Luck is weird idea. Is luck even a real thing? A lot of fancy schmansy, sciencey-type people would say that there’s no such thing as luck, all actions are caused by other actions, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. But forget all that, luck is a huge part of sports. Whether it’s a Hail Mary touchdown pass or a driver miraculously avoiding a last-lap wreck and stealing a win. A lot of the following moments involve one driver being incredibly lucky while another experiences bad luck, so it’s kind of a give and take situation. But we focus on the good luck in this list. There are the 10 Luckiest Moments in NASCAR History.
10. Casey Mears’ Entire Career – 2003
Yes, I am a Casey Mears hater. The guy had a top-tier ride for so many years and was barely serviceable as a racing driver. In his first 252 races, all of which were with top tier teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing, he had just 46 top-tens. He never finished higher than 14th in points and won just a single race on a fuel-mileage miracle. But how is Casey Mears’ entire career a lucky moment? Well, the fact that he was even offered a full-time ride in the Cup Series defies logic, it must be luck.
In 2002, Casey Mears raced a full season in NASCAR’s development Xfinity Series. He had just two top finishes, an average finish of 23rd and finished 21st in points. The next year, Chip Ganassi racing offered him a full-time cup ride. What the hell? Did Mears’ witness Ganassi commit a crime or something? Did Ganassi owe him a life debt? It doesn’t make any sense so I have no choice but to chalk it up to luck. Casey Mears’ rode this lucky moment to less-than-mediocre 13-year NASCAR career.
9. Tim Fedewa, Wrong Place, Right Time – 2002
If you’ve never seen the events that transpired in the 2002 Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Super Speedway, you should Google it. It featured one of the largest multi-car wrecks in NASCAR history. On lap 16, Shane Hmiel collided with Scott Riggs while Riggs hit the brakes after being blocked. Twenty-seven cars were collected in the crash leading to a red flag period to clean things up. Only three cars ended up finishing on the lead lap of the race. But where did the luck come into it? Well, the fact that third place finisher Tim Fedewa wasn’t involved in the wreck is one of the luckiest moments of his life and one of the luckiest moments in NASCAR history.
As the wreck began, Fedewa was running in 39th place and was way behind the lead pack. If you roll the tape back and take a look, you can see that Fedewa is nowhere to be found when the wreck begins. You can just see him roll into frame as the cars are coming to stop on the track. Fedewa had lost the lead pack draft and was destined to be lapped by the field and likely have his chance at a win squashed. Fortunately for Fedewa, losing the draft led to him having plenty of time to avoid the wreck and end up stealing a third place finish. This is one of the most overlooked lucky moments in NASCAR history.
8. Ambrose Jumps The Curb – 2009
NASCAR’s road course races always seem to have some sort of crazy fluke finish, or controversial moment. Montreal 2009 was no different. In the waning laps of the race, Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose were battling it out for the win. Ambrose had pulled away to a somewhat comfortable lead by the final lap and seemed destined to take the victory. Unfortunately for Ambrose, he would be on the unlucky end of this particular moment.
As Ambrose entered the final two turns, he jumped one of the curbs and lost a lot of forward momentum. This allowed Edwards to quickly close the gap and pass him for the victory. It was a sad moment for Ambrose, but a very lucky one for Carl Edwards.
7. The Fight – 1979
Every NASCAR fan has heard of or remembers the fight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough after a crash on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. The two got out of their cars and starting throwing haymakers to defend their honour. The thing that’s kinda forgotten is the fact that Allison and Yarborough were the first and second place cars at the time of their on track incident and subsequent fight. Richard Petty was in third place…over half a lap behind.
After Allison and Yarborough’s cars settled in the grass on the backstretch, Petty blazed by both of them and stole his sixth Daytona 500 victory. This moment was as lucky as it was entertaining and Richard Petty found himself on the right end of it.
6. James Buescher Wins Daytona – 2012
James Buescher is a bit of an interested story. He won a Truck Series championship and then kind of faded into obscurity. Despite this, few fans will forget his very lucky day at Daytona International Speedway in 2012.
Buescher was running a part-time schedule in NASCAR’s Xfinity series for Turner Motorsports and found himself racing mid-pack near the end of the season-opening race at Daytona. On the last lap, he was in 12th place, just looking to coast to a decent finish and get some experience in the higher series. As the leaders entered turn four, several of them collided causing the entire top-ten to wreck on the front straightaway. Buescher was able to just drive straight through the smoke and debris, miraculously not hitting anything and coasted to his first and only Xfinity Series victory. Few drivers will ever have a luckier day than James Buescher.
5. Harvick’s Blown Tire – 2003
There are a few lucky moments on this list that involve a blown tire leading to a lucky victory. This exact scenario happened in the 2003 Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Owner/driver Kevin Harvick dominated the race and it looked like he’d simply coast to the victory…of course this isn’t what happened. As Harvick exited turn four to take the white flag, his right-front tire blew, causing him to slow on the race track. Second-place driver Travis Kvapil blew past Harvick for the lead and took the win. It would be Kvapil’s only win of the season, but he would go on to win the 2003 Truck Series championship. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, right?
4. David Green Gets Handed The Win – 1994
Mark Martin retired as a legend and one of NASCAR’s most respected drivers. Meanwhile David Green retired as a NASCAR journeyman, despite his success in the Xfinity Series. In 1994, the two drivers would be involved in what was a very lucky moment for one of them and a momentary lapse in judgment for the other.
At Bristol in 1994, Martin was in position to win the race as the laps wound down. A caution flag would fly with just a few laps left, leaving the race to finish under caution, as this was before NASCAR’s modern-day Green-White-Checkered rule. Martin would lead the field around the track under the caution flag but pulled off the track into the pits thinking that the race was over. Second-place driver David Green would take the lead and win the race in one of the luckiest moments in NASCAR history. This would actually be Green’s only win of the season, but he would go on to win the championship. Mark Martin still maintains that pulling off the racetrack was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
3. No Tire, No Problem – 2011
Our next lucky moment also involves the leader of a race blowing a tire on the last lap, but — spoiler alert! — it wasn’t a sad and disappointing experience. At Iowa in 2011, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was racing teammate Carl Edwards for the win as the laps wound down. By the final lap, Stenhouse had pulled away to a comfortable lead and was poised to win. As he approached the finish line, he blew a tire and immediately slowed by a considerable speed. Carl Edwards quickly closed the gap but ended up running into the back of Stenhouse Jr, wrecking them both. But in the process of wrecking, Edwards’ car pushed Stenhouse’s car across the finish line for the win. A night that should have ended in disappointment for Stenhouse, ended in one of the luckiest victories in NASCAR history.
2. Derrike Cope Wins 1990 Daytona 500
Derrike Cope has been driving in NASCAR forever. The guy just won’t go away. He insists on continuing to drive for bottom-feeder teams and putt-putt around at the back of the pack. Whatever. If he likes it, who cares? But did you know there was actually a time when Derrike Cope won races? Yeah, I’m not kidding.
The year was 1990 and in the season-opening Daytona 500, Cope found himself in the second spot behind leader Dale Earnhardt. Just as Earnhardt took the white flag, he blew out a tire and had to slow on the track. Cope raced past Earnhardt and took the checkered flag to steal the Daytona 500 victory in one of the luckiest moments in NASCAR history. So yes, Cope won the biggest race on the circuit by virtue of sheer luck. To be fair, he did win again later that season at Dover without the same lucky break. But no one remembers that. Cope is forever remembered as one of the luckiest guys in NASCAR history.
1. Kurt Busch’s Errant Wheel – 2004
The 2004 season finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is a race that will live in NASCAR lore forever. Five drivers were still mathematically alive in the championship hunt, making for an even more stressful race. The championship lead was swapped dozens of times during the race, but Kurt Busch looked the strongest of all the competitors and was poised to steal the title. On lap 93 of the race, Busch began feeling a vibration in the right front of his car and headed for the pits. What happened next is nothing short of miraculous.
Busch’s entire right-front wheel came off the car and just missed the wall separating the race track and pit road. The wheel went rolling out on to the track, causing the caution flag to come out. This allowed Busch to pit and replace the tire, without losing a lap, keeping him in contention for the championship. He would go on to finish fifth in the race, clinching the title by just eight points. Had Busch’s wheel come off a split second later, it would have stayed within the pit road area and a caution would never have coming out. Busch would have gone several laps down and likely have lost the title to Jimmie Johnson. Now that is lucky.