Totally NASCAR's top five crashes

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Ryan McGee

Any and every NASCAR fan likely spends race days poised perilously on the front edge of their couch, totally stressed out in nervous anticipation of a crash.

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Automatically you can think back to every "Big One" in the history of restrictor plate racing — Ricky Craven's 1996 airborne attempt to leave Talladega comes to mind. But we were thinking more about those basically solo crashes where you thought, "There's no way that guy is alive"... but he was.

But while we here at Totally NASCAR pace the floor in terror right along with you, we also dare to ask the question — what were the top five most frightening crashes in NASCAR history? Those cataclysms where you thought, "There's no way that guy is alive"... but he was.

So here, in ascending order, is our top five "Holy Crap Did You See That Wreck?" NASCAR moments:

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Dale Jr.'s fiery crash in July

Wildest wrecks of 2004

Talladega wrecks

5. Richard Petty at Darlington, 1970.
The legendary 43 Plymouth grazed the wall coming off of Turn 4 — now Turn 2 — and shot across the track to hit the knee-high frontstretch pit wall. The car flipped four times, and old film actually shows an unconscious King Richard being flung in and out of the window, all the way up to his waist. Legendary motorsports writer Tom Higgins was strolling out of the media center when a chunk of concrete whizzed past his ear. Somehow The King came out of his barrel roll without a scratch. But NASCAR had seen enough of arms and heads poking their way out of car windows, pointing to Petty's wreck as a reason to finally mandate window netting for all drivers.

4. Bobby Allison at Talladega, 1987.
A blown tire at 200 miles per hour sent Allison into the air and into the frontstretch catchfence nose-first. Allison suffered leg injuries but was amazingly back in the car later that year. The real miracle was that the car didn't fly into the stands, although flying debris injured a handful of race fans.

Again, learning from near-tragedy, NASCAR used Allison's wreck as its basis for introducing the controversial horsepower-clogging restrictor plate, which is still in use today at Talladega and Daytona.

2 & 3. Michael Waltrip and Mike Harmon at Bristol, 1990 and 2002.
The fact that these two Busch Series wrecks are nearly identical is more frightening than it is amazing. Both hit the same space in the Turn 2 wall where a crossover gate opens and closes, leaving a gap in the concrete wall for the steel door. Both drivers managed to rip their cars completely in half. And amazingly, both drivers stood up and walked away, shaken but not hurt.

Harmon's wreck gets the edge on this list because of Johnny Sauter's near miss as Harmon sat helplessly exposed on the track. "I knew Sauter came close to me," Harmon said one week later, "But I didn't realize he came within inches until I saw the replay."

  • GALLERY: Click here for more photos of Harmon's wreck.
  • 1. Geoffrey Bodine, Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona, 2000.
    The beginning looked like Allison's Talladega wreck as Bodine went airborne into the frontstretch fence with a violent helicopter motion. The middle portion looked like Petty's wreck at Darlington as Bodine tumbled down the track, and you could actually see his arms as they flailed about. The end resembled the two Bristol wrecks as the chassis, totally barren of sheet metal, sat smoking in the infield grass.

    Like them all, fans were left jaw-dropped, certain that the worst had happened to the driver inside. But once again, it hadn't.

    "I used to always say that I held the record for the worst-looking wreck ever," Waltrip said two years ago after eye-witnessing Harmon's crash. "Then I had to admit that Bodine's was probably even worse. Mike may have topped both of us. The good news is that we are all here to talk about and laugh about it."


    Ryan McGee is the managing editor of Totally NASCAR, and NASCAR This Morning on Fox Sports Net. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.

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