One of the most horrific crashes in NASCAR occurred in the final race of Atlanta’s original 1.5-mile oval configuration. Steve Grissom backs it into the wall while 22 gallons of fuel goes scattering — and suddenly his car bears a strange resemblance to Michael Waltrip’s and Mike Harmon’s Bristol calamities. Grissom escaped with a broken ankle, but highlighted the case for SAFER Barriers everywhere — not that they were available at the time — and having reducing the on-board fuel capacity by 20 percent.
9. 1998 Primestar 500: Running for cover on pit road
Steve Park has had a tough row to hoe in NASCAR. In his rookie season, while driving DEI’s flagship entry, he broke his leg in only the third race of the season during practice. The accident illustrates why SAFER Barriers are a necessity at all tracks on both the outside and inside walls, and why if you’re in the pits, you never turn your back on the track.
8. 1997 NAPA 500: Gordon captures second title
While the stat sheets may not show it, Jeff Gordon’s second Cup championship almost never happened. In final practice at Atlanta, Gordon lost control of his No. 24 while exiting pit road and plowed into Bobby Hamilton's machine. Repairs were made, but Gordon' car was not the same, running mid-20s most of the race on Sunday. Mark Martin had the win and possibly that elusive title in sight with 11 laps to go, but his No. 6 went down to seven cylinders and Bobby Labonte cruised by for the win. Gordon made up a couple spots late in the going, narrowly avoiding going two laps down, and won the title by 14 points over Dale Jarrett and 29 points over Martin.
by Vito Pugliese
7. 2009 Kobalt Tools 500: Don’t worry guys, I got it
Jimmy Watts had his heart in the right place, but his head was somewhere else when he decided to go fetch an errant tire during the 2009 Kobalt Tools 500. The problem: it was during green flag racing. NASCAR takes a dim view of guys running onto the track as cars are whizzing by at 190 mph, and Watts was suspended for four races for the transgression. Im guessing that’s probably why he was the gas man and not a tire changer. After all, those cans don’t roll as far with the filler necks on them.
6. 2005 Truck Race: From fifth to first in two laps
Atlanta isn’t just all Cup cars. Trucks run there as well and put on just as good of a show. Here, watch Kyle Busch on new tires versus the Truck Series regulars on used rubber. "Rowdy" goes high, wide and handsome in Billy Ballew’s No. 15 coming to take the checkered flag while Dennis Setzer and Johnny Benson are sent spinning.
The back and forth between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards reached a crescendo at the 2010 Atlanta race. After the former sent the latter into the catchfence at Talladega for the win a year earlier, Edwards had let things go — until Keselowski made contact with him early in this event. After the No. 99 team got things put back together again, he went looking to send his rival into a spin through the infield grass. Thanks to the massive wing on the back of the CoT, however, Keselowski’s Dodge took flight and hit the wall roof-first. If that’s not enough to get a guy to the MRO Prayer Service tent on race morning, I don’t know what is.
by Vito Pugliese
4. 1990 Atlanta Journal 500: Ford vs. Earnhardt
The 1990 Winston Cup season was one of the greatest year-long fights in NASCAR history. Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt in the GM Goodwrench sponsored Chevrolet versus long-time Ford stalwart and engineer Jack Roush with Midwest ASA champion Mark Martin. Coming down to the final race, it was all-hands-on-deck for the Blue Oval, as Roush summoned the collective braintrust of Robert Yates, Bud Moore and Leonard Wood in an attempt to prevent “The Intimidator” from winning his fourth championship. But having lost the year earlier to Rusty Wallace by 12 points, the Man in Black would not be denied.
Unfortunately, a tragic event took place during the race. Mike Rich, a crew man for Bill Elliott, was killed when Ricky Rudd lost control entering his pit stall and slammed into Elliott’s car and Rich. Thus marked the final race without a mandatory pit road speed limit.
It looked like Mike Skinner would earn his first Cup Series win at Atlanta on this day in 2000, having led a dominating 191 laps. However, his engine let go with 20 laps remaining, setting the stage for one of the classic Modern Era finishes in NASCAR. After lamenting on TV about “Bobby Labonte and his damn Pontiac,” Skinner’s (ahem) “teammate,” Dale Earnhardt, held off Labonte by a whopping .010 seconds. It is still the seventh closest finish since the advent of electronic scoring. The win would be the penultimate victory of an incomparable career for Earnhardt, yet would be revisited just one year later …
2. 2001 Golden Corral 500: No. 3 Time Machine
After losing Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001, Richard Childress Racing was at a crossroads. While Childress wanted to pack things up and pull the plug on racing, he remembered a promise he and Dale had made to each other after a hunting accident a couple of years earlier. So with a coat of white paint and a number change, Kevin Harvick was the heir apparent to the seven-time champ. As the laps wound down, the race seemed to be shaping up as it had one year earlier, and this finish — like the one in 2000 — did not disappoint. Different color, different number, same outcome. Can you script something this close? If so, I don’t think you’d see that kind of display from Chocolate Myers.
1. 1992 Hooters 500: The fall of “The King,” the Rise of “Wonder Boy” and Kulwicki’s “Underbird”
The 1992 Hooters 500 will go down as the greatest race in NASCAR history. It marked the closest championship battle up to that point, with six drivers vying for the title in the final race of the year. It was Richard Petty’s final race as a driver and the first race for some sprint car guy from Indiana (or California), with a mullet, a mustache and a rainbow-colored Chevy. Underfunded owner/driver Alan Kulwicki had to lead the most laps to hold off home-state favorite Bill Elliott for the championship. Yet, as the unsung underdog who wore Mighty Mouse on his uniform, “Underbird” on his air dam and carried a comb in his pocket, he did just that, winning the Winston Cup on bonus points. Sadly, both Kulwicki and Davey Allison (also a title hopeful that day) would pass away in plane and helicopter crashes the following year.
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