In 2004, the first year I started covering NASCAR races, I asked Autoweek’s Al Pearce how many Cup Series races he’d been to in his career.
He didn’t know and could only guess. Over the many decades he’d been covering races, Al lost count.
I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I decided to start keeping track of the races I went to. I’ve kept up with it 12 years later and now, in my 10th season on the beat, I’ll hit No. 300 this weekend (I include the Unlimited and All-Star races as Cup races).
This probably only interests me, but I wanted to share the 10 most memorable Cup races I’ve covered in the first 299. There were obviously a lot to choose from, mostly for strange reasons, and I don’t have a very good memory to recall what happened in most of them.
These are just the ones that have stuck out the most over the years. In chronological order, they are:
2004 Subway 400 (Rockingham)
This was the first race I ever covered or attended, and it sparked an interest in NASCAR that turned into a career. Carl Long flipped down the backstretch and later said he saw people in the grandstands eating chicken. Matt Kenseth then beat Kasey Kahne in a side-by-side finish. I thought NASCAR was pretty cool after that.
2004 Subway 500 (Martinsville)
I don’t remember anything about the race, but I remember the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. News about a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashing near the track had begun to filter through the media center while the race was going on; a woman next to me kept hitting refresh on the website of a local TV station that was posting updates. The drivers had no idea what had happened, including Jimmie Johnson, who won the race and then was informed afterward. There was no victory lane celebration and no post-race winner’s press conference. It was eerie, strange and terribly sad.
2005 Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte)
The all-time NASCAR record for cautions (22), two different pairs of teammates colliding (Mears/Marlin and Waltrip/Earnhardt Jr.), and an awesome, awesome last-turn pass by Jimmie Johnson over Bobby Labonte with a side-by-side finish. I remember being on pit road afterward and watching Labonte kick his car in disgust.
2007 Centurion Boats at The Glen (Watkins Glen)
One of my favorite races EVER. Just wild. Tony Stewart spun out while leading earlier in the race, then rallied back and won when Jeff Gordon also spun out in the same turn while leading. This was also the race where Juan Pablo Montoya and Kevin Harvick got in a fight and a spectator tried to get Matt Kenseth’s autograph under caution.
2008 Dan Lowry 400 (Richmond)
This was the race where Kyle Busch spun Dale Earnhardt Jr. while racing for the win in the final laps (and allowed Clint Bowyer to win instead). I watched it happen from the press box. Holy crap, I’ve never seen such a hostile crowd. I was legitimately worried some fans would try to storm the track and get at Busch after that.
2008 Camping World RV 400 (Dover)
Roush Fenway Racing domination, but it was highly entertaining. Teammates Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards had a sensational, clean battle for the lead over the last chunk of the race. Really fun to watch. When I think about the potential of what great racing can be, this is the race I think of.
2011 Ford 400 (Homestead)
The greatest individual performance I’ve ever seen. Tony Stewart had to drive from the back twice to win on a championship tiebreaker with Carl Edwards. Legendary performance. Someday a 30 for 30 will be made about that Chase and that finale.
2012 Daytona 500
Primetime Monday night race. Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet dryer. Brad Keselowski and the famous in-car Twitter photo. Unbelievable, only-in-NASCAR stuff.
2012 Finger Lakes 355 (Watkins Glen)
Kyle Busch had the lead going into the last lap, slid in oil and opened the door for Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose to put on the best final-lap duel I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched this finish several times in the years since. So good. And by the way, NASCAR, THERE WAS OIL ON THE TRACK! They never admitted it!
2015 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (Martinsville)
Joey Logano gets mugged by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon gets his final career win. The crowd reactions to both moments are something I will remember for a long time.
If anyone is interested, here are my charts of races I’ve attended by year and by track: