Surprise winners gloried in upsets
May 10, 2011 at 1:00a ET
Just 10 races into the 2011 season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has already produced two of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history.
But where do they rank among the greatest upsets in NASCAR history? Here’s a look:
10. Jamie McMurray, 2002 UAW-GM Quality 500, Charlotte Motor Speedway
Team owner Chip Ganassi shocked everyone when he signed little-known Nationwide driver Jamie McMurray to drive for his Cup team, and he ended up replacing the injured Sterling Marlin with just six races remaining in the 2002 season.
Marlin had won two races and was leading the points standings when he crashed and suffered a neck injury that ultimately sidelined him for the rest of the season.
McMurray didn’t disappoint, shocking everyone by winning at Charlotte in just his second Sprint Cup race.
McMurray had not even won a Nationwide race — he finished 16th in points in his first season — until he signed with Ganassi, but won two of the final four Nationwide races that year.
McMurray joined Ganassi full time in 2003 but didn’t win another Cup race until 2007, a year after moving to Roush Fenway Racing.
He now has six Cup victories, including three last year in his second stint with Ganassi.
9. Brad Keselowski, 2009 Aaron’s 499, Talladega Superspeedway
Brad Keselowski was already a rising star when he climbed behind the wheel of James Finch’s Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in 2009.
Driving only a part-time Cup schedule for Finch and Hendrick Motorsports, Keselowski beat Carl Edwards in a thrilling and controversial finish in just his fifth career start.
Keselowski charged past Edwards on the final lap and then held his line as Edwards tried to get back around him, making contact with Edwards’ car and sending it flipping and flying into the catch fence.
Keselowski took the checkered flag over Dale Earnhardt Jr. while Edwards climbed from his mangled car and jogged across the finish line.
Keselowski had won two Nationwide races for JR Motorsports in 2008 and won 10 races and the series championship in 2009-10, but will perhaps always be remembered for the controversial crash and his upset victory with a part-time Cup team.
The win was the first for Phoenix Racing and is so far the only win of Keselowski’s Cup career.
8. Brett Bodine, 1990 First Union 400, North Wilkesboro Speedway
Brett Bodine had just one win in his 18-year career, but some argue that even it shouldn’t count.
Bodine’s 1990 win at North Wilkesboro was clouded by controversy because of a scoring snafu by NASCAR. Bodine was scored the leader after a caution flag came out in the middle of a series of green-flag pit stops. NASCAR officials, who needed 18 laps of caution to sort out the mess, at first declared Earnhardt the leader and then changed that ruling and put Bodine out front.
Bodine led 146 laps and held off Darrell Waltrip and Earnhardt for the win, but Waltrip still insists that he actually won the race.
“If we truly lucked into it, it would be different,” Bodine said. “But we deserved to win because of our on-track performance.”
Bodine, who is now NASCAR’s pace-car driver, never won again and had just 16 top-five finishes in 480 career starts.
7. Ron Bouchard, 1981 Talladega 500
Bouchard took the NASCAR world by storm in 1981, winning rookie of the year despite running just 22 of the 31 races.
The highlight was his stunning victory over Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte. Waltrip and Labonte were racing side by side for the win when Bouchard swooped beneath them and won the race in a photo finish, prompting Waltrip to ask, “Where the hell did he come from?”
Though surprising, the win was no fluke. Bouchard had five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes that year, including top fives at Bristol, Dover, Charlotte and North Wilkesboro for team owner Jack Beebe.
A year later, Bouchard had 15 top 10s and finished eighth in the points standings.
He raced just three more full seasons, however, gradually fading from the circuit with one career victory.
6. Derrike Cope, 1990 Daytona 500
Cope will go down as one of the biggest underachievers in NASCAR history, scoring just six top-five finishes in 409 career starts.
But he also pulled off one of the biggest upsets, winning the 1990 Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt ran over a piece of debris and cut a tire while leading in the third turn of the final lap.
While the shocking victory might have seemed like a fluke, it was not. Cope won again at Dover later that year with Whitcomb Racing.
Those were his only career victories, however, and he had just three more top fives the rest of his 25-year career and finished in the top 20 in points just twice.
5. Greg Sacks, 1985 Pepsi Firecracker 500, Daytona International Speedway
Sacks had just one career top-10 finish and was not racing full time when DiGard Racing asked him to drive a research-and-development car at Daytona in July. The team was not supposed to run the entire race, but Sacks ran so well that owner Bill Gardner let him finish the race.
Sacks, whose team was led by crew chief Gary Nelson, who would later become NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Director, held off Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip for the win.
Sacks never won another Cup race, had just two more top-five finishes and ran the full Cup schedule just once.
4. Lake Speed, 1988 TranSouth 500, Darlington Raceway
Lake Speed thoroughly dominated the March 1988 race, leading 178 laps and lapping everyone but Alan Kulwicki. He beat such big names as Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin.
So why was it such a surprise?
It was his first career win — and his last. Speed had just seven more top-five finishes in a 19-year career that included 402 starts.
His lone victory was a big surprise — and it wasn’t. Speed, driving for his own team, had a major advantage running Hoosier Tires during a tire war that plagued the 1988 season.
Hoosier had such an advantage over Goodyear at Darlington that Dale Earnhardt remarked in the prerace drivers meeting, “OK, Speed, how long will it take you to lap me in this one?”
"Sure enough, I waved as I went by him,” Speed recalled.
3. Regan Smith, 2011 Showtime Southern 500, Darlington Raceway
Smith had won a Sprint Cup race before — sort of. He beat Tony Stewart to the finish line at Talladega Superspeedway in 2008, but was stripped of the victory when NASCAR officials ruled he passed Stewart below the yellow out-of-bounds line.
Smith was driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the time, but lost his ride after the season when DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Without a ride and with an uncertain future, Smith drove 18 races the following season for Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing, a single-car, part-time team based in Denver, Colo.
Smith ran the full schedule for Furniture Row in 2010, but finished 28th in points with a best finish of 12th (twice).
Little was expected from the single-car team again this year, but Smith had a strong run and surprising seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 and then stunned the NASCAR world by winning the Southern 500. It was not only his first official win, but his first career top-five finish and just his second top-10 in 137 races.
Despite getting resources from Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, Furniture Row is only the third single-car team to win in the past eight years.
2. Jody Ridley, 1981 Mason-Dixon 500, Dover International Speedway
Not only had Ridley never won a NASCAR Cup race, he was five laps behind leader Cale Yarborough that day with 20 laps remaining.
But Ridley inherited the lead — and the improbable win — when Neil Bonnett and Yarborough both blew engines in the final 41 laps of the race.
Ridley, driving for longtime car owner Junie Donlavey, won the race by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison.
It was not without controversy, however. There were major scoring snafus throughout the race — NASCAR did not have electronic timing and scoring then — and Allison insisted he won the race.
Still, the victory stood, and it was the first and only win for Ridley, who had just seven top-five finishes in 140 starts over a 13-year career.
Perhaps the biggest upset, however, was by Donlavey, who scored his only win in 863 starts as a car owner. More than 60 NASCAR drivers drove for Donlavey — including such big names such as Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, Ricky Rudd, Ken Schrader and Ernie Irvan — but only Ridley won.
1. Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500
Bayne was not the first driver to win his first Sprint Cup race in NASCAR’s biggest event. And he wasn’t the first driver to win in just his second career start.
But no one in NASCAR history has won a bigger race under such extraordinary circumstances.
Bayne, 20, had run just one full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series when he got the call to drive a part-time Sprint Cup schedule for Wood Brothers Racing, a legendary team that had run just 12 races in 2010.
Bayne finished 17th in his Sprint Cup debut in 2010, but no one could have anticipated his stirring upset in the Daytona 500.
Having turned 20 the day before the race, Bayne became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500.
It was the first victory in 10 years for the Wood Brothers team, which has 98 NASCAR Cup victories over its 58-year history but had been forced to cut back to a partial schedule due to sponsorship.
Honorable mention: Bobby Hillin Jr., 1986 Talladega 500; Phil Parsons, 1988 Winston 500, Talladega Superspeedway; Ward Burton, 1995 AC Delco 400, North Carolina Speedway; John Andretti, 1997 Pepsi 400, Daytona International Speedway; Jerry Nadeau, 2000 NAPA 500, Atlanta Motor Speedway; Elliott Sadler, 2001 Food City 500, Bristol Motor Speedway; Ricky Craven, 2001 Old Dominion 500, Martinsville Speedway; Casey Mears, 2007 Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway.