The Closest NASCAR Sprint Cup Finishes in History

Head to Head winds by a thousandth of a second!

Written by Carly Hallman

The thrill of the chase is one of the most exciting things about NASCAR. When two highly competitive racers go head to head, trading the lead and battling for supremacy over hundreds of laps, it’s not just the first place finisher that wins – that’s a big win for the fans, too! We’ve put together all of NASCAR’s closest finishes in this infographic, Take a look at how close of a photo finish these races were – it’s often just milliseconds that separates victory from defeat!

Ironically, there’s currently a tie for the closest NASCAR finish in the Sprint Cup at 0.002 seconds. Blink and you would have missed it … literally! A blink usually takes 300 milliseconds, and this race was decided by only two milliseconds. Even the largest margins of victory on the list of the top 20 closest NASCAR races would’ve been missed in the blink of an eye. And remember, this isn’t the nose of a horse; these cars are often going somewhere between 110 and 160 mph!

The Two Closest NASCAR Finishes in the Sprint Cup

The first-ever race to end that closely was between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington Raceway in 2003. The next was in 2011 at Talladega Superspeedway, where Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer were literally inches apart, despite traveling at more than 150 miles per hour.

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NASCAR’s Famous Photo Finishes

The Closest NASCAR Sprint Cup Finishes in History

2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400

Margin
0.002 Seconds
Track
Darlington Raceway
Date
March 16, 2003
Winner
Ricky Craven
Average Speed
126.21 mph
Lead Changes
15
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Ricky Craven Kurt Busch
Car Number 32 97
Car Make Pontiac Ford
Laps Led/Laps Completed 1 / 293 23 / 293

2011 Aaron’s 499

Margin
0.002 Seconds
Track
Talladega Superspeedway
Date
April 17, 2011
Winner
Jimmie Johnson
Average Speed
156.26 mph
Lead Changes
88
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Jimmie Johnson Clint Bowyer
Car Number 48 33
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 14 / 188 38 / 188

2007 Pepsi 400

Margin
0.005 Seconds
Track
Daytona International Speedway
Date
July 7, 2007
Winner
Jamie McMurray
Average Speed
138.98 mph
Lead Changes
28
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Jamie McMurray Kyle Busch
Car Number 26 5
Car Make Ford Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 3 / 160 20 / 160

1993 DieHard 500

Margin
0.005 Seconds
Track
Talladega Superspeedway
Date
July 25, 1993
Winner
Dale Earnhardt
Average Speed
153.86 mph
Lead Changes
26
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Dale Earnhardt Ernie Irvan
Car Number 3 4
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 59 / 188 56 / 188

2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500

Margin
0.006 Seconds
Track
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Date
March 11, 2001
Winner
Kevin Harvick
Average Speed
143.27 mph
Lead Changes
25
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Kevin Harvick Jeff Gordon
Car Number 29 24
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 18 / 325 118 / 325

1994 Pepsi 400

Margin
0.008 Seconds
Track
Daytona International Speedway
Date
July 2, 1994
Winner
Jimmy Spencer
Average Speed
155.56 mph
Lead Changes
18
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Jimmy Spencer Ernie Irvan
Car Number 27 28
Car Make Ford Ford
Laps Led/Laps Completed 1 / 160 86 / 160

2004 Subway 400

Margin
0.010 Seconds
Track
North Carolina Speedway
Date
February 22, 2004
Winner
Matt Kenseth
Average Speed
112.02 mph
Lead Changes
15
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Matt Kenseth Kasey Kahne
Car Number 17 9
Car Make Ford Dodge
Laps Led/Laps Completed 259 / 393 0 / 393

2000 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500

Margin
0.010 Seconds
Track
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Date
March 12, 2000
Winner
Dale Earnhardt
Average Speed
131.76 mph
Lead Changes
30
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Dale Earnhardt Bobby Labonte
Car Number 3 18
Car Make Chevrolet Pontiac
Laps Led/Laps Completed 34 / 325 46 / 325

2016 Good Sam 500

Margin
0.010 Seconds
Track
Phoenix International Raceway
Date
March 13, 2016
Winner
Kevin Harvick
Average Speed
113.21 mph
Lead Changes
7
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Kevin Harvick Carl Edwards
Car Number 4 19
Car Make Chevrolet Toyota
Laps Led/Laps Completed 139 / 313 65 / 313

2016 Daytona 500

Margin
0.010 Seconds
Track
Daytona International Speedway
Date
February 21, 2016
Winner
Denny Hamlin
Average Speed
157.55 mph
Lead Changes
20
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Denny Hamlin Martin Truex Jr.
Car Number 11 78
Car Make Toyota Toyota
Laps Led/Laps Completed 95 / 200 2 / 200

2010 Aaron’s 499

Margin
0.011 Seconds
Track
Talladega Superspeedway
Date
April 25, 2010
Winner
Kevin Harvick
Average Speed
150.59 mph
Lead Changes
88
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Kevin Harvick Jamie McMurray
Car Number 29 1
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 2 / 200 27 / 200

2005 Ford 400

Margin
0.017 Seconds
Track
Homestead-Miami Speedway
Date
November 20, 2005
Winner
Greg Biffle
Average Speed
131.43 mph
Lead Changes
21
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Greg Biffle Mark Martin
Car Number 16 6
Car Make Ford Ford
Laps Led/Laps Completed 9 / 267 2 / 267

2011 Good Sam Club 500

Margin
0.018 Seconds
Track
Talladega Superspeedway
Date
October 23, 2011
Winner
Clint Bowyer
Average Speed
143.40 mph
Lead Changes
72
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Clint Bowyer Jeff Burton
Car Number 33 31
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 25 / 188 26 / 188

2007 Daytona 500

Margin
0.020 Seconds
Track
Daytona International Speedway
Date
February 18, 2007
Winner
Kevin Harvick
Average Speed
149.33 mph
Lead Changes
14
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Kevin Harvick Mark Martin
Car Number 29 01
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 4 / 202 26 / 202

1994 Diehard 500

Margin
0.025 Seconds
Track
Talladega Superspeedway
Date
July 24, 1994
Winner
Jimmy Spencer
Average Speed
163.22 mph
Lead Changes
24
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Jimmy Spencer Bill Elliott
Car Number 27 11
Car Make Ford Ford
Laps Led/Laps Completed 21 / 188 14 / 188

2005 Coca-Cola 600

Margin
0.027 Seconds
Track
Lowe’s Motor Speedway
Date
May 29, 2005
Winner
Jimmie Johnson
Average Speed
114.70 mph
Lead Changes
37
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Jimmie Johnson Bobby Labonte
Car Number 48 18
Car Make Chevrolet Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 11 / 400 10 / 400

2005 Golden Corral 500

Margin
0.028 Seconds
Track
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Date
March 20, 2005
Winner
Carl Edwards
Average Speed
143.48 mph
Lead Changes
27
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Carl Edwards Jimmie Johnson
Car Number 99 48
Car Make Ford Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 9 / 325 156 / 325

2004 Samsung/Radio Shack 500

Margin
0.028 Seconds
Track
Texas Motor Speedway
Date
April 4, 2004
Winner
Elliott Sadler
Average Speed
138.85 mph
Lead Changes
24
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Elliott Sadler Kasey Kahne
Car Number 38 9
Car Make Ford Dodge
Laps Led/Laps Completed 48 / 334 148 / 334

1997 Pepsi 400

Margin
0.029 Seconds
Track
Daytona International Speedway
Date
July 5, 1997
Winner
John Andretti
Average Speed
157.79 mph
Lead Changes
16
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name John Andretti Terry Labonte
Car Number 98 5
Car Make Ford Chevrolet
Laps Led/Laps Completed 113 / 160 0 / 160

2006 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400

Margin
0.045 Seconds
Track
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Date
March 12, 2006
Winner
Jimmie Johnson
Average Speed
133.36 mph
Lead Changes
22
Info Winner 2nd Place
Name Jimmie Johnson Matt Kenseth
Car Number 48 17
Car Make Chevrolet Ford
Laps Led/Laps Completed 1 / 270 146 / 270

The Closest Race in NASCAR’s History

But NASCAR gets even closer than that. In a much lower division, there was a NASCAR photo finish at Colorado National Speedway with a difference of only 0.001 second. It happened in 1995, and it remains the closest finish in the top three divisions. Butch Miller and Mike Skinner weren’t going nearly as fast as those on the big tracks, however, at a pole speed of about 79 mph.

A Legacy of Close Races

It’s nearly impossible to have a tie since NASCAR’s electronic scoring was put into place, but these races are as close as one can possibly get to a NASCAR tie. Before 1993, though, hand-held stopwatches were used. In the earliest days of the sport, problems would occasionally occur. The first-ever Daytona 500 winner, Lee Petty, had to wait three days to be declared the victor over the close second, Johnny Beauchamp, who also believed that Petty had won.

The First Official Tie

Naturally, before 1993, the lack of an electronic scoring system and high-quality cameras meant that there were occasionally ties. One happened between Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough in the 1974 Firecracker 400. They were so close together across the finish line that they tied for third and it was declared a dead heat.

High-Speed Cameras

Today, it’s much easier for officials and viewers to tell a thumb-sized difference between the two cars due to powerful ultra-slo-mo cameras, which record at an incredible 1,000 frames per second. If we had these in 1974, perhaps we would’ve known who really won third place!

NASCAR Photo Finish Pros

A few racers have frequented the list of closest NASCAR finishes several times. Out of the top ten fastest NASCAR finishes, Kevin Harvick, Ernie Irvan, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Kyle Busch have been in a neck-and-neck finish twice. Increase that list to the top 20 and the fast and sneaky Kevin Harvick has been in that category the most, appearing in five of the tightest races of all time out of the 20. He won four out of the five times!

A Speedy Racetrack

One racetrack is especially known for these photo finishes: Daytona International Speedway. It hosted ten of the top 20 closest NASCAR finishes. In second place is Talladega, which hosted four out of the top 20.

The closest and best NASCAR finishes of all time have made a big impression on us, but who knows? Perhaps we’ll get an even closer finish in the upcoming races!


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