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The Biggest Chokes in NASCAR History

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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In sports, it always comes down to who can keep their cool and perform in the big moments. NASCAR is no different, but some drivers fall apart in big moments. What are the biggest chokes in NASCAR history?

5. Juan Pablo Montoya’s Costly Speeding Penalty: 2009 Brickyard 400

Juan Pablo Montoya utterly dominated the majority of the 2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. He started on the front row alongside Mark Martin, and Montoya was in the lead by lap five. He proceeded to lead 116 of the next 120 laps, and he only lost the lead during green flag pit stop cycles.

With 36 laps to go, Montoya pitted for the final time, but he was caught speeding on pit road. He was forced to come down pit road to serve a pass-through penalty. He would never recover from the penalty and finished 11th.

The loss stung even more as it was Montoya’s best opportunity to win a Cup Series race on an oval track. He finished his Cup Series career with two road course wins, but he failed to get a win on an oval track. He also would have become the first and only driver to win both the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500.

4. Jeff Gordon Spins Out While Leading: 2007 Cenutrion Boats at the Glen

Jeff Gordon was seemingly bulletproof throughout the 2007 regular season. He held a gargantuan points lead, and his great season continued into the series annual trip to Watkins Glen. Gordon started on the pole and led 51 laps on the day.

Gordon held a moderately comfortable lead over fellow road course ace Tony Stewart, but, with two laps to go, the race turned. Gordon wheel-hopped going into turn one and spun out into the run-off. Stewart took the lead as Gordon fell all the way back to eighth.

Gordon would gain one more spot to finish seventh after Carl Edwards went off into the gravel on the last lap. The spin was a pretty minor miscue in the grand scheme of that season, but it still was uncharacteristic for one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers.

3. Marcos Ambrose Shuts off His Engine: 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Marcos Ambrose seemed to have the field covered in the later stages of the 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma. A caution came out with eight laps to go involving Brad Keselowski. Ambrose did what most NASCAR drivers do under the caution flag, save fuel.

The problem was that he tried to do it going uphill into turn one. The car stalled between turn one and turn two, and Ambrose fell back in the field. He tried to drive back up towards the front, but he was forced to fall back for not maintaining pace car speed.

Ambrose would go on to finish seventh. He would get his redemption next season with his first career win at Watkins Glen, and he would win one more race at Watkins Glen the following year. However, Sonoma will always be something NASCAR fans think of when they think of Marcos Ambrose.

2. Bill Elliott Loses the 1992 Cup Series Championship

Prior to the 1992 season, Bill Elliott was a hot pick to win the Cup Series Championship. He joined Junior Johnson & Associates, which was one of top teams in the sport at the time. Elliott won four races and held the points lead for a good portion of the season, but the season fell apart late starting at Dover in September.

In a story told by Tim Brewer on the above episode Scene Vault Podcast, Elliott was in line to win his fifth race of the season at Dover. On the final pit stop, Brewer called for two tires, but Johnson overruled him demanding that Elliott take four tires. Elliott would lose the lead and finish second as a result of that pit call.

Elliott would blow a 154 point lead over the final six races with four finishes outside of the top-25. He would lose the championship by 10 points to Alan Kulwicki. Brewer and Johnson had a major falling out following that race, and Brewer was fired. Another story told on that above episode of the Scene Vault Podcast.

1. Denny Hamlin Loses the 2010 Championship

After winning his eight race of the year at the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in 2010, Denny Hamlin held the points lead by 33 points over Jimmie Johnson. No one had held the points lead that late in the season except for Johnson since 2005. Unfortunately for Hamlin, he fell apart in the final two races of the season.

At Phoenix, Hamlin started 17th, but he led 190 laps on the day. He was on track for a top-5 finish before getting caught out late on pit strategy. He would finish in 12th while Johnson finished fifth, and this dropped Hamlin’s lead to only 15 points.

At Homestead, the weekend was a disaster from the start. Hamlin qualified in 37th and spun out on lap 25. He was able to fight and claw his way all day long, but he would fall short to Johnson who finished in second to take home his fifth straight championship.

Could we see another one of these unfortunate performances soon? This season still has a long way to go, and plenty of things can still happen.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts