Photo Credit: Kevin Liles/USA TODAY Sports Images
A down-to-the-wire photo finish or some smooth maneuvering to block out another driver definitely keeps us entertained. However, when it comes to NASCAR, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy a wild and crazy crash or two (debris and flames don’t hurt either). That’s why we’ve put together a list of 10 of the worst crashes in recent NASCAR history. This list touches on some of the most thrilling, edge-of-your-seat wrecks, but we can’t list ’em all. Feel free to leave us a comment and tell us which crash you thought was the worst.
Of course, our list doesn’t look at some of the most heartbreaking, fatal crashes in the history of NASCAR. There have unfortunately been too many; from practices to race days, the death toll resulting from NASCAR crashes is in the double digits. In fact, 13 years ago this month, Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in a crash while behind the wheel at the Daytona 500. And while we must acknowledge that the crashes on our list inspired many positive safety measures to be implemented, there’s no denying just how dangerous this sport really is. As a result, there are no deadly wrecks included.
On that note, here’s a look at 10 of the worst crashes in NASCAR history.
10. Clint Bowyer – Daytona – 2014
The latest pileup took place at the Daytona 500 qualifying race this February. Defending Daytona 500 champ Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas heading for the finish line, causing him to be bumped from behind and spin out. Michael Waltrip was shoved into the wall while Martin Truex‘s car exploded into flames. Other cars were dented and bumped but the most surprising result of the wreck was Clint Bowyer‘s stunning 360, his car flipping through the air and landing back on its wheels.While a flip like that would still do definite damage thanks to the impact alone, Bowyer’s car came out of the crash looking better than one might expect. Johnson felt terrible about destroying so many cars before the Daytona 500, but luckily that’s what backups are for.
9. Terry Labonte – Bristol – 1999
140,000 people booed Dale Earnhardt Sr, probably one of the only times that happened in his whole career. In the final lap at Bristol, the no. 3, black Goodyear race car secured a first place finish after Earnhardt tapped Terry Labonte‘s rear bumper causing him to spin out and lose position. The smoke and chaos slowed down the rest of the cars, and although no big collision ensued, NASCAR fans were not happy with the outcome. It was Earnhardt’s 73rd career win and second on the year. To add injury to the insult, there was body and paint damage to Labonte’s car that most likely would run up to $25,000 to fix.
8. Steve Park – Atlanta – 1998
Now retired with six first-place finishes under his belt, Steve Park originally got off to a rocky start in Atlanta, just two years after beginning in NASCAR. Tire issues caused him to crash into several outer walls, slowing him down and damaging the yellow car, before finally stopping after one final, firm crash into the inner wall. The incident resulted in a ton of injuries as well as shaking his confidence, keeping him out of many races afterwards.
While he did go on to have a 15-year career in the sport, he also had another crazy crash in 2001. He lost control of his car at Darlington before being smashed by another car. The damage to the car wasn’t as severe as the injuries he sustained. Park suffered brain and rib trauma that kept him out of races for a while. The crashes had a lasting impression on him; today Park is working in support of neurological testing for NASCAR drivers, a topic that is now a big issue in many sports.
7. Ryan Newman – Daytona – 2003
“That’s 3,400 pounds, folks, just lifted up in the air like a feather!” the announcer exclaimed. And that would perfectly describe what happened to then-Rookie of the Year, Ryan Newman, and his no. 12 race car at the 2003 Daytona 500. Newman, who lost control of his car, slammed into the wall before taking out another car en route to spiralling out of control. His car flew into the air before slamming down with such force that his rear axle detached. To repair the tires, wheel wells, axle and suspension would’ve easily cost about $7,000, though it’s safe to say much more of his car would need to be rebuilt after that eye-popping crash.
6. Carl Edwards – Talladega – 2009
In an attempt to stop Brad Keselowski from passing him, Edwards’ car was tapped, slowly causing him to spin to the left. Edwards could’ve possibly regained control had it not been for Ryan Newman, who hit his bumper and propelled him into the air. Within seconds Edwards slammed into the catch fence (reminiscent of Bobby Allison’s similar crash in 1987 and not unlike Kyle Larson’s crash in 2013). Seven fans were injured by the debris and despite the fact the car’s engine erupted into flames, Edwards wasn’t hurt. The damage to the front of the car was immense, and probably cost $68,000 just for new brakes, suspension, cooling system and ignition. But for Edwards, the real disappointment would’ve been missing out on first place won minutes later by Keselowski.
T4. Rusty Wallace – Daytona & Talladega – 1993
NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace had not one but two serious crashes months apart. The first came at the Daytona 500, where he was hit while jockeying for position. The end result was Wallace’s race car spinning out of control, eventually tipping forward and rolling head first down the track into the grass. His no. 2 car had severe damage, but looked much better than his second crash.
At Talladega, Wallace was in his final lap and while trying to make a pass, his car was kissed by another sending him out of control. His back bumper caught air and he rolled repeatedly across the finish line until his car was as flat as a pancake. The announcers were silent until Wallace finally radioed that he was okay.
The second crash resulted in new safety procedures: all race cars must have roof flaps that open should a car spin, which helps the vehicle stay on the ground. Roof flaps cost about $1,200 before installation, but Wallace’s car would’ve needed a complete rebuild.
3. Kyle Larson – Daytona – 2013
We already mentioned Larson when discussing Carl Edwards’ flying car, but we think this Rookie of the Year deserves to make the list too. In 2013, Larson’s car flew into the catch fence during some crucial maneuvering in the final lap, demolishing a solid chunk of his car. While his engine nearly flew into the grandstand, bits and pieces of his white no. 32 launched into the crowd, injuring 30 people. This wild and fiery crash saw Larson’s car ripped to shreds. A full rebuild from this dramatic and dangerous finish most likely cost over $250,000.
2. Geoff Bodine – Daytona – 2000
It was one of the biggest crashes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series; 13 cars were caught up in the mix and nine fans were injured. Geoff Bodine was lucky to have escaped alive, but was critically injured, breaking his wrist, his cheekbone, part of his back and his ankle in addition to suffering a concussion.
Bodine was coming down the outside when Kurt Busch and Rob Morgan collided, pushing Morgan’s truck into Bodine’s. That’s all it took for Bodine’s race truck to flip up into the air and smash into the catch fence at 190 miles per hour. The fuel cell exploded, sending his engine flying from the truck. Bodine rolled, crashing into several more cars before finally stopping; all that was left was the roll cage.
Bodine went on to recover and race again (only retiring in 2012), but his car would have cost a pretty penny to fix up. To rebuild it from the cage up would’ve easily cost over $250,000. The engine is rebuilt after every race due to wear and tear from the mileage anyway, meaning $125,000 would have been spent on the truck regardless of this terrible crash.
1. Johnny Sauter – Talladega – 2002
Thirty cars plowed into each other during lap 14, making it probably one of (if not) the biggest wreck ever in NASCAR. It all started with Johnny Sauter when he sharply flipped his car, rolling, and taking everyone in the competition with him. Cars tried to swerve, but most ended piling up on top each other or spinning out of control into the grass. Just three cars were in the final lap at the end of the race, with Jason Keller coming in first place.
Repairing the damage could’ve been as little as $2,100 for new wheels and tires to $5,000 for superficial scratches (paint and decals), all the way up to $20,000 for a new body on the vehicle including sheet metal and spoilers.
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