Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: How Close Can It Get?

Fans at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday’s (Feb. 25) Ambetter Health 400 got treated to an electric race and non-stop action with 48 lead changes, the most ever for a NASCAR Cup Series race in the Georgian capital. That’s not even mentioning one of the most thrilling finishes in years, where Daniel Suarez beat Ryan Blaney in what proved to be the third-closest finish in Cup history.

Blaney crossed the stripe just 0.003 seconds behind Suarez, while Kyle Busch in third was not far behind at 0.007. And while I can’t confirm it on the spot, I’m pretty damn sure that there has never been a closer finish between three cars in NASCAR’s history. If Blaney wasn’t there, Suarez’s margin over Busch would’ve been good enough for the 10th-closest in Cup history.

See also
Big 6: Questions Answered After Daniel Suarez Wins By Inches in Atlanta

So, what about the two races ahead of Sunday? Both of them were decided by two one-thousandths of a second, and the first was a dogfight at Darlington Raceway between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 — to this day, it’s what many (myself included) consider to be the greatest NASCAR finish of all time.

The second came at Talladega Superspeedway in the 2011 Aaron’s 499, where Jimmie Johnson just barely beat Clint Bowyer to the stripe in a three-wide finish between four tandems and eight individual cars.

While both finishes are officially tied in the margin of victory, Darlington was the closer of the two in length, as the speeds at Darlington were significantly slower than the ones at Talladega.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud: Is Atlanta the Best Drafting Track on the Circuit?

When looking at the finishes that Atlanta just beat out, there are a total of 16 Cup races that have been decided by one one-hundredth of a second or less.

RankTrack/DateMarginWinnerRunner-Up
12003 Darlington 10.002Ricky CravenKurt Busch
12011 Talladega 10.002Jimmie JohnsonClint Bowyer
32024 Atlanta 10.003Daniel SuarezRyan Blaney
42001 Daytona Duel 20.004Mike SkinnerDale Earnhardt Jr.
51993 Daytona 20.005Dale EarnhardtErnie Irvan
52007 Daytona 20.005Jamie McMurrayKyle Busch
52011 Daytona Duel 20.005Jeff BurtonClint Bowyer
82001 Atlanta 10.006Kevin HarvickJeff Gordon
82010 Daytona Duel 10.006Jimmie JohnsonKevin Harvick
102019 Talladega 20.007Ryan BlaneyRyan Newman
102020 Talladega 10.007Ryan BlaneyRicky Stenhouse Jr.
121994 Daytona 20.008Jimmy SpencerErnie Irvan
132000 Atlanta 10.010Dale EarnhardtBobby Labonte
132004 Rockingham0.010Matt KensethKasey Kahne
132016 Daytona 10.010Denny HamlinMartin Truex Jr.
132016 Phoenix 10.010Kevin HarvickCarl Edwards
  • Eleven of 16 were at superspeedways, with seven at Daytona, three at Talladega and the most recent addition with Atlanta’s new configuration.
  • Three of the 16 races did not count for points, all of which were Daytona 500 qualifying races.
  • Just five of the 16 came at non-drafting tracks, with two at the 1997-2021 Atlanta configuration plus one each at Rockingham Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Darlington.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick and Blaney are the only Cup drivers to have won multiple points-paying races by a hundredth of a second or less.

NASCAR’s secret weapon for guaranteeing more of these photo finishes in the future? It seems to be the defending Cup champion Blaney. Whenever he’s in contention to win at a superspeedway — win or lose — it almost always ends in a dead heat.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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