the leader, who took a ride through the grass and fell to the rear of the pack. There was mayhem behind the group as well though, as several cars crashed heading to the green flag, so NASCAR decided to red flag the race so they could clean up the mess and have a green-flag finish. Marlin held off a charge from Burton and was in the lead going into the red flag, a position which likely would have allowed him to stroll to Victory Lane once the race restarted due to his past restrictor plate experiences. But in one of the most unique moments in the history of this event, Marling jumped out of his car during the red flag period and tried to fix his front bumper. NASCAR officials quickly approached Marlin to order him back inside and penalize him to the rear of the field. "I saw Dale (Earnhardt) do it at Richmond once and NASCAR let him get away with it, but I guess the rules have changed in the meantime," said Marlin in defense of his decision. With the two strongest cars at the rear, Burton took over the lead and paced the final five laps to win the 2002 Daytona 500 ahead of Elliott Sadler and Geoff Bodine. Krista Voda, NASCAR on FOX pit reporter: Sterling Marlin's not-so silver lining! Did he really just climb out and try to fix his car ... during a red-flag?! I loved it!

Bump and run

Moment Number 29: Kurt Busch wins Bristol
Date: March 26, 2006
Location: Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol, TN. What happened: No track on the Sprint Cup Series circuit elicits as many strong emotions as Bristol Motor Speedway, and the 2006 Food City 500 was no exception. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, was not content to finish second behind former Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, so in true short-track style he bumped Kenseth out of the way coming off Turn 2 with five laps remaining. "If I was still a teammate of his, maybe I would have let him live," said Busch, who won his first race for Penske Racing that day. "But I was hungry." The fireworks were hardly complete, though. Although he stayed off the wall, Kenseth lost positions to Busch and Kevin Harvick as a result of the spin, and would lose a position to Jeff Gordon coming off Turn 4 with two laps remaining. Whether inadvertent or not, the driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford pulled off a similar bump-and-run move on Gordon to recapture third. Frustration was evident immediately after the race, as the usually calm and suave Gordon went to Kenseth and shoved him on national television. "I'm sure he didn't mean to do it and all that stuff, but I wasn't happy about it," Gordon said. "I like racing with Matt and that stuff rarely happens with him. But I'm going to give it back what he gives to me." Controversy aside, the day belonged to Busch, who recorded his firth career Bristol victory, putting him in a tie with Jeff Gordon for most among active drivers.

Staying in control

Moment Number 28: Terry Labonte wins backwards
Date: August 26, 1995
Location: Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol, TN. What happened: There's a reason why Dale Earnhardt won seven Cup championships in his career: He would do whatever it takes to get past the competition — even if it means making up a seemingly insurmountable 2.5-second gap with less than 15 laps remaining to fight for the lead. But on this night, even that wasn't enough to overcome Terry Labonte. With the help of a few lapped cars that slowed down the leader, Earnhardt made up well over a straightaway on Labonte over the final 15 laps, reaching his rear-bumper just as the duo was reaching Turn 4. And at least for a brief second, it looked like a fairy-tale finish would be coming for The Man in Black. However, Labonte was not to be denied. Coming off the final turn, Earnhardt hit Labonte's left rear making The Iceman lose control of his vehicle. Nonetheless, he slid sideways past the checkered flag to take the victory in the event. Taking advantage of lapped cars that slowed Labonte down, "I just stood on the gas and we beat him across the line," said Labonte in Victory Lane.

If at first you don't succeed ...

Moment Number 27: Dale Earnhardt wins by spinning out Terry Labonte
Date: August 28, 1999
Location: Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol, TN. What happened: If nothing else, Dale Earnhardt learned a lesson from his 1995 loss to Terry Labonte at Bristol Motor Speedway. He still spun Labonte out of the way, except this time he didn't give him the opportunity to make it anywhere near Victory Lane — but it wasn't for a lack of trying on Labonte's part. Due to a late race caution in the 1999 Goody's Headache Powder 500, teams were stuck answering the eternal dilemma: To pit or not to pit. Earnhardt's team said no, Labonte chose yes, and as a result The Man in Black restarted from first while "Texas Terry" dropped to fifth. Although it was only five laps until the end of the race, Labonte chose the right strategy as he breezed by Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and finally Earnhardt to take the lead just before the white flag. But as the two drivers went exited Turn 2, Earnhardt caught Labonte's bumper and spun him out on the final lap — allowing him to drive unchallenged to the checkered flag. "I didn't really mean to turn him around," said Earnhardt in Victory Lane. "I meant to rattle his cage though." Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: I really expected that Dale's popularity would take a huge hit after this one. But his legion of fans condoned just about anything he did. When Dale stepped over the line of acceptable on-track behavior, the line often moved with him. This was one of those times.

Survival mode

Moment Number 26: Late crash gives Kyle Petty first win
Date: February 23, 1986
Location: Richmond International Raceway. Richmond, VA. What happened: How do you go from fifth to first in a blink of an eye? Ask Kyle Petty, he's one of the few race car drivers in the world that would know the sensation. Late in the running of the 1986 Miller High Life 400, it was looking more and more like the victory would be decided between two of the major-players of the period: Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip. But with four laps remaining in the event, the two crashed as Waltrip, who was trying to make the pass in Turn 3, made contact with the rear of Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet.
Joe Ruttman and Geoff Bodine, the third and fourth place drivers respectively, also got collected in the incident. As a result, Petty — who was a little over a straightaway behind the four cars — ended up taking his first ever trip to Victory Lane in the Cup Series.

Starting over

Moment Number 25: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. signs with Hendrick Motorsports
Date: June 13, 2007
Location: JR Motorsports. Mooresville, N.C. What happened: There were a lot of storylines in 2007, including the introduction of NASCAR's first new car — the Car of Tomorrow — since the 1980 season. But nothing, absolutely nothing, captured the attention of race fans all season as the story of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that season. Things really started to escalate in December of 2006 when Teresa Earnhardt, Dale Jr.'s stepmother and owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc., told The Wall Street Journal that "Right now the ball's in his court to decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality." Perturbed by that comment, Junior responded with a threat in early February that unless he got 51% ownership of the organization, he would be leaving the organization his father built with him and his siblings in mind once his contact was over at the end of 2007. Sure enough, Earnhardt was true to his word and in the spring the two sides announced he would be leaving DEI at the end of the year. A frenzy took place shortly thereafter, as fans, pundits and most everybody in the garage asked themselves one question: "Where will he go?" That riddle was solved June 13, 2007, as a deal was proclaimed between himself and Rick Hendrick, creating a form of dream team as Junior would join two-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears beginning on January 1st 2008. "We talked with many teams, but one stood out above the rest," said Earnhardt on that day. "It became apparent to me the man that I wanted to drive for. I've known him since childhood. He competes with integrity, and more importantly he wins races."

Brave new world

Moment Number 24: Jeff Gordon wins inaugural Brickyard 400
Date: August 6, 1994
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indianapolis, IN.
Let your voice be heard
What happened: Ask any young racer who has spent time living in the state of Indiana where they would like to win more than anywhere else, and almost all of them will point to the big 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jeff Gordon, who spent most of his teenage years in Pittsboro, Ind., would agree. Raised to be an open-wheel driver, Gordon turned out to be one of the most successful stock car drivers in history, meaning that before 1994 winning at Indianapolis was out of the question because only open-wheel cars ran there. But then in 1994, a deal was brokered so that NASCAR would begin racing there — giving Gordon the opportunity of a lifetime. In front of a crowd of over 250,000 spectators, the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet led a race high 93-of-160 laps en route capturing the first Brickyard 400 stock car race. "Without tears coming up, I tell you, this is the greatest thing in the world," said Gordon, who held off Brett Bodine by 0.53 seconds at the finish line. "It's far past our expectations. I never thought it would happen. I'm a kid in a candy store. I don't know what to say. Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: Unless you're from Indiana, there's no way to properly appreciate how much winning at Indy means to a driver who spent many of his formative years in the Hoosier state. It was one of those things that was just meant to be.

The start of something big

Moment Number 23: First Daytona Beach race
Date: March 18, 1936
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: Using the combination of A1A and the sands of the beach, Daytona Beach, Fla., would host its first stock car race in history on March 18, 1936. Little did anybody know at the time that this brainchild of Sig Haugdahl, a local racer, would be the start of something much bigger. While historians will tell you the winner on that day was Northeaster dirt track racer Milt Marion, the person who benefited the most on that day was fifth place runner Bill France. It is said that France saw the enthusiasm from fans on that day, which drove him to create NASCAR shortly thereafter, and Daytona International Speedway — which was opened in 1959.

You must defend this house

Moment Number 22: Jimmie Johnson beats Bobby Labonte
Date: May 29, 2005
Location: Lowe's Motor Speedway. Concord, N.C. What happened: Lowe's Motor Speedway has quickly earned the reputation as "Jimmie Johnson's house." Not only is the 1.5-mile venue located near the Hendrick Motorsports shop, but it is also sponsored by Johnson's longtime sponsor Lowe's. And oh yeah, he's also tied for most victories among active drivers at the Speedway too. But to date, none of his five victories were as thrilling as his battle with Bobby Labonte in the 2005 Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend thriller. The fact that any car survived that 600-mile race was a bit of a minor-miracle in itself, as a record 22 caution flags were displayed as the track's new surface did not work too well with the tire combination used, making for multiple blown tires. Several drivers were able to keep themselves out of trouble, including Bobby Labonte who appeared ready to snap a 47-race winless streak as he took the white flag and looked to be on the verge of victory. But as he exited Turn 4 on the final lap, Jimmie Johnson was able to get to his outside and take the checkered flag by a margin of 0.027-seconds. "Today, regardless of the record book, regardless of what was going on, we just wanted to have a solid race. We did that, and went into the record books at the same time," said Johnson, who captured his third consecutive Coca-Cola 600 triumph and his third of four consecutive victories at the speedway.

Stepping up

Moment Number 21: FOX/NBC/TNT Television deal
Date: 2001 What happened: In one of the greatest deals in the history of NASCAR, a agreement was reached where three major networks, FOX, NBC and TNT, would combine to broadcast the entire NASCAR schedule for six seasons, beginning in 2001. This was the first time in the history of NASCAR that a television deal was made by the governing body itself, and not the individual tracks, giving the race fans a known place to tune in every week and not scramble around the television looking for the race. Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: For the first time ever, NASCAR was on TV every week, AND the following telecast was promoted every week. Each race wasn't just a single, stand alone sporting event, now it was part of a weekly TV series, much like the NFL. The big winners: the tracks, the teams and drivers, NASCAR, and the fans. Don't forget to tune in this Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m. ET for the running of the 50th Daytona 500 on FOX.

Moments 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Kyle Petty, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Sterling Marlin, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip

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