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10 Great NASCAR Moments at Michigan International Speedway

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10. Tough Homecoming

Johnny Benson Jr. and I have a lot in common. We’re both from Grand Rapids, Mich., both graduated from Forest Hills Northern High School and both had my second cousin as our Tech Drawing teacher in 11th grade. What I haven’t done though (yet) is barrel roll a yellow Lumina down the Michigan backstretch. Johnny’s first outing in Ernie Irvan’s Busch car in 1993 didn’t go so hot, as he went airborne on the first lap. No big deal though; Benson would win Rookie of the Year honors a year later, the Busch Grand National championship in 1995 and Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in ’96. But has he ever written for Athlon Sports…

by Vito Pugliese

9. Mr. Sadler's Wild Ride

Forget Brad Keselowski’s Atlanta accident in 2010 or Michael McDowell’s Texas tumble in ’08. Elliott Sadler went for one wild ride at MIS during practice in June 2000. Sadler blew a tire going down the frontstretch at the fastest part of the track, rolled over nine times and smashed the car against the pavement. Between this, the highest G-load hit ever recorded at Pocono in 2010 and his two Talladega flips in ’03 and 2’04, Sadler might lead the league in YouTube-able hard hits and airborne antics.

by Vito Pugliese

8. Irvan's Emotional Triumph

In 1993, tragedy struck the No. 28 Robert Yates Racing team, when driver Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega. Just over a year later, the new driver of the No. 28 Ford, Ernie Irvan, nearly lost his life at Michigan International Speedway. Given a 10 percent chance of survival after a practice crash caused by a cut tire that sent him head-on into the backstretch wall, Irvan clung to life for days in a nearby hospital. He would sit out the 1995 season and return to racing in ’96 wearing a patch over his eye. Scoring two wins his first year back prompted his friend and fellow competitor Mark Martin to quip, “Ernie with one eye is still better than most of these guys with two.” Irvan came full-circle at MIS in 1997, dominating the event and closing the chapter on what was one of the most miraculous recoveries in motorsports — at the track that nearly claimed his life. Sadly, Irvan would suffer another head injury at Michigan in 1999, enduring a crash in practice for a Busch race, effectively ending his career.

by Vito Pugliese

7. Another Heartbreaker for Benson

We’ve covered Johnny Benson Jr.’s trouble in his debut in 1993, but surely he’d be able to triumph at the track that is but 90 minutes from his hometown of Grand Rapids, right? In the 2008 Cool City Customs 200 Truck Series event, it was Benson and Erik Darnell battling in the closing laps for the win. As Ned Jarrett would say, it was a “pho-to finish” to say the least — and I’m still not convinced that Benson didn’t win. Pause the video at 2:58. Did Benson beat Darnell to the line? You be the judge.

by Vito Pugliese

6. Life Imitating Art … Sort of

Carl Edwards is genuinely regarded as a pretty nice guy — for the most part. Sometimes however, he gets mad. And the he gets even. In the 2006 Carfax 250 Busch Series race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into the back of Edwards on the final lap, spinning him across the nose of Robby Gordon. After the race, Edwards went all Russ Wheeler on Junior, coming out of the pits and running into the side of Earnhardt on the cool-down lap. It might be the only time in recorded history that Earnhardt was greeted with boos after winning a race. Later, Edwards would walk into Victory Lane to, ah, “discuss” the issue with Junior — making for a tense encounter to say the least.

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by Vito Pugliese

5. Earnhardt vs Earnhardt

It was the first time the Earnhardts were actually door-to-door in competition, and what better way than with 12 identically prepared Pontiac Trans Ams in an IROC race at MIS? The old man schooled the young’un this day, in an event that Earnhardt Jr. still laments as he recalled after winning here in the Sprint Cup Series in 2008.

by Vito Pugliese

4. Junior Nation Off Suicide Watch

In 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped (or abandoned) ship at DEI to join Hendrick Motorsports. The ’08 season started off strong for Junior and crew chief/cousin/BFF Tony Eury Jr., culminating in a win for the duo in August at Michigan. What followed, however, was nearly four years of pain, agony, frustration and misery (and that was just Junior Nations) of 143 winless starts. All of that ended this June, when the No. 88 returned to Victory Lane in a dominating performance at the 2-mile oval.

by Vito Pugliese

3. Martin's Tough Week Gets Tougher

The 1998 season saw a seesaw battle between Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for the Winston Cup title. Gordon won 13 races, while Martin tallied seven victories. Tragedy struck Martin midway through the year, though, as his father, stepmother and sister were killed in a plane crash. Ever the racer, Martin did not take the weekend off, soldiering through a difficult weekend in Michigan. He was in the middle of one of the most heart-warming stories in sports — leading handily following the final pit stop — until a caution came out with 21 laps to go. Martin took on four tires and got out first while Gordon, running seventh, took on just two. Gordon somehow got by Martin with nine laps to, and claimed his fourth consecutive Cup win, tying the modern era record. However, his reception upon exiting the car was less than cordial.

by Vito Pugliese

2. An Unlikely Last Lap

In 2009, Mark Martin made his return to full-time competition after running a partial schedule the previous two seasons to regroup, recharge and reconnect with family and friends who came second after nearly 17 years of full-time commitment to NASCAR. He had already won two races that season and was charging hard to crack the top 10 to make the Chase in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. Martin started 32nd in the LifeLock 400 but battled balky steering the entire afternoon. He started saving fuel on the final restart with 43 laps to go, never running wide open until coming to take the white flag. Turns out, the crafty ol’ vet saved slightly more than the dominant cars of Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. Martin’s final-lap upset earned him his third win of the season and fifth career triumph at MIS.

by Vito Pugliese

1. DJ Gets Well-Earned First Win

MIS gets a bad rap from fans for producing long, drawn out green flag runs and, dare we say it, boring fuel-mileage races. Honestly, it’s probably no more or less than Pocono, Charlotte or either road course, but there are also those races that everybody remembers — and this one is no exception. It was his first career win, and he did it in style with one of the most revered and honored organizations of Ford racing lore: The Wood Brothers. And just outside of Detroit, to boot. Dale Jarrett going door-to-door with Davey Allison (with Bob Jenkins providing the classic call) was the ultimate ending to the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 400. The margin of victory — in a time before electronic scoring and timing — is officially listed as 10-inches.

by Vito Pugliese