Drivers Share Their Favorite Race
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on December 16, 2013 | 8:00 A.M. EST
Matt Kenseth (left) congratulates Jeff Burton after Burton won their duel at Dover in 2006 that remains special to Burton. (Photo: Getty Images)
The question was simple. The answer was not.
NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers were asked to discuss their favorite race.
Some struggled to pick one among the hundreds they’ve run. Some recalled that special race immediately. Not all of those races were in NASCAR. Some came years before drivers competed in NASCAR’s top series but all had special stories.
Here’s what some drivers said was their favorite race:
“It’s hard for me to say one, but racing Matt Kenseth at Dover (in 2006) where we had a helluva race, side-by-side, never touched each other.
“I saw (four-time Indianapolis 500 winner) Rick Mears probably a year later in an airport, and he came straight to me and said: “Jeff, that was one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen.’ He said, “That race should be shown to every rookie in any motorsports and this is how two great drivers to do it.’
“That kind of race, to me, meant a lot because we raced each other hard, we raced each other clean. When it was over, he took time instead of just being upset about his his day, he took time to come and see me and tell me congratulations.
“One of my favorite pictures is me and him on the front straightaway, me going backwards because I was doing my Victory Lap thing and he coming next to me and us giving each other high five. That picture is prominently displayed in my house, and I don’t have many racing pictures in my house.
“That was a big deal to me because I respect Matt and I respect that ‘17’ car. I wasn’t excited because we defeated someone, I was excited because we won. I was more excited that we won against them because they’re so ... good.
“Another one was beating Kyle Busch at Vegas in a Nationwide race (in 2007) because it took, if you go back and watch that race, the move I made on the last lap was pretty ... phenomenal. We had led most of the race and I didn’t get a good restart and he beat me. I was like, “I ain’t losing this ... race.’ I found a way.
“He ended up spinning out. It wasn’t like a dirty race or anything. It was me just saying, “To hell with that, I ain’t losing this race.’ It wasn’t because I beat Kyle. I respect him a great deal, but it was more about what me and my team had done. I thought I had let them down but then made it back up by making, in my opinion, one of the better moves ever made in racing to win a race.
“It doesn’t get much play because it was a Nationwide race. I got around him on the outside coming to the start/finish line. It was just one of those races where “I might wreck, I might flip upside down, but I’m going to win this race’ and it worked. I wasn’t sure it would work but it did. That race was cool.’’
“I’ve always said that if I had to pick one, it would be the inaugural Brickyard 400 (in 1994) just because that race meant so much. It meant a lot to me personally.
“It was a huge event for our sport, for Indianapolis. It changed my life forever that race. Being able to experience winning there in that first race probably will always be a highlight for me. It’s hard to pick one. I’ve had a lot of great moments.’’
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“Winning the Daytona 500. Trying to science it out and make that pass on (Tony) Stewart with no real drafting help around. Kurt Busch was drafting with us, but he wasn’t helping me because he was a lap down because of contact we made in the race that caused a flat tire for him.
“So, he wasn’t really my best friend at that moment. So trying to science it out and put together that pass. I didn’t even know, at the time before it happened, we had much of a shot of getting it done.
“There are so many. You can think back to Legends Car days when I won 15 races in a row in a Legends Car. Winning 10 out of 15 Late Model races in my first-ever season, winning my first-ever Late Model race period. I think the only two to ever do that in Vegas is my brother and I.
“Going to the Truck level and being the fastest in practice and getting kicked out (because the CART race that weekend was sponsored by a cigarette brand and Busch was under 18 in 2001 and deemed ineligible to compete). There are just so many I can choose from. There’s not a lot of guys that do it ... the Bristol triple was pretty neat. That was the most special moment.’’
“There’s a lot of them. Some of the best memories I have racing are racing a midget at Winchester. At one point I won nine in a row with different organizations. That was a lot of fun to dominate something like that. When you can routinely dominate something like that, that’s really special.
“I drove it with a (kill) switch one of those times because the throttle hung wide open. I ran the last nine laps with the kill switch. I’d let go of the steering wheel and get on the kill switch on/off. (That’s not easy) especially when you’ve got to loosen up the seat belts to get to the switch.
“We were averaging about 130 or something around there. You hit the (kill switch) going into the corners (to slow the car). I was leading, and I knew there wasn’t a whole lot to go. I was like, “hell, I’ll just turn it back on I’ve got to get to the pits one way or the other. I drove it down into Turn 3 and turned it off and it wiggles because it’s got a lot of rear brake when you do that. I turned it back on and I thought let’s try it.
“I ran third in a Silver Crown car in Pikes Peak. We ran a similar type deal where we were one of the few teams that had actual air induction into the injection instead of running it through the filters so we had fresh air. My engine guy was paranoid that we were going to get trash and debris in there before the race started. So he laid a rag up there.
“I fired the motor up and took off and it sucked the rag down into the injection. What it ended up doing, I had one bank that was good, all four, and I had another bank that had one rag in it so I basically had seven cylinders. I slipped the throttle shaft, so I was only getting three-quarter throttle with one shaft and three-quarter off-throttle with the other shaft. In the end, I figured it was about six-and-a-half cylinders and I had to do the same thing. It was just enough too fast going into the corner that I had to run the (kill) switch. I loosened my belts up again and ran the switch.
“I ran 100 laps straight and ended up finishing third to John Heydenreich. We were coming at the end because we had saved our tires because I only had so much speed. Just races like that are special, times that you go over and above and you get lucky. That (crew) guy now, we call him the ragman.’’
“The first win at Atlanta was huge. That was like my world changed. I couldn’t believe that the checkered flag was out and I was the first guy to cross under that. I just couldn’t believe that. That was insane.
“The race that I’ll probably never forget that I am most proud of and had the most fun at was the Homestead race in 2011 racing for that championship. I miss being a part of that. That was really, really fun. We got that pole. That weekend, getting a pole at that race felt as big as a win. The whole weekend we were just working so hard and throwing it all out there on the table. That was really cool.
“After that race I actually wondered how bad is this going to bother me? By the next day, I felt OK with my performance. Obviously, the result, I’d do anything to change the result. There were no mistakes made. My pit crew was the fastest pit crew on pit road. Bob (Osborne) made the right calls. They had a long caution and they got us. They did everything right, too. If we raced it 10 times, I think it would have been five and five. It was a heck of a race.’’
“Ten years ago, it would have been a lot easier answer. It’s honestly too hard to just narrow it down to one race. I think about every division I ran there was a moment, a race.
“I think about the night we won the two divisions at the Four Crown (Nationals) and finished second to Jack Hewitt in a Silver Crown car. We won the midget and sprint race there.
“Winning the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale. Winning the Chili Bowl twice. In an Indy car, winning my first race at Pikes Peak ... and even just running the first race at Walt Disney World.
“There are just so many moments that go through your mind. My first trip to Oskaloosa, Iowa, where I got hurt this year. The first time I went there I was 12 years old in a go-kart ... and won my first national championship.
“There’s nothing that ranks higher than the rest. They’re all significant in their own way. I’m just glad that it’s hard choice. I’m glad that I don’t have just one moment to choose from. I’m pretty fortunate over the last 35 years to have some pretty cool moments in racing.’’
Pocono (in 2012), winning that race against Mark Martin, a huge moment in my career just because there was a lot going on.
“My career was kind of unstable at the time, not knowing where I was going to go. I didn’t know where I was going to go, what I was going to do. Racing against my childhood hero for a win at Pocono. You couldn’t have written a better script for a finish like that.
“A lot of pressure on me that season. That was a big deal for me to propel my relationship with Penske Racing and come over here. Obviously, winning at Michigan this year was huge.
“In all honesty, Texas this year with all that we went through (not getting through pre-race inspection until shortly before start of the race and later being penalized for issues found then) and to come home fifth. That’s like a win. Believe me. When you come from dead last and went through all that before the race and our team never quit, never died and came back to finish top five. That was amazing. That’s what this team did all year.’’