Top Five Memorable Moments at Sonoma

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series making its 30th visit to Sonoma this Sunday, it’s only appropriate that we look back at some of NASCAR’s most memorable moments in wine country. Here’s my top five. Feel free to disagree. I’m sure you will.

Note: Click on the hyperlinks to relive each moment.

5. Jeff Gordon Three-Peat (2000)

The moment itself was far from dramatic, but anytime you win at the same venue three years in a row, it’s quite an accomplishment. Gordon led the final 27 laps and beat Sterling Marlin by more than four seconds. What’s more impressive is the victory was his sixth straight on a road course, having also won three in a row at Watkins Glen. Gordon won two more times at Sonoma and his five wins at the track rank first all-time.

4. Earnhardt’s Breakthrough (1995)

Three things were missing on Dale Earnhardt’s resume entering the 1995 season: a Daytona 500 win, a Brickyard 400 win, and a victory on a road course. We all know he didn’t get his Daytona moment until 1998, but not only did he win at Indy in ’95, he also won his first and only road course race that season. Earnhardt hounded Mark Martin in the closing laps waiting for him to slip. Finally, with just two laps to go, Martin slipped. Earnhardt made his move in turn six, perhaps the least likely spot to make a pass, and held on for the final lap and a half. In an interesting twist, car owner Richard Childress was in Africa and did not see his driver and good friend go to victory lane.

3. Marcos Ambrose Gaffe (2010)

In his six full-time seasons in the Cup Series, Marcos Ambrose was arguably the best road course driver in NASCAR. In 12 road course starts, he finished outside the top ten only once and won twice. He would have won three if not for a major mental error at Sonoma in 2010. Ambrose was leading under caution with seven laps to go when he shut off his engine to save fuel. As the car coasted uphill, Ambrose could not get the car refired and stopped on the track. NASCAR requires drivers to maintain speed and when Ambrose did not do that, he lost the lead and dropped back to seventh. Jimmie Johnson went on to win the race while Ambrose finished sixth.

2. Rudd’s Win That Wasn’t (1991)

I think this is one of the most underrated controversial moments in NASCAR history. Davey Allison was leading Ricky Rudd with two laps to go when Rudd spun Allison out in turn eleven coming to the white flag. Rudd seemingly cruised to victory with Allison finishing second. However, in an unprecedented decision by NASCAR, Rudd was black-flagged as he crossed the finish line while Allison received the checkered flag and the win. That was the last time NASCAR took away a victory for any reason. You would never see that happen today. If anything, Rudd’s actions would be applauded. As a footnote, Rudd was awarded second place.

1. Smoke’s Swansong (2016)

Maybe I’m falling victim to recency bias, but Tony Stewart’s final NASCAR victory takes the top spot. The 2016 race was vintage Smoke. Stewart took the white flag ahead of Denny Hamlin having led 21 straight laps on older tires. After Hamlin used his bumper to make a pass for the lead in turn seven, Stewart returned the favor in turn eleven. Hamlin left just enough of an opening for Stewart to make a move, and he did. Stewart went low, shoved Hamlin into the wall, and claimed his 49th and final Cup Series win. With three wins at the track, Stewart ranks second all-time in wins behind Jeff Gordon’s five.

What moments did I miss? Which do you agree with? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading!

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