When it comes to close finishes in NASCAR Cup Series history, Daytona International Speedway is the place to be. A total of seven of the 15th closest finishes have come at the site of NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
Of course, charting the closest wins in NASCAR comes with a few asterisks. We only get to go back to 1993. That was the first year that timing was fully electronic. Prior to that, measuring close finishes were left to hand-held stop watches or the eyeball test—guessing from the press box or from sometimes grainy images how many car lengths or feet separated the top two finishers.
Most NASCAR fans have that close finish that they remember like it was yesterday. And, we’ll admit, we remember some good ones before 1993 (hard to beat the 8 inches that separated winner Dale Jarrett from Davey Allison at Michigan in 1991).
Here’s nine of the closest finishes in Cup history, including three that occurred in the Daytona Duel qualifying races for the Daytona 500:
Ryan Blaney came into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Season with just four victories, but two of them are on the list of the biggest heart-thumpers in the last three decades. Here he edges Ryan Newman by a scant 0.007 seconds at Talladega. Blaney followed up his 2019 triumph with yet another win at Talladega in 2020, remarkably by the same margin, over Rickey Stenhouse Jr.
In just Kevin Harvick’s third NASCAR Cup Series race in the race seat previously occupied by Dale Earnhardt, Harvick raced to the win in Atlanta. There, he held off Jeff Gordon by o.006 second at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The win was Harvick’s first in the Cup Series.
Race 1 of the 2010 Gatorade Duels at Daytona qualifying races produced one of Jimmie Johnson’s most thrilling race wins, even if it doesn’t count in his official total of 84 NASCAR Cup Series points victories. Here he nips Kevin Harvick by 0.006 second.
OK, so it wasn’t a points race, but Jeff Burton (31) holding off a hard-charging Clint Bowyer (33) in the second of the Daytona 500 qualifying races makes any list of closest finishes. This one, officially, was a margin of 0.005 second when they touched the stripe.
Jamie McMurray had just five top-10 finishes in 33 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona International Speedway. Two of those top-10s, however, were particularly memorable, including his 2010 Daytona 500 win and this win in the 2007 Pepsi 400. His margin of victory over Kyle Busch in the 2007 win was .005 second.
Dale Earnhardt edged Ernie Irvan by inches, officially 0.005 seconds, at the 1993 DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. This marked the first year of fully electronic timing. That year, Earnhardt would go on to win his sixth of seven NASCAR Cup championships.
OK, so Mike Skinner never won an official NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race in his 286-race NASCAR Cup career. But Skinner (31) did beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8) by 0.004 second in the second of two Daytona Duel Daytona 500 qualifying races in 2001. This was the first year that the Duels were broadcast on live TV and one incredible finish. We’ll count it.
Jimmie Johnson (48) wins what could only be described as a rush-hour race to the checkered flag in the spring race at Talladega in 2011. Here, he wins by just 0.002 second over Clint Bowyer (33). Jeff Gordon in the 24 was third, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 88 was foruth. Yes, Earhardt rode the winner’s bumper across the line and finished fourth.
Ricky Craven, who won just twice in a NASCAR Cup career that spanned 278 races, made history in 2003 when edged Kurt Busch by .002 second at Darlington. It was Craven’s second and final Cup win.
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