NASCAR on ESPN History (2024)


EditorFebruary 6, 2011

ESPN and NASCAR History

Live NASCAR racing returned to the ESPN networks in 2007 after a six-year absence. ESPN aired 262 NASCAR Cup Races over a 20-year period starting in 1981. The network’s award-winning, live flag-to-flag coverage has been honored with 19 Sports Emmy Awards, as well as many industry honors. It is widely credited for helping to popularize the sport nationwide.



  • ESPN2’s telecast of Danica Patrick’s first NASCAR race sets record as most-viewed NASCAR Nationwide Series race ever on cable with more than 4.2 million people watching.


  • ESPN2’s NASCAR Now originates live from the White House, the first regularly-scheduled ESPN program ever to do so. President Obama is interviewed on the program.
  • ESPN receives its 19th Sports Emmy Award related to NASCAR coverage. The award is for Technical Team Studio for the Craftsman Tech Garage and ESPN Pit Studio.
  • ESPN televises two NASCAR Nationwide Series races without a traditional lap-by-lap announcer. The “Backseat Drivers” concept features ESPN’s five NASCAR champion analysts.
  • Jimmie Johnson wins a record fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship as ESPN televises the final 17 races of the season.


  • ESPN2 televises Dale Jr. – Shifting Gears, a five-part series documenting Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s switch from the team founded by his father to Hendrick Motorsports.
  • ESPN2’s NASCAR Now debuts a weekly Monday roundtable discussion featuring ESPN analysts and special guests.
  • For the first time in NASCAR history, a major NASCAR series races in the rain as ESPN2 televises the NASCAR Nationwide Series race from Montreal. Ron Fellows takes the win.
  • Jimmie Johnson wins his third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, becoming only the second driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive. ESPN has exclusive live interviews with Cale Yarborough, the only other driver to do so (1976-78).


  • NASCAR Now, ESPN’s first daily news and information program dedicated to NASCAR, debuted Feb. 5 on ESPN2.
  • On Feb. 15, ESPN made history with the first-ever use of High Definition in-car cameras during coverage of NASCAR Busch Series practice at Daytona. Two days later, ESPN2 aired the NASCAR Busch Series race from Daytona, its first live NASCAR race in six years.
  • On Mar. 4, the NASCAR Busch Series race from Mexico City is simulcast in English (ESPN2) and Spanish (ESPN and ESPN Deportes), the first time in its history that ESPN had aired a live sporting event in Spanish.
  • On July 27, ESPN televises the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its first NASCAR Cup Series race since the end of the 2000 season. Tony Stewart wins the race. The ESPN networks air 66 hours of NASCAR-related programming the week leading up to the race, including the ESPN Ultimate NASCAR documentary series produced by ESPN Content Development.
  • On Aug. 4, ESPN2 has live coverage as NASCAR history is made with the NASCAR Busch Series race from Montreal, the first time one of NASCAR’s top series had ever raced in Canada.
  • ESPN receives its 18th Sports Emmy Award related to NASCAR coverage. The award was for Technical Team Remote in 2007.


  • On Oct. 12 in a press conference at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, ESPN announced members of the announcer and production teams that would lead ESPN’s return to NASCAR in 2007. Jerry Punch, an integral part of the team that covered NASCAR for ESPN in previous years, was named lead announcer, and Neil Goldberg, producer of ESPN’s previous coverage, was named senior motorsports producer.


  • On Dec. 7, ESPN and NASCAR signed an eight-year agreement to bring NASCAR racing back to ESPN beginning in 2007. The agreement called for ESPN to have the rights to the entire NASCAR Busch Series and the final 17 races of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, including all of the races of the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup” to be televised by ESPN on ABC. The agreement also featured a significant schedule of related programming – qualifying and practice sessions for both series, a daily NASCAR news and information program, NASCAR Now, a pre-race show for both Series, NASCAR Countdown, specials and more.


  • Steve Park gets his first Winston Cup victory by taking the checkered flag at Watkins Glen and snapping Jeff Gordon’s record six straight road course wins (all seen on ESPN).
  • Dale Earnhardt re-takes the lead with two laps to go – charging from 22nd position with 10 laps left – and wins the Winston 500 and the Winston No Bull 5 million-dollar bonus at Talladega in a race that featured 49 lead changes among 21 drivers. It’s his 36th win on ESPN, the most of any driver.
  • ESPN televises its 262nd NASCAR Winston Cup race, the season-ender in Atlanta. The race sees the legendary career of Darrell Waltrip, who is retiring, come to a close. Jerry Nadeau records his first Winston Cup victory in the race, which was delayed one day because of rain.


  • Jeff Burton wins the Winston No Bull 5 million-dollar bonus at the Southern 500.


  • ESPN televises an extensive array of programming under the overall title NASCAR: The 50, including specials, historical documentaries, “daily moments” and more – celebrating NASCAR’s 50th anniversary. The year-long project is highlighted by “NASCAR’s Night in Hollywood,” a two-hour entertainment special.
  • ESPN and ABC televise all three races in which the Winston No Bull 5 million dollar bonus is won in the program’s first year in NASCAR Winston Cup racing: Jeff Gordon won the Brickyard 400 (ABC) and Southern 500 (ESPN) while Dale Jarrett won the Winston 500 (ESPN).
  • ESPN and ESPN2 combine for extended coverage (nearly 11 hours) of the rain-delayed NAPA 500 from Atlanta. Jeff Gordon won the season-ending race, tying the modern NASCAR record for Winston Cup victories in a year (13) and clinching his third career NASCAR Winston Cup championship.


  • ESPN breaks its record for motorsports viewership with two NASCAR Winston Cup races that are seen in an average of 3.752 million households: the March 2 Pontiac Excitement 400 from Richmond, Va. (5.3 rating) and the Nov. 16 NAPA 500 from Atlanta (5.2 rating). ESPN’s rating record remains the 1996 Winston Select 500 from Talladega, Ala. (5.5 with 3.728 million homes).
  • ESPN2 christens national TV coverage from the California Speedway with a live telecast of qualifying for the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup California 500.
  • ESPN televises the fastest NASCAR Winston Cup race ever, the Winston 500, with an average speed of 188.354 mph, the first-ever caution-free race at Talladega and NASCAR’s first since 1992.
  • Jeff Gordon wins the NASCAR Winston Cup Southern 500 at Darlington and the “Winston Million” with future ESPN analyst Ray Evernham as his crew chief.


  • ESPN2 launches a dramatic increase in racing — more than 700 original hours a year (more than 900 yearly beginning in 1997).
  • ESPN2’s RPM 2Night, television’s first daily racing news show, debuts Feb. 7 with 10 days of programming from Speedweeks at Daytona, the traditional start of the racing season. Overall, ESPN and ESPN2 combine to present 60 hours of coverage over three weeks.
  • Terry Labonte breaks Richard Petty’s record for consecutive starts with #514 at Martinsville.
  • ESPN2 televises live coverage of the grand opening of Daytona USA, the ultimate motorsports attraction, at Daytona International Speedway.
  • ESPN televises its 200th NASCAR Winston Cup race, the Pepsi 400 from Daytona Beach, Fla.


  • President George Bush serves as Winston Cup Pepsi 400 Grand Marshal in Daytona Beach, Fla., takes part in pre‑race ceremonies honoring Richard Petty, and rides in the pace car.
  • Harry Gant becomes the oldest NASCAR Winston Cup winner at Michigan (52 years, 219 days).
  • ESPN televises Richard Petty’s last race, the NASCAR Winston Cup Hooters 500 at Atlanta, in which he crashes but dramatically returns with two laps remaining. Meanwhile, Alan Kulwicki edges race‑winner Bill Elliott for the Winston Cup title by 10 points, the closest finish ever.


  • ESPN introduces “Tread Cam,” a camera buried in the track surface at Indianapolis Raceway Park to provide a view of cars running over it. The camera is used in NASCAR coverage for the first time in that year’s NASCAR Busch Series race at IRP. The innovation wins a Sports Emmy Award for Point of View Technology and similar cameras later appear in telecasts from other tracks.
  • Dale Jarrett, son of ESPN analyst Ned and a future ESPN analyst himself, edges Davey Allison in a photo finish at Michigan for his first career win.
  • Harry Gant ties the modern record by winning four consecutive races and on ESPN leads 350 of 400 laps at North Wilkesboro, but is passed by Dale Earnhardt with eight laps remaining. Gant’s crew chief is future ESPN analyst Andy Petree.


  • On March 5 at Rockingham, ESPN debuts “CrewCam,” a miniature camera on the headset of a pit crew member. Later SpeedWorld innovations include telemetry, “CableCam,” “FootCam,” “RoofCam,” “SuspensionCam” and the use of an infrared camera and roving reporters.
  • ESPN presents the first live, flag-to-flag coverage of the NASCAR Winston Cup Pepsi 400 from Daytona Beach, Fla.


  • While serving as an ESPN pit reporter, Dr. Jerry Punch, a trauma specialist, helps save the lives of two drivers following terrible crashes – NASCAR’s Rusty Wallace while practicing at Bristol, Tenn., in August and Don Marmor during the ARCA race in Atlanta in November.


  • Bobby Allison crashes into the grandstand fencing at Talladega, prompting NASCAR to start using restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona, a practice that continues today. Bobby’s son Davey, a rookie, goes on to win his first race.
  • ESPN presents RaceDay America on Sept. 6‑‑nine and 1/2 hours of racing coverage with live cut‑ins and highlights from every major race taking place in the world. The day was highlighted by the NASCAR Southern 500.


  • ESPN is the first network to televise NASCAR Cup Series qualifying live, on Aug. 23 from Bristol.
  • Bill Elliott wins the NASCAR Winston Cup Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C. and the “Winston Million,” a million dollar bonus, live on ESPN.


  • ESPN’s first NASCAR Winston Cup Series telecast, the Carolina 500 from Rockingham, N.C. on March 21. Bob Jenkins and Eli Gold are in the booth with Ned Jarrett in the pits. Darrell Waltrip wins the race, with future ESPN analyst Tim Brewer as his crew chief.
  • ESPN’s first live NASCAR Winston Cup event, Nov. 8 in Atlanta, emphasizing the network’s commitment to live, flag-to-flag coverage. Darrell Waltrip goes for a record fifth consecutive victory but Neil Bonnett passes him on the last lap for the win.

– 30 –


Motorsports NASCAR

EditorFebruary 6, 2011

NASCAR on ESPN History (2024)
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