This weekend marks NASCAR's premiere series first visit to the Kentucky Speedway. Between 1988 through 2001, the Cup series visited 10 new venues; Phoenix, Sears Point, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Texas, California, Las Vegas, Homestead, Chicagoland and Kansas. Since this will be the Cup series' first race at the 1.5-mile speedway, I figured it would be best to go back and rank these 10 events.
10. 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0aIuXO2hjg
I consider this race to be an absolute disaster. It was a wreckfest from the drop of the green flag when 1/3 of the field wrecked in the first turn. The track had a single groove on the low line making it virtually impossible for any side-by-side racing. The track was so bad that it had to be reconfigured, something other tracks on this list will do as well, though TMS didn't have to go through such an abrupt change.
9. 2001 Protection One 400 - Kansas Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shIm6joL1JM
Like the 1997 event at TMS, the inaugural Cup race at Kansas Speedway was a crash fest from the very beginning. In all, there were 13 cautions for 70 laps making nearly 1/4 of the laps run under the yellow flag. The race was more or less saved by a close finish between eventual winner, Jeff Gordon and young upstart Ryan Newman.
8. 1997 California 500 - California Speedway
The second inaugural race of the 1997 season went off much better than the first one at Texas, at least in terms of not being a demolition derby. The actual on-track product though left a lot to be desired. It was a glimpse into the future of what we still see at the speedway today; spread out, single file and generally boring racing. Jeff Gordon dominates and comes through to take the fuel-mileage win over his teammate, Terry Labonte.
7. 1999 Pennzoil 400 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npP7c-F78VQ
The 1999 Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway marked a couple firsts for NASCAR. Not only was it the debut of the series at the then flat 1.5-mile oval, it marked the first flag-to-flag broadcast of a NASCAR race by NBC. The race itself is probably most memorable for the domination of Gibbs racing and Tony Stewart's victory. Unlike the events listed above, this race saw only one caution flag for oil. One thing this track had going for it was that it was already 4 years old by the time the Cup series visit, even with having been reconfigured once. Of course, as we all know the track produced little in side-by-side racing and actual excitement and was reconfigured again with progressive banking.
6. 2001 Tropicana 400 - Chicagoland Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVxN94XPeeg
The inaugural Chicagoland event wasn't as big a wreckfest as other inaugural events, but the race still had 10 caution flags for 56 total laps. Young Kevin Harvick proved that his win earlier in the season at Atlanta wasn't a fluke as he dominated leading 113 laps and holding off Robert Pressley to win his second career Cup race after filling the ride previously held by Dale Earnhardt. Harvick's victory is the only real memorable event from this race as there was virtual no side-by-side action at all throughout the race.
5. 1998 Las Vegas 400 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TdQijkiBSQ
This was likely Ford's most dominant race in NASCAR's modern era. Nine of the top 10 finishers drove the Blue Oval, and five of those were under the banner of Roush Racing, including the race winner, Mark Martin. The lone non-Ford was Dale Earnhardt who snuck his GM Goodwrench Chevrolet in the eighth place finishing position. Like Homestead, Las Vegas had the advantage of a couple years to age and there were only two cautions for nine laps in this event. Also, just like Homestead, fans found this and the majority of races at the speedway dull and the track was reconfigured with progressive banking in 2007.
4. 1993 Slick 50 300 - New Hampshire International Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKbLH732PpM
After opening in 1990, New Hampshire race fans had to wait three years before NASCAR's premiere series visited the Magic Mile. The opening laps featured two wrecks, mostly due to impatience rather than actual track conditions. Sterling Marlin had the advantage in the early to mid stages of the race, but Rusty Wallace came through the field to win the race over Mark Martin and Davey Allison. Wallace's win is overshadowed by the sad fact that it was Allison's very last race. Just a day after this event, Allison would crash in his helicoper at Talladega Superspeedway and would succumb to the injuries suffered in the incident a day later.
3. 1988 Checker 500 - Phoenix International Raceway
Opening in 1964, Phoenix had to wait until 1988 to get its first race on the one-mile track. The event proved to be one of survival as 14 of the 43 starters fell out either due to an accident or engine woes. Of those 14 was Ricky Rudd who clearly had the best car, leading 183 laps. However, with 16 remaining his engine failed allowing Alan Kulwicki to take the lead and the eventual victory, his first ever. The most memorable event occurred after the race when Kulwicki turned his car around and drove the track backwards in what he dubbed a Polish Victory Lap.
2. 1989 Banquet Frozen Foods 300 - Sears Point International Raceway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCIeGYN_bTM
For a race with only three lead changes, the first event at Sears Point still proved to be exciting, especially the final handful of laps. The Rudd/Wallace duel at the end is what stock car racing is all about in my view. Watch the video and watch Rudd and Wallace slide their cars around. It's one reason why I'd love to see NASCAR bring back the bias ply tire.
1. 1994 Brickyard 400 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JyXsSw3H5w
No race has ever had the kind of pomp and circumstance that the inaugural event at the Brickyard got. While the racing there is often dull and boring, the 1994 event was an exciting race from start to finish starting with Earnhardt's brush with the wall, to the Bodine brothers getting together, to the late race duel between Ernie Irvan and Jeff Gordon. With five laps remaining, it looked as though it would be the 1992 Indy 500 relived with stock cars as Irvan was doing all he could to hold off young Indianian, Jeff Gordon. However, Irvan's right front tire went flag giving Gordon the lead and the eventual victory.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the tracks/races that have left the schedule in favor of these ones. North Wilkesboro lost both of its events, one to Texas, one to New Hampshire. Rockingham lost both of its race dates first to California, then to Texas. Darlington lost its Labor Day weekend event to California. California lost one of its two dates this year to Kansas, while this week's Kentucky event is essentially taking one from Atlanta which now hosts the Labor Day weekend race.
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