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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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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