10. 1988 Pontiac Excitement 400 – Fairground Finale Fit For “The King”
One week earlier, Richard Petty was simply lucky to survive. NASCAR’s King and his No. 43 STP Pontiac flipped wildly, tearing to pieces and smacked by several cars on the way in one of the most horrific Daytona 500 wrecks in history. But there he was, in the final race at the old Richmond Fairgrounds (before its expansion into the .75-mile facility it is today) gritting it out and running up front the following Sunday. Victory Lane that day was filled by a similar “tough” competitor – Neil Bonnett was still recovering from serious injuries suffered at Charlotte in 1987 – but Petty’s push to challenge for the top spot took center stage. In the end, a third-place result, at 50 years old, showed the type of resilience this Hall of Famer was always made of – how fitting for it to be the final top-5 performance of his great career.
At age 51, most fans would consider it a miracle for a driver to simply qualify for a Cup Series race. Not Harry Gant. In September 1991, he went on one of the most magical rides in NASCAR’s Modern Era, winning four straight races at that “AARP” stage in his life to move inside the top 5 in season-ending points. But it was a streak that nearly never happened at all; at Richmond, Davey Allison was the dominant car, leading 150 laps, and it took all Gant had to track down and pass the No. 28. Their battle for the top spot, competitive but clean, is a reminder of the lap-after-lap, side-by-side racing fans yearn for when they speak of the “good ol’ days.”
by Tom Bowles
8. 2011 Crown Royal 400 – Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Ryan Newman
When you look at the video, the on-track action between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman last spring isn’t exactly Demolition Derby material … just ask Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski how much worse it can be. But sometimes, what doesn’t look bad on TV can turn into a frustrating final straw inside the cockpit. The real fireworks on this one occurred the week after the race, during a meeting about the incident in the NASCAR hauler where Newman reportedly threw a punch. After four-plus years of bad blood – the two actually made contact in Montoya’s first Cup race in November 2006 at Homestead – Newman literally took matters into his own hands to settle the feud. Too bad Montoya got the last laugh, in the form of a NASCAR secret fine after he reportedly phoned his lawyer and threatened to sue over the incident.
by Tom Bowles
7. 2004 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 – Mayfield’s Clutch Performance
Long before drug tests, lawsuits, arrests and tabloid fodder, Jeremy Mayfield was remembered for being a pretty darn good wheelman. Perhaps his greatest win came in the 2004 regular season finale, a nail-biter in which no one knew what to expect from the sport’s new playoff format. A total of eight drivers entered Richmond battling for three final Chase spots, with the only way in at the time to finish inside the top 10 in Cup Series points. Mayfield sat 14th, 55 points out of 10th and was an afterthought in most of the postseason discussion. If anyone, hotshot rookie Kasey Kahne was expected to sneak inside the field, sitting ninth and in control of his own destiny. But when the smoke cleared during a wild evening, it was Mayfield who used an early gas-only pit stop to take control of the race. Leading for the first time on Lap 99, he wound up pacing the field for a race-high 151 circuits and remained in contention throughout. When Kurt Busch ran out of fuel, the No. 19 car was there to pounce, pushing ahead for Mayfield’s first win in four seasons in a shocking upset that left him sitting inside the postseason field. As for Mayfield’s teammate, Kahne? The rookie wrecked out. Chalk one up for the veterans …
by Tom Bowles
6. 1990 Pontiac Excitement 400 – Martin’s Tainted Win … And Lost Title?
Mark Martin’s not known as a short track guy. So when he won Richmond, the second race of the 1990 season, you knew the No. 6 Ford would be a strong contender at every track. Jumpstarting one of the driver’s finest seasons, his second career victory could have been a benchmark in what became a neck-and-neck championship battle with Dale Earnhardt. But trouble brewed the minute NASCAR took the car apart for post-race inspection. Earnhardt’s owner, Richard Childress, pointed feverishly at Martin’s carburetor spacer and claimed the driver’s car broke the rules. NASCAR agreed, assessing a penalty that’s debated to this day, as the half-inch “violation” is claimed by many to have given the car no advantage over the course of the race. The 46-point deduction proved the difference in a title decided in favor of Earnhardt by just 26; it was the first of what would be a record five runner-up finishes for Martin without a Cup Series title to show for it. Added bonus in this clip: Check out how young Jack Roush, Steve Hmiel and Robin Pemberton are!
by Tom Bowles
5. 1982 Richmond 400 – Dave Marcis Scores One For The Independents
When NASCAR fans hear the word “independent” today, they typically think of an unsponsored program that starts and parks. But there was a time when the small little teams, sitting inside the back of the garage, could come out and win races with the right circumstances and a little boost from Lady Luck. Dave Marcis was the poster child for that, his little-team-that-could No. 71 a recipient of one of the big surprise victories we’ve ever seen in the sport. With threatening skies overhead at Richmond, Joe Ruttman appeared to have the race won with a dominating performance. But all of a sudden, the rear end broke, causing a wreck just as a raging downpour drenched the track. Inexplicably, a number of lead-lap cars pitted, including would-be winner Richard Petty thinking all other competitors behind them were a lap down. But Ruttman’s crash allowed one other car, Marcis’, to get back on the lead lap and the No. 71 team smartly kept the car on the track. Inheriting the top spot, the Wisconsinite then got an assist from Mother Nature when the rain forced the race to get called 150 laps early. “It’s been a long, tough road,” he said of ending a 137-race winless streak, but the road would never exactly get brighter after that – it was the last trophy in a Cup career that would run all the way through the 2002 Daytona 500.
by Tom Bowles
4. 2001 Chevy Monte Carlo 400 – Harvick vs. Rudd … Where It All Began
Rookie Kevin Harvick was known for ruffling feathers, but he ruffled a little too much on this night. Battling for the lead with Ricky Rudd, and with the laps winding down, the No. 29 Chevrolet slammed into Rudd’s No. 28 – on the middle of the back straightaway. How Rudd didn’t wreck, we will never know, but the fantastic save left Harvick with a clean track and a path to Victory Lane. Seemingly out of it, Rudd taught us then how anger can be the best motivator; in the matter of a dozen laps, he closed the gap back up on Harvick, pile-drove him out of the way in the corner and drove on to an easy victory. The bad blood between the two would remain, though, sparking up in this race two years later when Rudd wrecked Harvick, sparking a feisty WWF-life post-race confrontation on pit road.
by Tom Bowles
3. 1998 Pontiac Excitement 400 – The Iceman’s Bump-and-Run
Dale Jarrett thought he had it made, out front with the laps winding down at Richmond. But when a late, multi-car wreck with 10 laps remaining seemingly ended the race NASCAR shocked the field by changing course – throwing a red flag to ensure the event ended under green. In what would become the precursor to a green-white-checker finish, the move threw the No. 88 off guard and gave Terry Labonte, an ace on short runs, an opportunity to try and move up front. Charging from third to first, he knocked back Jarrett in Turn 3, pulling a rare bump-and-run on a night the sport changed course on its finishes forever.
by Tom Bowles
2. 2008 Crown Royal 400 – The Spin Heard ’Round The World
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been knocking on the door of Victory Lane, running strong in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. Former Hendrick driver Kyle Busch stalked behind him in second at Richmond, though, ready to show up his former employer who pushed the “Rowdy” aside for “Mr. Popular” at the conclusion of the 2007 season. Two drivers, giving 110 percent … only one winner. So as the No. 18 dove inside the No. 88, you could tell entering the turn there just wasn’t going to be enough room. “He turned him!” DW cried, as 100,000 fans groaned, Earnhardt slamming into the wall while Clint Bowyer darted past a slowing Busch. In the end, that’s who entered a shocked Victory Lane, while for Busch it was a victory to simply make it out alive. How bad did it get for wrecking NASCAR’s “golden boy?” Armed guards were by his side for close to a month offering protection.
by Tom Bowles
1. 1986 Miller High Life 400 – Waltrip vs. Earnhardt
It’s the crash that defined The Intimidator’s hard-nosed reputation. Battling with Darrell Waltrip for the lead in the closing laps, neither driver would give an inch. Waltrip had knocked Dale Earnhardt sideways several times and his rival had no problem returning the favor. But a fascinating battle turned destructive with two laps left when Earnhardt, inexplicably hooked the No. 11 of Waltrip entering Turn 3. The resulting wreck eliminated not just those two but the third- and fourth-place cars, leaving a surprised Kyle Petty the first one to survive the carnage. All of a sudden, it was The King’s son in Victory Lane while Waltrip was left to wonder what the heck happened. And as for Earnhardt? He simply stated that, “Just hung up with ol’ Darrell … we got in the wall.”
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