Let the debate begin: Ranking NASCAR's top 10 races
As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Irwin Tools Night Race, we count down NASCAR's top 10 biggest races. Spoiler alert: Bristol didn't make the list.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesSarah Glenn
10. Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte
Sure, there are no points involved, but that's part of what makes the Sprint All-Star Race held under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway so special. With literally nothing to lose and a $1 million winner’s purse to gain, drivers will stop at almost nothing to get to Victory Lane.
Getty ImagesJared C. Tilton
9. Challenger Round finale at Dover
The third and final race of the opening Chase round – formally known as the Challenger Round – is held at Dover International Speedway. It’s here that the championship field is whittled down from 16 to 12 drivers. If a driver stumbles badly in the first two Chase races, The Monster Mile represents his last chance to make something happen and continue in pursuit of a title.
Getty ImagesMatt Sullivan
8. Regular-season finale at Richmond
To race for a championship, one must first earn a berth in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup – NASCAR’s version of a playoff. The 26th and final race of the regular season, held each year at Richmond International Raceway, is huge for the simple fact that it’s the last chance for a driver – or multiple drivers – to secure a place among the 16 Chase contestants.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesChris Graythen
7. Contender Round finale at Talladega
Could NASCAR have picked a better venue to host the final race of the Chase Contender Round than Talladega Superspeedway, a place known for surprise winners and notorious for major, multi-car wrecks. As if this race wasn’t already intense enough, it’s now here that the Chase field is trimmed from 12 drivers to eight. One year ago, three heavyweights – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski – arrived at Talladega needing to win this race to advance. Keselowski did, while the Hendrick boys saw their championship hopes end in bitter disappointment.
Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
6. Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix
As pressure-packed races go, they don’t get much bigger than the season’s penultimate race -- held at Phoenix International Raceway. It’s here, in the Arizona desert, that the group of title contenders shrinks from eight to four. The four drivers left standing are the ones who then decide the championship in the next weekend’s season finale. Last year, a win at Phoenix propelled Kevin Harvick into the Championship 4 -- and he ultimately won the title the following weekend.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
5. Southern 500 at Darlington
There is no track richer in history than fabled Darlington Raceway, a notoriously challenging 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval in the heart NASCAR country in South Carolina. In a nod to tradition, Darlington will host its famed Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend this year for the first time since 2004.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesChris Trotman
4. Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – in the backyard of the vast majority of Sprint Cup Series teams – is the longest race on the Sprint Cup Series schedule by 100 miles, making it arguably the ultimate test of drivers’ stamina and endurance. Held on Memorial Day weekend, the 600 is well-known for its flamboyant and well-orchestrated pre-race salutes to the armed forces.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesJeff Zelevansky
3. Championship Race at Homestead
The final race of the season, held at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida, is big if for no other reason than the fact that it’s where the season champion is crowned. But Homestead moved up to another level in the pecking order of races when it was announced before the 2014 season that the 1.5-mile track would host a winner-take-all finale. Unlike in the past when just one or two drivers might be mathematically eligible for the title entering the final race, four drivers arrived at Homestead tied in points and with a shot at the championship. The highest finisher among the Championship 4 is the champion. It doesn’t get more straightforward than that.
Getty ImagesRobert Laberge
2. Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis
Since the hallowed ground that is Indianapolis Motor Speedway joined the Sprint Cup Series schedule in 1994, the Brickyard 400 has been the clear No. 2 race in the pecking order of NASCAR’s most prestigious events. Home to the world-famous Indianapolis 500, the 2.5-mile track will always be most well-known for its annual open-wheel race on Memorial Day weekend, but the Brickyard 400 carved out a unique place in Indy lore from the very beginning and continues to be one of NASCAR’s premier crown jewels.
Getty ImagesRainier Ehrhardt
1. Daytona 500
This one is a given, right? For too many reasons to fit in this confined space, a victory in the Daytona 500 held each February at The World Center of Racing in Daytona Beach, Florida has always been and remains NASCAR’s ultimate prize – and that will never, ever change.