Last-Race Legends of NASCAR
by Tom Jensen November 01, 2021
Ten surprising stats about final races in the premier series, including a King-sized shocker.
With the NASCAR premier series set to wrap up its 2021 schedule November 7 at Phoenix Raceway, it’s time to take a walk back in history and look at some interesting, and at times downright bizarre, statistics from final races of years past.
10. The First Last
The first final premier series race was the 1949 Wilkes 200 at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the heart of North Carolina moonshine country. Bob Flock captured the 200-lap race, which took place October 16 and was the eighth race of the 1949 Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) season. Flock won $1,500, finishing ahead of Hall of Famer Lee Petty (2011), the only other driver to complete every lap of the race.
9. First Last-Race Repeat Winner
The first driver to win more than one season-ending race was Buck Baker (2013), who won three final races in the 1950s, all in different brands of cars. In 1953, Baker drove his Oldsmobile to victory at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway. Three years later, he capped his first championship season by winning at Wilson (N.C.) Speedway in one of Carl Kiekhaefer’s all-conquering Chrysler 300s. Finally, in 1957, Baker won the season finale at Greensboro (N.C.) Fairgrounds in his iconic Black Widow Chevrolet. A replica of that car is on display at part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit.
8. One and Done
Only one driver in NASCAR history scored his lone career victory in a season-ending premier series race. That was Jerry Nadeau, who won the 2000 NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a Chevrolet owned by Rick Hendrick (2017). The Atlanta race featured 11 Hall of Fame drivers and seven Hall of Fame owners. Nadeau’s victory came in his 103rd start. His career would last just 177 races before being cut short by injury.
7. Delayed Gratification
The 2001 premier series season was supposed to end in Atlanta on November 18. But the 9/11 terrorist attacks meant the fall New Hampshire Motor Speedway race was postponed. Instead, the New Hampshire 300 was run on November 23, a Friday afternoon race staged five days after Atlanta. The race was won by Robby Gordon, who scored his first career victory behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress (2017). The victory was also the first for the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team.
6. Ending Strong
Bobby Labonte (2020) won 21 premier series races in his career, four of which were season-enders, all while he drove for car owner Joe Gibbs (2020). Labonte had season-ending victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1996, ’97 and ’99, along with a triumph at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2001. The most famous of Labonte’s Atlanta wins came in 1996, when he took the checkered flag while older brother Terry (2016) clinched his second championship. Bobby’s collection of artifacts and a race car will be on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Hall of Honor until mid-January of next year.
5. Triple Threat
In the 72 full premier series seasons that have been completed to date, only one driver has won the final race of the season three years in a row. That driver is Greg Biffle, who won the last race of the season each year from 2004 to 2006, all in Fords owned by Jack Roush (2019) and all at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
4. Owning It
The hottest streak any team owner ever had in the last race of the season belongs to Jack Roush, who saw three of his drivers combine to win every race at Homestead-Miami Speedway from 2004 to 2008. Greg Biffle drove Roush Fords to victory in the first three races of the streak, while Matt Kenseth won for Roush in 2007, as did Carl Edwards a year later. Homestead is also where Roush driver Kurt Busch won his premier series championship in 2004.
3. Unfit for The King
Richard Petty (2010) was NASCAR’s first seven-time champion and his amazing total of 200 premier series race wins absolutely dwarfs the 105 won by fellow Hall of Famer David Pearson (2011). But in a career that began in 1958 and continued through the 1992 season, the only time “The King” won the final race of the year was in 1971, when he captured the Texas 500 at Texas World Speedway in College Station. There, Petty bested Buddy Baker (2020) and Bobby Allison (2011) to win his third championship.
2. More Seven-Timers
Richard Petty is not alone among seven-time champions who didn’t put up big numbers in season finales. Dale Earnhardt (2010) won season-ending races at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1989 and ’95, neither of which was a championship season for him. Jimmie Johnson won at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2016, the season of his seventh and final premier series title. So among the three of them, Petty, Earnhardt and Johnson have combined to win 21 championships but only four victories in season-ending races.
1. The Closer
In 1967, Bobby Allison ended the season by driving his No. 11 Holman-Moody Racing Ford to victory in the Western Carolina 500 at Asheville-Weaverville (N.C.) Speedway. It would be the first of five times when Allison would win the last race of the season, a record that still stands today. The other four final races victories:
1970 - Tidewater 300, Langley Field Speedway, Hampton, Virginia. Allison won in his own No. 22 Dodge.
1978 – Los Angeles Times 500, Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway. This time, Allison won in the No. 15 Ford fielded by Bud Moore (2011).
1981 – Winston Western 500, Riverside (Calif.) International Speedway. Allison won on the Southern California road course in in the No. 28 Buick owned by Harry Ranier.
So the numbers for Allison: Five victories in season-ending races with five different owners, five different car numbers, at four different tracks and in four brands of cars. Amazing.