It’s a Sprint, Not a Marathon: Weird Stories from NASCAR’s Shortest Races

This Easter Sunday, Kyle Busch may have equaled Richard Petty’s record of 18 consecutive seasons with a Cup Series victory, but he claimed another, less prestigious record outright. The NASCAR Easter Special was the slowest Cup race ever. Due to the dirt surface, 14 cautions, and two red flags for rain, race winner Kyle Busch took 3 hours, 34 minutes, and 27 seconds to complete the 133.25-mile distance, an average speed of just 34.973 miles per hour. In comparison, the fastest NASCAR race of all time was 1997 Talladega spring, won by Mark Martin at an average speed over 188 mph.

Earlier that night, as drivers stood under umbrellas on Pit Road, the race threatened to break another record. With only 140 laps of the 0.533-mile track completed, had the race been declared official it would have been the shortest Cup Series race in the modern era at approximately 81 miles in length. Instead, as the race went to full distance (and with that finish, I’m sure NASCAR is glad it did) the second edition of Dirt Bristol was forced to settle for third on the list of shortest modern-era Cup races. 

Here is that list: the five shortest official Cup Series points races, in all of their strange, half-completed glory.

5: 1982 Richmond 400, Richmond International Raceway –  135.500 miles

On lap 246 of the second race of 1982, independent owner/driver Dave Marcis was running in 5th place, a lap down on leader Joe Ruttman. Suddenly, Ruttman spun out, letting Marcis pass him and get his lap back. Under caution, the three remaining drivers in front of Marcis pitted, leaving Marcis in the lead under caution when it began to rain on lap 250. The race was declared official, and the Wisconsin native scored the fourth and final win of his Winston Cup career without ever leading a lap under green.

4: 2021 Food City Dirt Race, Bristol Motor Speedway (Dirt Track) – 134.949 miles

The first Cup Series race held on dirt since 1970 was run on a Monday due to rain, but is the only event on this list not to see a red flag for weather. After dusty track conditions necessitated a midrace switch to single-file restarts, the race went into overtime after Mike Marlar spun with a few laps remaining. Joey Logano held off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to score the victory, his sole win of 2021.

3: 2022 NASCAR Easter Special, Bristol Motor Speedway (Dirt Track) – 133.250 miles

Despite delay after delay, this race claims the third spot on this list by just three laps. At just over 133 miles in length, the 2022 Easter Special holds the record as the shortest race to reach scheduled distance in modern NASCAR history, and what a race it was. Dirt-track aces Chase Briscoe and Tyler Reddick collided in the final turn, allowing third-place Kyle Busch to sneak through and steal the win by only a few car lengths.

2: 1977 Richmond 400, Richmond International Raceway – 132.79 miles

Cale Yarborough got his championship defense off to a great start, finishing 2nd at Riverside and then winning both the Daytona 500 and the spring race at Richmond in Junior Johnson’s #11 Chevy. It was that dominant second victory, in a race cut short by rain to just 250 of 400 scheduled laps at the 0.542-mile facility, that was at the time the shortest Cup race in the modern era.

1: 1992 Bud at the Glen, Watkins Glen International – 124.95 miles

That record was beaten in August of 1992. The first Cup Series race to use the Inner Loop chicane was expected to be a race to halfway. After the start was delayed three hours, there was only a very narrow window to fit the race before more rain and darkness would eventually cut it short. Kyle Petty, driving for SABCO, won out in a race-long battle with Ernie Irvan, and scored his first of two wins in 1992. 

At just 51 laps and a grand total of 124.95 miles, the 1992 Bud at the Glen was the shortest Cup Series race in the modern era, but if dirt racing at Bristol in (typically rainy) April continues in the years to come, the chance increases of seeing a NASCAR Cup Series race distance under 100 miles, something that hasn’t happened since 1971. 

Honorable Mention: 1971 Myers Brothers 250, Bowman-Gray Stadium – 62.5 miles

Before Winston became the title sponsor of the Cup Series for 1972, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco pushed for a number of schedule changes aimed at ‘professionalizing’ stock-car racing. Included in those changes were the elimination of dirt races, of tracks shorter than a half-mile in length, and of races shorter than 200 miles. As a result, this was the last Cup Series event ever held at Bowman-Gray, and remains the most recent points-paying Cup race of fewer than 100 miles. 

More interestingly, it is the only race in NASCAR history that nobody won. 

In 1971, with NASCAR clamping down on  “aero cars” like the Charger Daytona, money from the Big Three automakers was drying up. To combat shrinking field sizes, NASCAR invited drivers from the Grand American division (a predecessor to today’s Xfinity Series) to compete in six of the season’s short-track races. 

Bobby Allison was the first driver to realize that the shorter wheelbase of the Grand American Mustangs, Camaros, and AMC Javelins could be an advantage on Bowman-Gray’s tight quarter-mile track, and he was right. After a race-long duel with Richard Petty’s Grand National-sized Plymouth, Allison came out on top, scoring the first win for a Mustang in the Cup Series. 

Except these combination races were scored with IMSA-style multi-class rules, meaning that both Allison and Petty won their respective classes. However, NASCAR scored only the Grand American cars based on their in-class positions. The Grand National cars would score points based on their overall result. So, Petty was awarded a second-place finish in the Grand National division, and Bobby Allison walked away with a Grand American victory. NASCAR hadn’t expected the less powerful cars to put up a fight, and the rules didn’t permit Allison or Petty to be scored as the victor. The 1971 Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman-Gray Stadium, the most recent Cup Series race of fewer than 100 miles, is also the only NASCAR race in history to have been won by nobody.

Featured image from Pat Vallely

Published by Jack Swansey

Originally from North Carolina, Jack has been a NASCAR fan since 2008, and his favorite driver is Bubba Wallace. At Wesleyan University, he studied film and anthropology and wrote his senior thesis about the fan culture of American stock car racing. When not watching NASCAR, Jack is probably looking for some other motorsport to watch, scouring antique stores for hard-to-find diecasts, or investigating the history of some obscure backmarker team or another. To fund his HotWheels collection, Jack works in television production.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: