Memorable races started with Daytona

Updated: December 13, 2005, 5:58 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

The 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup season saw 15 drivers win, with seven of them collecting multiple checkered flags.

Five of those -- Greg Biffle (six wins), Tony Stewart (five), Jeff Gordon (four), Jimmie Johnson (four) and Carl Edwards (four) -- visited almost two-thirds of the season's Victory Lanes. But the numbers aren't what race fans remember. It's the excitement or, in some cases, the circumstances surrounding the wins that make 2005's best races so memorable.

Here's a look back at the five best:

Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway
February 2005

Jeff Gordon
APJeff Gordon celebrates his third Daytona 500 crown.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and DEI teammate Michael Waltrip had dominated races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. In fact, coming into the 2005 Daytona 500, DEI had won three of the past four Daytona 500s. Junior entered the race as the defending champ. So you could understand Gordon's reaction to Junior's surge from 17th on Lap 173 to first place with just four laps to go. "Let's not say I gave up," the four-time Cup champ said, "but I thought it was over." NASCAR's Great American Race got hectic with five to go when Stewart held a wavering lead. On Lap 195, Junior moved out and successfully challenged Stewart for the lead. On Lap 196, Stewart nosed ahead of Junior -- but it was a very brief return to the lead, which Junior took back on Lap 197.

That's when the worry set in for Gordon. But it was premature. Coming down the frontstretch on the next lap, Gordon's teammate Jimmie Johnson pulled behind him and gave Gordon's car a bump that put Gordon even with Junior.

By Turn 1, Gordon cleared Junior, and he held on to the lead for the lap as a wreck ensued behind the two. With NASCAR's new green-white-checkered finish rule, which mandated that races could not finish under a yellow flag, the Daytona 500 became the Daytona 507.5.

No matter. Gordon held on to the lead as Junior got shuffled back to third.

"I had a moment of doubt right then," Gordon said, referring to when Junior got the lead. "But I got myself back together. And I never stopped trying to win the race."

Golden Corral 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway
April 2005

Edwards had been chasing Johnson's Chevrolet, one of two cars that had dominated the race, for 25 laps. At least once during that pursuit, Edwards got his Ford so far sideways that he looked as though he was driving the dirt-track car that, just two years ago, Edwards was piloting while working in his garage in Columbia, Mo.

Johnson entered Atlanta as winner of five of the last nine Nextel Cup races dating back to the 2004 season -- and it looked as though he was going for No. 6. With all but one lap completed, Johnson had led the most laps of the day: 156. Even more encouraging to Johnson was the fact that Biffle, the only driver approaching Johnson's domination that day, was in third place. That left glorified rookie Carl Edwards to challenge Johnson.

"I just felt like way too many people worked way too hard for me to give up, ever," Edwards said. "If you can get it done, you get it done."

Edwards kept searching for a line around the track that would give him a little more grip and let him make up some ground on the No. 48 Chevy. He found it high near the outside wall. Johnson noticed the line working for Edwards, and it got inside his head. In fact, in Turns 3 and 4, he tried to use the line himself, abandoning his approach from the rest of the race. Off the final turn, Johnson went high but left Edwards just enough room to get outside Johnson, a move that allowed Edwards to pull dead-even with Johnson with the frontstretch laid out like a drag strip.

Edwards won the sprint by 28 thousandths of a second -- the equivalent of a foot and a half.

"I have never been more excited at any race than I was today," said Edwards' team owner, Jack Roush. "... [Edwards] had no tires left; he did this strictly on guts and determination."

Food City 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
April 2005

It didn't come down to the last lap, but it was a statement race that spoke volumes. Angry and frustrated about NASCAR's decision to suspend his crew chief for four races after qualifying violations at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Richard Childress appealed the penalty while crew chief Todd Berrier and driver Kevin Harvick had harsh words for the sanctioning body. NASCAR's decision to deny Berrier's appeal came down on Wednesday. That weekend, Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the Nextel Cup Series and Childress Racing showed up without its race-day coach. But the team was through with talking or appealing. Before the race, Childress politely declined to discuss the suspension further. We'll just go racing, he said. That's about the time the No. 29 team discovered a puddle of fluid under the Chevy on race morning. There was a leak in the power-steering pump, and the team needed to switch it out. That meant falling from a 13th-place starting position to last.

"It wasn't anything to get upset about," Harvick said. He simply turned to his team and looked to the bright side.

"Let's hope that's the end of the bad luck," he said to them.

It was. Harvick narrowly made it through an early wreck and used a pit stop to move up among the leaders. From there, it was spite that drove the team to victory.

"I think today is a huge statement made by our race team," Harvick said. "We don't really have to say anything else."

Chevy 400
Richmond International Raceway
May 2005

Kasey Kahne was the poster boy for losing. In a NASCAR race, there's one winner and 42 losers. But with Kahne's six second-place finishes and no checkered flags, everyone wondered when he finally would get the job done. No one was more curious about this than Kahne.

It had become the focus of every interview Kahne granted. In fact, before the Chevy 400, one journalist asked whom Kahne would most like to beat for his first victory. Kahne turned prophetic: Stewart, he replied.

Kahne wrestled the lead from Stewart on Lap 295 and spent the remainder of the race rebuffing Stewart's advances. And Stewart wasn't holding back, either. He used every intimidation tactic he could muster, trying to shake the young racer.

"It's so awesome," Kahne said afterward. "I can't believe it; we drove so hard all night to beat Tony. That was really cool.

"Tony Stewart has helped me as much as any driver to get where I am right now. To be able to race with him all night long and to end up beating him, it's just all that much better. He's as good as they get in Nextel Cup, and we were able to hold him off tonight."

Which, of course, brings us to ...

Brickyard 400
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
August 2005

Stewart has tried his hand at winning at Indianapolis for years. He had tried in open-wheel cars, and he had tried in NASCAR's stock cars. To no avail. In fact, Stewart's failures at Indy had become legendary.

After one sour Indy ending, Stewart stormed off, giving everyone he passed on the way the silent treatment. After another, he punched a photographer.

He couldn't excuse his actions. But he could explain them.

"Winning Indy has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid," he said.

In August, he finally made that dream come true. He took an extra lap around the track to drink in the cheers; he climbed the fence, slapped fans and gave some buddies high fives; and he soaked in the glory of achieving his childhood dream.

"Today," he said, "has been my entire life."

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@yahoo.com.