Throwback Thursday Theater: 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta

By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor

NOTE: Video of the finish of the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 is included at the bottom of this post

This week we flashback to March 12, 2000 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) Series Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This race is the subject because the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta this weekend, and just like this past weekend’s Daytona 500, this classic race featured a breath taking photo-finish.

To paint a picture of the world when this race occurred, here are some of the signs of the times from March 12, 2000:

  • 24-year-old Major League Baseball player, Alex Rodriguez was still on the Seattle Mariners roster.
  • Bill Clinton was president of the United States of America.
  • The New England Patriots had not yet won a Super Bowl.
  • Seven-year-old Kyle Larson had just began racing outlaw karts.

This race marked the fourth of 34 races in the 2000 Cup Series season, and there are a few things I remember vividly about this race.

The Front Row: The field was led to the green by pole sitter, and defending series champion, Dale Jarrett. Alongside Jarrett would be the two-time and reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series (then Busch Series) champion, and Cup Series Rookie of the Year contender, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Despite the current star power of that front row, both drivers had horrible days. Jarrett blew a motor on lap 257 and finished 36th, while Earnhardt Jr. slammed into the wall on lap 28, and he would finish in 29th-place.

Kenseth’s first lead: On lap six, Matt Kenseth took the lead away from pole-sitter, Dale Jarrett. Although Kenseth’s lead was short-lived at just two laps, it marked the first laps he had ever led in his Sprint Cup Series career.

Skinner’s heartbreak: Mike Skinner, who started 14th in the No. 31 Lowe’s Chevrolet, would take the lead for the first time in this race at lap 38, and from there he would dominate all day long leading eight times for a total of 191 laps in the 325 lap event. Skinner, who never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in his career, looked to be on his way to victory lane, as he held a comfortable lead with just 20 laps to go.

Just two laps after a restart at lap 304 though, Skinner’s Richard Childress Racing power plant expired, as did Skinner’s shot at his first career win. In the heartbreaking garage area interview, Skinner would at least leave us with one of the best quotes ever.

“I’d crash my mom to win my first race,” Skinner quipped.

The epic finish: With Skinner out of the picture, Dale Earnhardt was handed the lead with just 13 laps remaining. However if Earnhardt wanted to collect his 75th-career Sprint Cup Series win, he’d have to hold off Bobby Labonte.

And what an incredible duel it turned out to be. Enjoy this classic NASCAR finish.

Image: Atlanta Motor Speedway

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Toby Christie is a contributing writer for Motorsports Tribune. He has been watching stock cars turn left since 1993, and has covered NASCAR as an accredited media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA). Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, sub-par guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.

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