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Top 10 Feel-Good Wins in NASCAR History

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A look back at some of NASCAR's most heart-rendering triumphs.

10. David beats the Goliaths

David Gilliland gets a rap for causing wrecks, which in fairness, he does on occasion. Many occasions. But in 2006 he shocked the NASCAR world by winning the Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway, fending off the mega-Cup backed Joe Gibbs Racing teams of J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin. The win in his Clay Andrews-owned, hardly-sponsored car propelled Gilliland to the Cup Series and a Daytona 500 pole less than a year later.

by Vito Pugliese

9. Lake Speed wins at Darlington

Here's a trivia question for you: What NASCAR driver outran Formula One legend Ayrton Senna in 1978 for the Karting World Championship? This guy: Lake Speed. Establishing himself as an up-and-coming Cup driver in the mid-1980s, Speed lost his ride in early ’86. Driving for a self-started team at the TransSouth 400 in Darlington, S.C., in 1988, Speed wheeled the No. 83 (the year he became a born again Christian), to a most-unlikely win at “The Track Too Tough To Tame.” Behind him in second and third? The late Alan Kulwicki and the late Davey Allison.

by Vito Pugliese

8. Bobby Hillin Jr. shocks at Talladega

When you think of today’s promising young drivers, names like Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Chase Elliott come to mind. In 1986, there was a young driver in the Cup Series who had already turned some heads, and seemed to cement his future when, at 22 years of age, Bobby Hillin Jr. beat the best at Talladega. Sure, there were only 14 cars left running — and only nine on the lead lap — but who doesn't love a first-time winner at a superspeedway? Hillin was the youngest driver to win a Cup race since Richard Petty's first win in 1960 and remained so until Joey Logano won at New Hampshire in 2009.

by Vito Pugliese

7. Harvick wins for father-in-law

Kevin Harvick is known for being brash, cocky and having a biting quip for most anyone who crosses his path. But fans saw another side of him following the 2005 O’Reilly’s Challenge Busch Series event in Texas, as Harvick mourned the loss of his father in law, John Paul Linville, who had succumbed to a long battle with cancer that week.

by Vito Pugliese

6. Martin displays heart of a champion

In 1998 Mark Martin was in the midst of a career year when his world came crashing down. Martin’s hero, best friend and beloved father, Julian, was killed in a plane crash along with his father’s wife Shelly and Mark’s sister, Sarah. Ever the racer, Martin showed up at Michigan a week later and had the field covered until a late-race caution ended what would have been a fitting victory to dedicate to his family. Six nights later, in Bristol, Tenn., it all came together, as Martin was able to dedicate a dominant win to his family — and received a heartfelt salute from every fan in attendance.

by Vito Pugliese

5. A light in Hendrick Motorsports's darkest hour

Elation turned to heartbreak on Oct. 24, 2004, when a plane carrying Hendrick Motorsports family and personnel crashed near Martinsville Speedway. Having won his first career race at the historic short track that Sunday afternoon, HMS driver Jimmie Johnson was informed in Victory Lane of the tragedy that claimed the lives of Rick Hendrick's brother John, son Ricky, nieces Kimberly and Jennifer, HMS employees Randy Dorton and Jeff Turner, pilots Richard Tracy and Elizabeth Morrison, DuPont executive Joe Jackson, and Tony Stewart's pilot Scott Lathram. A week later in Atlanta, Johnson was trailing leader Mark Martin by over 16 seconds when a series of cautions came out to erase the deficit. The former led the final 10 laps to score his third straight win — a victory he dedicated to the fallen friends and family members.

by Vito Pugliese

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4. Irvan's miraculous return to Michigan

(2:06:00 mark) In August 1994 at Michigan International Speedway, Ernie Irvan left the garage for a Friday morning practice session and never made it back. A blown tire sent him head-on into the wall on the backstrech and left him clinging to life in a hospital with what doctors described as a 10 percent chance of survival. Irvan beat the odds, though, and nearly three years later, returned to Michigan in triumphant fashion, winning the Miller 400 by close to 3 seconds in the iconic No. 28 Yates Ford. Ken Squier’s call of, “Ernie Irvan is finally going to win at the track that nearly did him in,” is one of the great broadcaster’s finest moments.

by Vito Pugliese

3. Announcing his presence with authority

James Finch confirmed this week that his Phoenix Racing team has indeed been sold. One of the last few privateers, Finch was a throwback to the days of owning a team because it was fun — after all, you're not going to see Rick Hendrick or Joe Gibbs tea-tottling about with a red Solo cup on pit road. In 2009, Finch put a motivated young man from Michigan behind the wheel, and one of the wildest finishes in Cup history resulted. Nobody wants to see cars get in the stands or fans get injured (one girl ended up with a shattered jaw), but this most-unlikely victory from Brad Keselowski is a just tribute to Finch and his group that always got more out of the car than what was invested in it.

by Vito Pugliese

2. Wendell Scott breaks new ground

There's no YouTube video of Wendell Scott’s NASCAR win, but this video speaks volumes of the struggle and weight of his accomplishment. During the height of racial division in the United States — particularly in the South — Scott was the first African American to compete in and win a NASCAR race. The victory took place in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963, with Scott having won the race by two laps. Buck Baker was initially flagged the winner, but two hours later with the track empty a scoring error was discovered. Fearful for what might have happened, officials waited until the track had cleared before Scott was awarded the victory.

by Vito Pugliese

1. (tie) Earnhardt's teams honor fallen hero

It's hard to pick one out of these three. Three? Coincidence? Hardly. Following the passing of Dale Earnhardt on the final turn of the last lap in the 2001 Daytona 500, the entire sport was mourning the loss of one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. As is often the case, Earnhardt’s team — actually, all three of them, plus his former No. 3 team — rose to the occasion. The first heart-rendering moment (actually the second, as DEI’s Michael Waltrip won the 500) was witnessed by Steve Park, who won in Rockingham the week after Earnhardt’s death. (con’t.)

by Vito Pugliese

1. (tie) Earnhardt's teams honor fallen hero

The next moment that helped the healing process in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s passing came courtesy of his replacement at Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick. A rookie in only his third career Cup race, Harvick took on Jeff Gordon three races after the Daytona 500 and beat him in what may have been Gordon’s finest season — and in a finish reminiscent of Earnhardt’s victory over Bobby Labonte at the same track one year earlier. (con’t.)

by Vito Pugliese

1. (tie) Earnhardt's teams honor fallen hero

And finally, the win that helped an entire sport accept its loss: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in the Pepsi 400 at the same track that cost his father his life. In a move eerily similar to the Daytona 500, it was Waltrip, not Earnhardt Sr., who ran interference for Junior. The teammates finished first and second, just as they’d done in February, with Earnhardt Jr. the victor.

"I wasn't in any big hurry to go to Victory Lane and do the hat dance," Earnhardt would later say. "So I pulled into the infield. I knew my team would run out there. Michael came down there, and his team came down there.

“It felt good to feel good.”

by Vito Pugliese