Stock car racing has always been a popular, yet dangerous sport. And for many fans, the danger is part of the appeal. The biggest crashes have entered into NASCAR lore.
While wrecking is part of racing, the sport has also become much safer. A number of these high profile accidents have led to new safety technology whether it be restrictor plates, netting over windows, roll bars, and safety barriers. Below are some of the biggest wrecks in NASCAR history.
Lee Petty – 1961 Daytona 500
Lee Petty had quite a bit to hang his hat on during his 16-year stock car racing career. The 3 time Grand National Champion won the first edition of the Daytona 500 in 1959. He was also the first member of a racing dynasty that included son Richard and grandson Kyle.
Petty’s racing career ended after a horrible crash at the ’61 Daytona 500. Injuries from the wreck caused him to spend 4 months in the hospital and he called it quits after that stint.
Richard Petty – 1970 Darlington
Richard Petty saw his father Lee’s career end thanks to a bad wreck at Daytona. That didn’t deter “The King” from taking part in stock car racing. He wound up becoming arguably the biggest star in the entire sport.
That stardom almost came to an end during a bad 1970 crash at Darlington. Fans were dismayed to see Petty’s arms come out of the window at one point. Following this incident, which Petty walked away from largely unscathed, NASCAR mandated netting over each car’s window.
Richard Petty – 1980 Pocono
One thing about stock car racing is the more races you compete in, the more likely you are to get in some accidents. Richard Petty competed in an astonishing number of races, winning 200 and finishing in the top ten 712 times.
One of the biggest wrecks of the King’s career occurred at Pocono in 1980. He was struck flush by another car while covered in a cloud of smoke. While Petty’s neck was broken in the accident, he still raced for another 13 years.
Bobby Allison – 1987 Talladega
There was a time in NASCAR where there was no restriction on how fast the stock cars could race. And when Bobby Allison was driving over 200 mph in a race at Talladega, a blown tire caused him to spin out.
While Allison was incredibly unhurt in the accident, a number of fans in the stands were. This incident caused NASCAR to consider the safety of their drivers and fans. Restrictor plates, meant to slow cars down, soon became commonplace.
Ricky Rudd – 1984 Daytona
Ricky Rudd, also known as “The Rooster,” ran in a total of 906 races over his long 32-year career. There was plenty of success for him during that time which included being named the 1977 Rookie of the Year and winning 1987 Brickyard 400.
Rudd’s most harrowing moment occurred during the 1984 Busch Clash at Daytona. After another car spun him out, the driver smashed into a retaining wall. Rudd had a concussion and both eyes were swollen shut, but he healed up soon after that.
Michael Waltrip – 1990 Bristol
Michael Waltrip had an incredibly long and incredibly successful NASCAR career. The brother of another legend, Darrell Waltrip, Michael started 796 races in his career and won the Daytona 500 twice in 2001 and 2003.
The scariest moment in Waltrip’s career occurred at Bristol in 1990. During the accident, his number 30 car was sheared into three large pieces. Michael, astonishingly, was unhurt in the dangerous-looking accident. He later said it was a miracle he had survived.
Darrell Waltrip – 1991 Daytona
Darrell Waltrip has been a legend in NASCAR both as an incredible driver and also an adored booth personality. His driving career was dotted with accomplishments. He was a 3 time Cup Champion who won the Daytona 500 1 time and the Coca Cola 600 5 times.
Waltrip became a team owner in 1991 as his career was nearing an end. A terrible accident during the 1991 Daytona race ensured that the racer was never the same. While he raced for another 7 years, he only won 3 more races.
Rusty Wallace – 1993 Talladega
Rusty Wallace was named the Rookie of the Year in 1984. By the end of the 1980s, he was a full-blown superstar. The winner of the 1989 Winston Cup was looking to continue the domination into the 90s, but fate intervened.
The big run almost ended during a 1993 race at Talladega. With the race practically over, Wallace was bumped by Dale Earnhardt and flipped several times. Wallace was basically uninjured in the scary crash and went on to have a great season in ’93.
Mark Martin – 1994 Talladega
Mark Martin’s career, unfortunately, was similar to the experience of the 1990s Buffalo Bills. The driver finished second overall in the Cup standings an incredible five times (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2009). To Martin’s credit, finishing that high up the standings 5 times is a great accomplishment.
The scariest crash in Martin’s career occurred at Talladega in 1994. His number 6 car blew threw a barrier, two guardrails and then a catch fence. Thankfully, Martin was barely hurt in the accident.
Ricky Craven – 1996 Talladega
Ricky Craven, the rare NASCAR driver from Maine, was long supposed to be the next big thing. He won the Busch North Series Rookie of the Year in 1990. Then the 1992 Busch Series Rookie of Year. Craven then captured the 1995 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year Award.
Injuries, however, prevented the talented driver from cashing in on his massive potential. A 1996 crash as Talladega was one of the worst in his career. Craven was able to walk away from the wreck, though.
Dale Earnhardt – 1996 Talladega
Dale Earnhardt was no stranger to big crashes on the course. The Intimidator, though, was often used to causing them and getting away largely unscathed. That wasn’t the case during the DieHard 500 which took place at Talladega.
The wreck happened after Earnhardt was bumped by Sterling Marlin and hit the wall at 200 miles per hour. The driver broke his collarbone, sternum and shoulder blade. While Earnhardt was quickly back in the car, he was affected by his injuries, not winning another race until 1998’s Daytona 500.
Steve Park – 1998 Atlanta
Steve Park had an unconventional pathway to making the Winston Cup. Unlike most drivers, who hail from the South or the West Coast, he began his career in Long Island, New York. He was discovered by Dale Earnhardt and soon became his protege.
Shortly after his career began, Park was in a terrible accident at 1998’s fourth race of the year in Atlanta. He didn’t race until later in the year after breaking his leg, collarbone and shoulder blade.
Terry LaBonte – 1999 Bristol
Terry LaBonte was not only one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, but he was also one of the best. The Texan had taken home Winston Cup Championships in both 1984 and 1996.
During a 1999 race at Bristol, he was spun into a terrible crash by frequent rival Dale Earnhardt. The actions were so obvious that the crowd began to boo the Intimidator. When asked about the wreck after the race, LaBonte said, “[Earnhardt] never intends to take anybody out…it just happens that way.”
Mike Harmon – 2002 Bristol
Most NASCAR fans felt that the accident Michael Waltrip suffered at Bristol in 1990 was once in a lifetime. He had crashed through a retaining wall, then threw two guardrails and then into a catch fence.
During a practice run at the same course in 2002, driver Mike Harmon almost completely replicated the accident. The driver’s car was split in two and Johnny Sauter crashed into one of the pieces. Luckily, it wasn’t the piece that Harmon was in.
Johnny Sauter – 2002 Talladega
The track at Talladega is where an incredibly large number of NASCAR’s most infamous accidents have occurred. The 2002 wreck during the Aaron’s 312 is one of the largest and most famous.
Johnny Sauter’s car got the worst of it, but he was basically unhurt after the crash. Over 30 cars were involved in the massive pileup. The race ended in an unusual fashion. There were only 3 cars that made the lead lap and they finished the last 100 laps by themselves.
Jeff Gordon – 2008 Las Vegas
Jeff Gordon was one of the sport’s most popular drivers and dominated for much of the 1990s and the early 2000s. The California-born racer won the Daytona 500 3 times and was the Cup champion in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001.
The worst wreck of his career happened in Las Vegas in 2008. Gordon slammed into a wall, ripping the radiator out of his car. While the driver was unhurt, NASCAR was inspired by the crash to add more safety barriers to each course.
Carl Edwards – 2009 Talladega
Carl Edwards is one of NASCAR’s most popular and most successful drivers. While he has yet to win a Cup Championship, he has come very close. Edwards finished second overall in 2008 and again in 2011.
He had high hopes for 2009 until this race at Talladega. While on the last lap, though, he bumped into Brad Keselowski at over 200 mph. While his car was wrecked and undrivable, Edwards got out of the vehicle and memorably jogged to the finish line.
Kyle Larson – 2013 Daytona
Kyle Larson made history with his entrance into the sport of stock car racing. Hailing from Elk Grove, California, Larson participated in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and became the first Asian-American to win a Rookie of the Year in the sport.
In 2013, the same year he was named Rookie of the Year, Larson also got in a terrible wreck at Talladega. The crash disintegrated his car and sent his engine block into the stands. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Clint Bowyer – 2014 Daytona
Every NASCAR race is incredibly competitive. It doesn’t matter if that race is the Daytona 500 or the duel style races that help determine who qualifies. Clint Bowyer was hoping to do well in 2014’s Budweiser Duel when his crash happened.
The race was competitive and as Bowyer jockeyed for position, his car was flipped up in the air and did a barrel roll before landing back on the track. Luckily, none of the racers involved in the crash were hurt. They did, however, need different cars for the upcoming race.
Ryan Newman – 2020 Daytona
Thanks to a number of the crashes on this list, NASCAR has added a number of different safety initiatives. The news of a stock car racer getting in a potentially life-threatening crash has become much less common.
Racing veteran Ryan Newman had a crash at 2020’s Daytona race that looked extremely dangerous. It took 15 minutes just to get Newman from out of his vehicle. He did not break any bones but did have a head injury. He left the hospital after almost 2 weeks.
1960 Daytona Modified Sportsman Race
A horrendous crash took place during a modified sportsman car race at Daytona International Speedway. It occurred on February 13, 1960, and set the record for the biggest car crash in NASCAR history.
Once the crash started, everything happened in an instant. Many of the cars were dirt track race vehicles, so they were high off the ground, resulting in them flipping on the turn going 140 MPH. In total, 37 of the 73 cars on the track were involved, and luckily, no one was harmed.
Rusty Wallace – 1993 Daytona
During the 1993 season, driver Rusty Wallace found himself in a precarious situation on the track not once but twice. During his run at Daytona, Wallace was clipped from behind by cars that were in the process of spinning.
Traveling at 200 miles per hour, the bump was enough to cause his car to go sideways and begin flipping down the track. His car looked as though a bomb had gone off inside of it but Wallace was thankfully alive with only minor injuries.
Ryan Newman – 2003 Daytona
In 2003, driver Ryan Newman entered the season with high hopes as the reigning Rookie of the year. However, during the 2003 Daytona, things took a turn for the worse. Fifty-six laps into the race, Newman’s car was pushed into the wall by Ken Schrader.
Both cars hit the wall and slid down into the infield with Newman’s car catching air before going sideways and flipping numerous times before landing upside down. Despite the fact that the car was destroyed, Newman walked away from the wreck.
Michael McDowell – 2008 Texas
In 2008, rookie driver Michael McDowell was driving his qualifying lap in preparation for the Samsung 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, while performing a turn going 200 MPH, he lost control and ran straight into a wall.
The impact was so fierce that it flipped the car over before tumbling it several times. When the car was finally done flipping, it was on what would have been its left wheels. Miraculously, McDowell only had minor injuries.
Richard Petty – 1988 Daytona
During the 1988 Daytona 500, Richard Petty experienced one of the worst wrecks that many audiences had ever seen. While coming out of a turn on lap 106, he was bumped from behind, causing his car to slide sideways before standing up on its nose.
The car then slid on its front until it made impact with the wall, causing it to roll down the track. Once the car was finally motionless, it was hit by another driver. Although Petty experienced temporary blindness from the g-forces, he was relatively okay.
Steve Park – 2001 Darlington
During his 15-year career, Steve Park was involved in a number of almost-deadly crashes. At Darlington in 2001, Park was involved in one of the most serious accidents of his career when he lost control of his car.
Incredibly, when he pulled on his steering wheel, it wasn’t secured properly and came off in his hands, causing him to lose control of his vehicle. Park was then hit by someone and blacked out. He had severe trauma to his ribs and head, with some saying he was never the same after.
“The Big One” – 1996 Talladega
During the 1996 Winston Select 500, thirteen cars were involved in a crash that is now referred to as “The Big One.” Ricky Craven was sent soaring between Turns 1 and 2 before rolling out of control down the banking, causing a massive pileup.
Incredibly, Craven only suffered two cracked vertebrae but was back behind the wheel the following weekend. The remnants of his car can be seen at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, a mile from where the crash happened.
Aaron’s 312 – 2002 Talladega
Aaron’s 312 at Talladega took place on April 20, 2002, at Talladega Superspeedway. On lap 14, the largest crash in modern NASCAR history happened at the exit of turn two with 31 cars involved.
At the time, 41 of the 43 cars in the race were on the track The crash brought about a 40-minute red flag and caused a minor injury to Mark Harmon, who required stitches for biting his tongue. The race resumed not long after.
Ryan Newman – 2009 Talladega
Ryan Newman didn’t have a whole lot of luck on the Talladega track, back in 2009. After he had his car hit by Carl Edwards’ flying car in the spring, he had another crash during the AMP Energy 500.
With just five laps left in the race, Newman’s car was nudged and it sent him flying over Kevin Harvick. Newman continued flipping off of the track, taking out Elliott Sadler and Marcos Ambrose with him. Newman had to be cut from his car but was uninjured.
Aaron’s 312 – 2010 Talladega
On the last lap of the 2010 Xfinity Series Aaron’s 312, Jamie McMurray made a move to go behind Kevin Harvick. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room, resulting in Cliff Bowyer clipping him, starting an accident that involved several of the cars on the track.
Then, as Dennis Setzer was coming out of Turn 4, he was sent up the wall and hit a fence pole that spun him around. In the end, he ended up on all four wheels, although his car caught on fire.
Darrell Waltrip – 1980 Pocono
During the infamous tunnel turn at the Pocono Speedway, Richard Perry lost his right tire during the race, which resulted in him crashing into the outside wall. Buddy Baker and Chuck Brown barely missed the crash. However, Darrell Waltrip wasn’t so lucky.
Waltrip ended up slamming directly into the driver’s side of his car. The impact, on top of him already having a broken neck, is credited with the beginning of the downfall of his career.
Elliott Sadler – 2003 Talladega
Talladega has been the home of some of the most notable NASCAR accidents in history. In 2003, Elliot joined the list. On lap 181, driver Kurt Busch bumped into the back of Sadler’s car.
The hit sent Sadler’s car into the air, where it flipped and ended up sliding across the grass on the roof. When his car made contact with the pavement once again, it began to flip violently before stopping at the edge of the grass. Although Sadler was dazed, he was okay.
Geoff Bodine – 2000 Daytona
During the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona, Bodine was involved in an accident that not only hurt himself, but other drivers, and even some audience members. On the 57th lap of a 100-lap race, Bodine was bumped from behind, which sent him straight into a wall.
His truck was then turned sideways and was then hit by other cars, which ended up setting it on fire. By the time everything was over, Bodine had several serious injuries, 11 other drivers were hurt, and nine spectators were also injured.
Aaron’s 499 – 2010 Talladega
During the 2010 Aaron’s 499, on lap 189, Jamie Mcmurray was in the lead. However, just one lap later, after the seventh caution of the race and a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, a wreck occurred on Turn Three.
It happened when Joey Logan turned Ryan Newman off course, which spun him out and led him to collide with other drivers such as Bobby Labonte, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish Jr., and Brad Keselowski.
Elliott Sadler – 2010 Pocono
In 2010, Elliott Sadler experienced a head-on collision with the inside retaining wall, which turned out to be the hardest recorded in the history of the sport. Incredibly, Sadler walked away from the crash relatively unharmed.
He had a sore right shoulder and collarbone as well as minor scrapes from the seat belts. Sadler credits surviving to the Head and Neck restraint designed by Hendrick Motorsports and the new safety designs NASCAR implemented in the new car.
Austin Dillon – 2015 Daytona
The day after the Fourth of July, young driver Austin Dillion was struck on the front of his left tire after Denny Hamlin’s spinning car got too close. This caused Dillon’s car to become airborne and flipped into the catch-fence before exploding on impact.
Although Austin Dillon was thankful to walk away with his life, some viewers received injuries from the car flying into the fence. Luckily, nobody was killed in the crash.
Xfinity Series Sparks Energy 300 – 2016 Talladega
During an overtime finish at the 2016 Xfinity Series Sparks Energy 30, Joey Logano was in the lead. He had been pushed to the front by Elliott Sadler and went for the pass when the two cars came into contact with each other.
Logano was spent spinning and slammed into the wall, which resulted in Brennan Poole crossing the finish line first. However, after review, it was concluded that Sadler was in the lead at the end of the race.
Geico 500 – 2017 Talladega
Taking place at the Geico 500 in 2017, an 18-car wreck occurred on lap 168 that involved Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Danica Patrick and a number of other distinguished drivers.
Allmendinger was competing with Chase Elliot for second when he came into contact with car No.24, which sent him spinning up the track. It could have been a worse situation than it was, and luckily everyone was okay.
Geico 500 – 2019 Talladega
During the Geico 500 in 2019, on the last lap, there was an accident that resulted in Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet flipping down the track.
This was caused by contact between David Ragan and William Byron, which sent Byron’s car into the outside wall. It then bounced back into the group of cars and struck Larson’s side. The made Larson slam into the inside wall, where it flipped down the track after such a powerful impact.
Alabama 500 – 2017 Talladega
During the 2017 Alabama 500, there was a large-scale wreck that involved 16 vehicles with only 16 laps to go. The crash was not only on a large scale, but it also had an impact on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in the middle of Round 12.
Some of those who were not only involved in the crash but also had their positions in the playoff compromised included Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Martin Truex Jr.