The National Association for Stock Car Racing is more commonly known by the acronym NASCAR. The annual NASCAR Cup Series is among the biggest sports in the US, rivalling football and basketball for popularity in some parts of the country.

That is because of the edge of the seat excitement that top class stock car races offer. Many fans bet on the outcomes too, which adds a further kick, and it has something in common with the appeal of activities like online poker.

Both are about wagering everything on the skill of those involved and deriving fun from activities that involve tension and release. Of course, not every race lives up to that billing, any more than every poker game is a classic.

We are going to focus on some that did in this article though. Below are the races that have gone down in NASCAR history.

Carolina Dodge Stealers 400 – 2003

This race was held at one of the most famous tracks, the Darlington Raceway that is known by fans and drivers as ‘the lady in black’ and ‘the track too tough to tame’ among other things. It was a classic due to a man who has been rated as one of the best ever drivers – Kurt Busch.

Back in 2003, he was just getting started on his glittering career and coming up to the finish he was marginally ahead of rival driver Ricky Craven. Craven was not in the same league as Busch, but he traded hair-raising nudges and bumps with him during the final stretch in one of the wildest finishes in recent memory.

Craven ended up snatching the win by just .002 of a second, thanks to the power steering in Busch’s car failing him. It was a crazy way to end the race, but gripping to watch.

Talladega 500 – 1984

The Talladega 500 is one of the biggest events on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar and it is races like this 1984 battle that gave it that status. What people remember it for is the astounding number of lead changes that happened during the race, with pole position swapping place no less than 68 times before the finish.

The drivers who took a turn at leading are some of the finest ever to compete. They included Harry Gant, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt and 1984 champion Terry Labonte.

In the final stretch at the Alabama International Motor Speedway it was Labonte versus Earnhardt. The latter slipped ahead using the last lap high side and took the race, if not the championship.

Cracker Barrel 500 – 2001

The 2001 NASCAR Cup Series got off to the worst possible start. During the opening Daytona 500, legendary seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash.

It is a season that will always be remembered for that, but this race a few weeks later gave NASCAR fans exactly what they needed. Earnhardt had been replaced by a rookie driver called Kevin Harvick and all eyes were inevitably on him.

In just his third Cup Series race he managed to keep Jeff Gordon at bay during a super-close finale to edge the race. He had moved to take the lead during the front stretch, with Gordon having the same idea, but his win made sure this race went down as one of the greatest.

Goody’s 500 – 1999

If fans need a reminder of just what made Earnhardt such a legend within the motorsports world, this is a good race to start with. It produced an exciting finish between Earnhardt and Labonte, with Earnhardt grabbing the lead after a spin by Labonte’s car.

Labonte changed his tires while Earnhardt left the same ones on his Chevy and the former went for it at a lunatic pace to try and claim back his lead. He bumped Earnhardt out of the way, only for the latter to respond by turning him around and putting him into a collision with multiple other cars.

Speaking afterwards he told reporters that he only intended to “rattle the cage” of Labonte!

Daytona 500 – 2007

Many NASCAR fans consider the Daytona International Speedway to be the finest of the race tracks used for the Cup Series. The last lap of the 500 is often a thriller and the 2007 event was probably the finest of all.

Mark Martin was determined to finally win it and was leading up to the last turn. Then Kevin Harvick managed to peg him back while a massive pile-up happened behind him.

The two were neck and neck to the flag, with Harvick snatching the win by 0.020 of a second in a nail-biting finish.

It is races like the five listed here that have people in their millions watching NASCAR events live and on the television every season.