For a sport whose focus is speed, stock-car racing has crawled too slowly when it comes to increasing safety standards. Although some teams were working on safety improvements at the beginning of the century, various big-name drivers, including Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin, said the safety equipment was uncomfortable, and NASCAR didn't force the issue. Perhaps the technology was indeed cumbersome, or perhaps the drivers were just displaying a sense of machismo that is part of the sport. Either way, safety issues didn't become a priority until after Earnhardt's death at Daytona in 2001. NASCAR now has a $10 million research-and-development building, where someone is constantly working on safety features and which has issued more than 200 safety rules in the past five years. In that time, not one driver has died.
4.The Tim Richmond affair: 1987
Tim Richmond came out of nowhere to have a brief but successful career as a driver in the 1980s. Driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 1986, he won seven races and finished third in the standings. But during the offseason he became sick and ultimately discovered that he had AIDS. Nobody had a great understanding of AIDS at the time, and Richmond tried to hide it from everyone. What followed was a series of miscues that NASCAR handled poorly. Richmond won two races early in 1987, but then came a string of missed starts, drug tests and rulings from NASCAR that he wasn't fit to race. He died in 1989.
5.Son, we've had enough: 2005
In 2005, the reigning Nextel Cup champ didn't get to finish out the season. Kurt Busch had won the 2004 title with Roush Racing, but midway through the '05 season he announced that he had signed a contract to drive for Penske Racing in 2007. Roush ultimately let Busch out of the '06 portion of his deal, but the driver was supposed to finish '05 with Roush. But in Phoenix, with two races remaining, Busch was stopped by police for running a stop sign. While the arresting officer said he smelled alcohol on Busch's breath, the driver was charged only with reckless driving. But Roush officials suspended Busch for the final two races of the season.
6.The cussin' stops here: Oct. 3, 2004
During the middle of the first Chase for the Championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Talladega. NASCAR's most popular driver and a cornerstone of its marketing efforts made a mistake, however, in the postrace interview that was being televised nationally. He said the victory "don't mean [expletive deleted] right now." NASCAR, which had been trying to control the use of profanity for most of the season, levied a $10,000 fine and a 25-point penalty that dropped Earnhardt out of first place in the standings. But both Earnhardt's profanity and NASCAR's too-harsh penalty were silly.