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What Are the Closest Finishes in NASCAR History?

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was decided by the slimmest of margins, 0.003 seconds, and it was marked as the third-closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history. What are the only races that were closer, and how does NASCAR determine the margin of victory in a race?

  • NASCAR has changed quite a bit in how they determine the margin of victory for any race. From eyeballing distances and using stopwatches, NASCAR now uses an electronic system to determine margin-of-victory.
  • Today, we will look at the only two Cup Series races that were closer than this race at Atlanta, alongside the surprising entry for the closest finish in NASCAR history. Spoiler alert, it’s not what you might think.
  • Fans were enamored by the finish to Sunday’s race at Atlanta. No one had ever seen anything quite like it.

How Does NASCAR Determine Margin of Victory?

Newer fans in particular might be a bit confused about what 0.003 seconds means, so, we are here to explain that a little bit. NASCAR uses electronic timing and scoring to score cars during the race. Each car is equipped with a transponder which NASCAR uses to determine where different cars are on the race track.

Using that information, NASCAR determines how far ahead or behind a driver is using time. So, when a driver is 1.0 seconds back, that means that the following driver will cross the point the leading driver crossed exactly one second later. Lap times and distances are measured down to the thousandth of a second, and NASCAR has had some close calls over the years. Three of which were even closer than Atlanta.

2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington (0.002 Seconds)

The closest finish recorded in NASCAR history at the time, the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 is one of the most iconic races in NASCAR history. Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch sliced their way to the front as cars in front of them fell back due to wearing tires. Busch lost his power steering late in the race, allowing Craven to slowly catch up.

Craven finally caught Busch with two laps to go, and the pair were banging off of each other throughout the last two laps. Eventually, it was Craven at the line who beat Busch by 0.002 seconds, A margin so close, that Fox’s slo-mo camera barely captured the final margin of victory.

2011 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega (0.002 Seconds)

At the height of the two-car tandem era at Talladega, the original version of Atlanta’s 3-wide finish was seen. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin battled with Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick throughout the final lap, with Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. lurking close by.

Gordon and Bowyer both gave Johnson a small hole to the inside, and Johnson made it a three-wide drag race down the final stretch. In the end, it was Johnson who beat Boywer by 0.002 seconds, with Gordon a 1/2 car length behind.

2018 Powershares QQQ 300 at Daytona (0.000 Seconds)

Many assume that one of those two races was the closest finish in NASCAR National Touring Series history, but that’s incorrect. Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler drag-raced to the finish line with a margin of 0.000 seconds. According to Racing Reference, the final margin was 0.0004 seconds.

Not only was this the closest finish in NASCAR history, but this was also the closest finish in all of motorsports history. Yes, Tyler Reddick won in the closest finish in recorded motorsports history. It just happened to be in the 2nd tier of NASCAR’s National Touring Series.

These are the closest finishes in NASCAR history, and a little bit of insight into how these margins are determined. Which one was the most interesting to you?

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Joshua Lipowski

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