Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Rearview Mirror: NASCAR's closest finishes

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his April 2011 Talladega victory. (Notice the tire
marks on his car)  Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Many sports come down to one - one goal, one touchdown or one more runner across home plate for the win. In NASCAR it all comes down to less than one second.

The closest finishes in NASCAR have been on restrictor plate tracks -Daytona and Talladega. The finishes have been as close as .002 margin of victory. Just to compare, when you blink that takes about a tenth of a second.

Jimmie Johnson wins the Aaron's 499 - April 17, 2011
WHAT A FINISH!!
Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Margin of victory - 0.002 seconds over Clint Bowyer 

Thrilling victories and Talladega go hand in hand, whether you are talking about the 1994 Winston Select 500 in which Dale Earnhardt Sr. beat Ernie Irvan by 0.067 seconds and paid tribute to F1 racer Ayrton Senna, who passed away that same day or last October's battle of Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Looking at the photo of the win, it shows Bowyer crossing the finish line by a splitter with a  0.018 margin of victory.

Johnson's victory at Talladega tied the record for NASCAR's closest win ever but the race itself was not nearly as exciting as the finish. Two car tandems plagued the race in the midst of the "lovebug" racing years.

In honor of Johnson's win, Lionel has a race win collectible
diecast car for purchase. Look at that tire mark!
Credit: Lionel NASCAR all rights reserved 
Working with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Hendrick Motorsports duo fought for the win against HMS teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, RCR teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Roush teammate Greg Biffle. The finish resulted in a massive dash to the checkered flag as seen above.

"I can't thank Junior enough," said Johnson, who handed the checkered flag to Earnhardt Jr. in a display of gratitude. "He made the decision that my car was faster leading. And the way these things are finishing up, the lead cars going to get the win. In some respects, he was more worried about the team having a good performance than anything."

David Ragan wins the Coke Zero 400 - July 2, 2011
Margin of victory - 0.059 seconds over teammate Matt Kenseth


David Ragan claimed his first career win in another close finish.
Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR
David Ragan's first career NASCAR win came in another squeaker of a victory at a restrictor plate race courtesy of tandem racing once again.

In a race marred with five cautions and wrecks that claimed Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton...the product of fast paced plate racing.

David Ragan's race version of his Daytona win car
available from Lionel.
Credit: Lionel NASCAR all rights reserved 
Working with teammate Matt Kenseth for the win, the final caution flag flew at Lap 164 setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Martin and Logano crashed collecting the lead pack, a grand total of 15 cars were involved.

On the second green-white-checkered attempt Ragan and Ryan Newman led the field to the green flag. Roush teammate Matt Kenseth stayed on Ragan's bumper and pushed him to victory. As the checkered flag waved, a huge pileup claimed another 15 cars. Lucky to escape the melee and capture his first win, Ragan thanked his teammate.

“What better place to do it than Daytona?” Ragan said. “I’ve got to thank Matt Kenseth for helping me.”

Fun facts:
  • The closest finish in all of NASCAR's three divisions (Cup, Nationwide and Trucks) was during the 1995 SuperTruck Total Petroleum 200 at Colorado National Raceway. Butch Miller beat Mike Skinner by a slim margin of 0.001 seconds. 
  • As I mentioned previously, Johnson's 0.002 second margin of victory tied the previous record. In the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, race winner Ricky Craven narrowly beat Kurt Busch. 
  • Other tracks that have produced close finishes include Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. 
For these cars and others head over to http://www.lionelnascarcollectables.com/ and check out their line of NASCAR die-casts, old and new cars are available.

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