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8 Most Controversial Wins in NASCAR History

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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Sports and controversy. The those two words seem to go hand-in-hand. While the NFL is heavily scrutinized over every little misstep, whether it’s actually their fault or not, the same could be said for NASCAR and its governing body. Moreover, sometimes the officials make boneheaded calls in the moment which potentially can change sports history and rewrite the record books.

I wrote an article for the Daily Downforce a couple of weeks ago outlining the most iconic and/or important wins in NASCAR history. This time, we’re going to take a look at some of the most controversial wins that still get under the skin of fans to this day. And like that other article, these are in no particular order. Let’s check it out.

Kevin Harvick’s Daytona 500 Win Over Mark Martin

We’re going to start this list with perhaps one of the most heartbreaking losses in NASCAR history. Mark “the kid” Martin had a long career in NASCAR. For a very long time he was the record holder for most wins in the Xfinity Series until Kyle Busch came along and obliterated it.

But for this entry, we’re going to focus primarily on his Cup Series career, specifically when it comes to superspeedway racing. Mark Martin, along with the likes of drafting ace Dale Earnhardt, ruled restrictor plate racing in the 1990s and even in the early 2000s. While he was never able to hoist the Harly J. Earl trophy or even win the Pepsi 400, he was often in the mix at those styles of tracks and has 2 wins at Talladega.

When it was first announced that he was leaving his long-tenured home at Roush Racing to go part-time for MB2/Ginn Racing, a drastic falloff in performance was predicted in the eyes of many fans. Well, that never really happened. In the Daytona 500, Mark Martin was in the mix all day and even was able to capture the lead in the closing laps. But it wasn’t meant to be. Kevin Harvick, using his “closer” skills, was able to get by the No. 01 Army sponsored Chevy to win the race over Martin in a photo finish.

What makes this win so controversial is NASCAR’s refusal to throw the caution flag, as they allowed the two drivers to duke it out as they raced back to the line. Personally, I think they made the right call. The crash that happened on the last lap occurred in turn 4 when Greg Biffle turned Kyle Busch. There were no obstacles for the field as they raced to the end.

But when the crash started, Mark Martin was in the lead. There was precedent at the time for NASCAR to throw the caution flag but they didn’t. Instead, they let them race back to the line and allowed Kevin Harvick to inch out in front of Martin.

To this day, fans wonder why a caution wasn’t flown at the time of the accident. If it had been, Mark Martin would have been a Daytona 500 champion and Kevin Harvick would end his #4Ever tour without that win on the back of his baseball card.

The Ausie Invasion of SVG

When it was announced that Shane van Gisbergen was going to run the Chicago street course for Team Trackhouse’s Project 91, I think it was mostly met with an indifferent shoulder shrug. I mean, road course ringers are nothing new in the world of NASCAR. They’ve been around forever, even way back when there were only 2 road courses on the schedule with the likes of road ringer legends Ron Fellows and Boris Said.

And those ringers always did fairly well. They didn’t win but they were able to outperform in typically subpar equipment. In recent years, we’ve seen the road ringers frequency as well as their performance in NASCAR fall a tad. This is likely due to a number of reasons, most notably the fact that NASCAR Cup Series drivers, on average, are better road racers in general than they were even ten years ago. This is obviously due to the number of road courses on the schedule. They can’t grit their teeth and just get through them anymore, they have to perform and perform well.

This year, we’ve seen a number of road ringers from F1’s Jensen Button to Jordan Taylor and, largely, they’ve struggled. So, when SVG came in, I think a lot of fans were expecting more of the same. But that’s not what they got. Instead, SVG came into our sport, our cars, having to learn to shift with the opposite hand than he’s used to, and he whooped our boys, becoming the first driver in 60 years to win in his debut.

This win is controversial because, while it is exciting that he brought some new eyes to our sport, it left a lot of fans feeling conflicted. An outsider waltzed into our sport and won in his first ever start? Even Juan Montoya, one of the greatest drivers in the world, couldn’t do that.

And SVG’s subsequent statements saying that anyone in his series could come into NASCAR and do what he did left a sour taste in the mouths of many NASCAR loyalists, myself included. While it is a remarkable win by a great driver, selfishly, I wish one of our NASCAR boys could have gotten the victory that day…and I hope they do in a few weeks at the Indy Road Course as well.

Dale Jr. Wrecks Carl Edwards To Win At Michigan

It’s no secret that I am the Daily Downforce’s resident Dale Jr. fan. I have been since I first started watching NASCAR religiously back in 2003. And to a lot of newer fans, it may seem incomprehensible that there was a time when Dale Jr. got booed after he won a race. Well, it did happen and I remember it well.

The year was 2006. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was making one of his limited scheduled Busch Series starts in a really cool looking neon orange No. 8 Menards Chevy for DEI. Predictably, Junebug was in the mix all day long, and so was Robby Gordon driving the No. 88 Navy Chevy, which Jr. owned.

In the closing laps of the race, it was all coming down between those two and Carl Edwardes in his Roush Racing No. 60. Coming out of turn 2, Dale Jr. got a huge run and ran right up onto the back bumper of Carl Edwards. This got Edwards out of shape and it turned him into and across the nose of Robby Gordon. Dale Jr. would go on to win the race.

After the checkered flag, Carl Edwards sped back onto the track and ran into Junebug’s No. 8 as he had his hand out the window. And, as he was celebrating in victory lane, the Michigan crowd voiced their displeasure with Little E.

This is one of the only times Dale Jr. got booed in his career. It’s interesting and it’s certainly a controversial victory for Little E. If you want a more in-depth breakdown of the incident, I recommend giving this video from our friend The Iceberg a watch. And don’t forget to like and subscribe to his channel if you haven’t already.

Dale Sr. Wrecks Terry Labonte To Win at Bristol

Let’s move on from Little E to his dad, the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt. Unlike his son, Dale Sr. wasn’t always beloved by the NASCAR fans. I remember one incident in particular that my dad, a seasoned Bill Elliott and now Chase Elliott fan, is still fuming over: the infamous pass in the grass. It wasn’t really a pass but it got under the skin of many NASCAR fans as Bill Elliott was, at the time, NASCAR’s most popular driver.

So, Dale Earnhardt Sr. has had a moment or two of wearing NASCAR’s black hat. But, by the mid 1990s, he was general well liked by fans. No, he wasn’t anywhere near Bill Elliott’s popularity, but he was still well respected and considered the GOAT by most at the time. But, like his son, he would also score a very controversial victory at my home track of Bristol Motor Speedway, which led to everyone in attendance in the last great coliseum to shower the driver of the black No. 3 in boos.

Terry Labonte, driving for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 entry, was running second but coming for the leader in Earnhardt. Pausing for a moment, what was Dale’s deal with whoever was driving that No. 5 HMS car? It was like, he couldn’t help but wreck it! Anyway, Labonte, who spun earlier in the race, was charging back to the front, chasing down the leading Dale Earnhardt.

As the field took the white flag, Labonte took the lead. That was when it all when down. Dale Earnhardt got back to the No. 5’s back bumper and rattled his cage. It sent Labonte around, crashing into the wall and Dale Earnhardt won the race. As he celebrated in victory lane, he got a tremendous amount of boos.

Robby Gordon Declares Himself The Winner In Montreal

As Tony Stewart said once in an interview on the Dale Jr. Download, Robby Gordon has a lot of raw, natural talent. “It’s rough around the edges natural talent but still natural talent”. R. Gordon is often viewed by history as a road course ringer. I don’t think you can really call him that as he ran several fulltime seasons in the Cup Series for RCR and then himself, but you can’t deny that road racing was his wheelhouse. I mean, all of his wins came at that style of racing. And he was very aggressive when doing it.

For the first trip to the famous Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Gordon, driving his own No. 55 car, was leading with 4 laps to go when he was spun off the front nose of Marcus Ambrose’s No. 59. The caution would come out and the field would freeze.

Gordon, feeling that he should have the lead as he was hit from behind and spun, drove back up through the field under caution and rode beside Ambrose. As NASCAR reviewed video footage, it was determined that Gordon would not get the lead or even be allowed to start as the second car in line. In protest of this, Gordon stayed behind Ambrose and took the green and black flag.

As the field went green, Gordon dumped Ambrose and NASCAR told him that he was no longer being scored. The win would ultimately go to Kevin Harvick, but Robby Gordon did burnouts alongside him, declaring himself the winner of the race.

Richard Petty’s 199th Win

Richard Petty is and always will be considered the King of NASCAR in the eyes of many fans as well as drivers, past, present, and future. However, there is a small group of fans and people working within the industry who dispute the statistic that Petty has 200 wins, claiming that he should only have 199.

This stems from the fact that during post-race inspection at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1983, it was found that the engine in the No. 43 was oversized, not to mention a tire violation was also found. Earlier in the season, NASCAR had fined Tim Richmond 5 laps off the lead for a similar infraction. But, in a mind boggling decision, NASCAR let Richard Petty’s 199th victory stand. That, ladies and gentleman, is the real Mickey Mouse victory.

Chase Elliott’s Pocono Victory in 2022

Speaking of Mickey Mouse wins, this win by Chase Elliott is often scrutinized as such. This is largely due to the fact that Elliott didn’t cross the line first nor did he even cross the line second. He finished third in the unofficial results, a respectable finish but not a win. It was Denny Hamlin who did the post-race celebration and interviews from victory circle.

However, in post-race inspection, the bodies of BOTH race winning and runner up JGR cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were found to be “modified” which is a big no-no when it comes to the new NextGen car.

For the first time since 1960, the win was stripped away as was Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish and the win was gifted to NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott.

Tony Stewart Over Regan Smith at Talladega

This last one is crazy! So, it was 2008 and Regan Smith was driving the No. 01 car for DEI. Meanwhile, Tony Stewart was driving the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for JGR. The two car tandem was just beginning to take off and, on the last lap as the field was heading down the backstretch, leader Tony Stewart and Regan Smith to teamed up and breaking away from the pack behind them.

Relatively unchallenged, the two were determined to settle it amongst themselves. As they sent into the tri-oval, Smith juked first up high and Stewart blocked. Then he was forced to go down low. He was able to get under Stewart while still on the racing surface but Stewart shoved him below the yellow line.

Regan Smith, with all of his momentum, was able to beat Stewart to the line. While it was initially thought to be a clean pass, NASCAR disqualified Smith for not giving the position back and they awarded Stewart the victory, his lone at ‘Dega. To this day, this is still one of the most controversial finishes in NASCAR history and it is largely viewed as an injustice, which…it really was.

All right, Daily Downforce readers? Did I miss anything? Are there more controversial wins that you’re still fuming about? Let us know on all of our social media platforms and keep it right here for all your latest NASCAR news stories and discussions.

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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