The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Marginal by Amy Henderson -- Thursday October 27, 2005

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Somewhere along the line, things got out of hand.  It really wasn't that long ago I was writing about the Daytona 500, then the Coca-Cola 600, and then…there are only four races left on the Nextel Cup schedule.  In just a matter of a few weeks, NASCAR will crown three new champions in its three premier series.  Each could be a driver with a title to his name, or a first time champion.  Its fun to speculate, and it's history in the making.

The Nextel Cup championship, especially, is gearing up to again be one of the closest points battles in history.  With that in mind, let's take a closer look at some other tight point races.  The current points system in Nextel Cup produced the tightest point finish ever, with a winning margin of just eight points.  It was a system put in place to avoid "runaway" point finishes.  But those were never the majority of finishes under the modern points system.  Since the system as we know it was put in place in 1975, seventeen championships have been decided by less than 100 points-four more than have been decided by 100 points or more.

But possibly none have been decided in quite the manner that the 1990 championship came to pass.  The record books show that Dale Earnhardt won his fourth title that year by just 26 points over Mark Martin.  However, if not for a penalty issued by NASCAR, Martin would have been the one at the head table.  The penalty assessed (at Richmond, I believe)-for a spacer in the intake manifold that was not correctly attached-cost Martin 45 points, and the Winston Cup.  The infraction in no way enhanced Martin's performance in that race, but the penalty handed Earnhardt the title.  The margin was not the smallest in Cup history, but the penalty may have been the costliest.

The NASCAR Busch Series has also had its share of close battles.  Since 1982, eleven champions have won by less than 90 points.  Of course, the 2000 season was decided by over 600 points, but that's not very exciting.  The Busch Series' closest title race puts the Cup series to shame.  Joe Nemechek won his top spot by three points over Bobby Labonte.  Labonte, in fact, has been involved in two of the closest battles in that series-losing the 1992 title by three points and winning the 1991 title by just 74 points (the tenth closest if you're keeping score) over Kenny Wallace.  What makes that battle unique is that both Labonte and Wallace were driving cars owned by their older brothers-Labonte's by Terry and Wallace's by Rusty.  The two did their brothers proud, swapping the lead three times in the final five races before Labonte came out on top.

And then there's the Craftsman truck Series.  In just ten seasons, the series has produced some epic battles for the title.  Three times, less then ten points have decided the winner.  Once again, one driver has been on both the winning and losing side of two of them.  Jack Sprague lost the 1998 title to Ron Hornaday by a mere three points, then came back the next year and won the championship over Greg Biffle by a whopping eight markers. (Incidentally, Sprague also lost a title to Hornaday by the third-largest margin ever, 153 points in 1996)  Dennis Setzer didn't make it easy on Travis Kvapil in 2003, either.  Kvapil took home the hardware by just nine points.

Winning-and losing-championships may take an entire season, but some of the greatest have come down to the last race-sometimes the last lap of the last race.  With just four weeks left to decide three titles, 2005 could be no exception.  It's happened before, but that's history.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

David Odom
10/28/2005 11:47 AM
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I agree that some of these close points races were close and exciting. But we now have “The Chase” a made for TV format that produces a artifical champ, not the champ of the entire year. This championship could come down to a simple flat tire, not a team effort RACING. That is what we watch for, not some stupid event to win or lose the cup.

Thanks
David Odom
Elgin TX

 

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Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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