This week, NASCAR's Sprint Cup series heads to Northern California for the first of two road course races. The series has been visiting Sears Point Raceway (I don't call it Infineon) since 1989. There have been a lot of memorable moments at the track since NASCAR's Cup series, many of which will be relived here. Some had to be left off my list because the races themselves weren't good enough in my view to make my top 10. Last year's race that featured a costly fuel mileage mistake on the part of Marcos Ambrose didn't make the cut, although the race was considered.
In any case, here are what I consider to be the 10 Best NASCAR Cup races that have been held at Sears Point.
10. 1991 Banquet Frozen Foods 300
Rusty Wallace was the dominant car in the Winston Cup series' third visit to Sears Point but in the closing laps it appeared as though road race ace, Tommy Kendall would steal the show and earn his first win in the series. Kendall was subbing for the injured Kyle Petty in the 42 Mello Yello car. It wasn't meant to be for Kendall though as a cut tire took him out of contention. The race was decided between Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd. Coming to the white flag, Rudd bumped Allison out of the lead in turn twelve. While Rudd was credited for leading the next to last lap, he was not credited for leading the final lap. As he crossed the finish line, Rudd was given the black flag and Allison was given the checkered flag giving him the win. Rudd was credited with second place. This incident is controversal to this very day due to the precident that was/was not set with Rudd's black flag.
9. 2003 Dodge/Save Mart 350
Robby Gordon was gangbusters on this day, leading 81 of the 110 laps. However it wasn't easy in the final laps as he had to hold off the driver who is arguably the greatest road racer in NASCAR Cup history, Jeff Gordon. Gordon (Robby) was able to do so, however only beating Gordon (Jeff) to the line by half a second.
8. 2001 Dodge/Save Mart 350
Jeff Gordon looked poised to take another road course win and add to his total on this day, but he wasn't in the fight for the lead with 20 laps to go. Robby Gordon was and he was looking for his first win in the Cup series. Robby had his hands full, not only trying to hold off Stewart but rookie, Kevin Harvick was giving him fits trying to get back on the lead lap. Gordon and Harvick's scuffle ended up giving Stewart the lead with 11 to go and he never looked back.
7. 1998 Save Mart/Kragen 350
I can't think of any other race where a driver who only made 13 laps made such a significant impact on the memories of so many. On the first lap going into the second turn, rookie driver, Jerry Nadeau made a bonzai move for the lead on Jeff Gordon only to get in the dirt and cost himself precious track position. While Nadeau's first lap error still rings in the minds of race fans today, the race for the win between Gordon and Bobby Hamilton proved to be memorable as well. To say it was surprising to see Hamilton up front at a road course race is an understatement. Never before had he shown that he was able to do so, yet there he was, holding off Jeff Gordon when he and his DuPont team were at their very best. Hamilton fought as hard as he could to hold off Gordon, trading paint at times but it just was not enough. Gordon took the lead with 11 laps remaining and went on to win but Hamilton stole the show with his prowess.
6. 2009 Toyota/Save Mart 350
Like the 1998 race, the 2009 event proved to be the test of mettle for another driver, Kasey Kahne. For the final 40 laps, Kahne had to hold off another driver who is considered to be one of NASCAR's greatest road racers, Tony Stewart. Stewart tried everything he could to get by Kahne but even with the benefit of added laps with a green/white/checker finish he didn't have enough.
5. 1992 Save Mart 300K
The 1992 race at Sears Point might have been the greatest display of Ernie Irvan's talent, even moreso than his dominant 1994 performance which didn't make the cut of this list. Irvan jumped the start of the race, forcing him to make a stop and go penalty costing him valuable track position. Irvan scratched and clawed his way through the field and with 8 laps remaining he had climbed from last to first. Irvan held on to take his first win on a road course.
4. 2002 Dodge/Save Mart 350
Heartbreak. There still is no better word to describe what happened to Jerry Nadeau in the final handful of laps in the 2002 race at Sonoma. Nadeau was driving the race of his life, looking to reclaim his Winston Cup career and give Petty Enterprises their first win in several years. Coming to three laps to go, Nadeau's rear end failed handing the lead and the race win to Ricky Rudd. It's amazing to think that two moments that stick out for so many fans when it comes to NASCAR Cup races at Sears Point involve Jerry Nadeau and misfortune.
3. 1995 Save Mart Supermarkets 300
This was Mark Martin's race until he got into oil in the carousel turn. Second place, Dale Earnhardt saw the hole, filled it and took the lead and the eventual race win. One has to wonder if Martin would have been able to hold off Earnhardt had he not slipped in the oil because although Martin had been the dominant car, Earnhardt was pressuring him in the final laps.
2. 1989 Banquet Frozen Foods 300
The inaugural race proved to be quite exciting. Besides a flip by Mark Martin in turn one, there was the battle for the race lead between NASCAR's two best road racers at the time, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace. It was shades of the 1988 race at Watkins Glen when Rudd and Wallace got together going into the esses forcing Wallace in the grass. Great hard racing all around with Rudd taking the victory.
1. 1993 Save Mart Supermarkets 300K
As an Earnhardt fan, this race will always stick in my craw. Earnhardt's car was so fast on this day but he was done in by Derrike Cope spinning Tommy Kendall in turn one in the latter stages of the race. Undeterred, Earnhardt came back through the field to finish sixth, a testament to just how strong his car was, even with damage. Earnhardt's woes aside, the race for the win between Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd and Ernie Irvan is everything a real race fan could want. Bodine had his hands full on the green/white restart but was able to fight both competitors off to win what was Bud Moore's final as a car owner.
Agree/disagree with this list? What say you?
Opinions expressed in blogs are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily represent the views of racing-reference.info.