June 27, 1999: the date of the memorable Save Mart/Kragen 350 at Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) deep in Sonoma, California wine country.
It wasn’t even Jeff Gordon’s win that made the NASCAR Cup Series race so noteworthy either, but rather the fact that there were two extreme crashes that ended in both cars getting airborne and flipping end over end.
The first wreck happened during lap 26, when Steve Park ended up drifting too far sideways into Turn 1, hitting the guardrail, and doing one complete 360-degree flip. Despite landing right-side up, Park’s Chevrolet was out of commission for the rest of the race.
The next high-flying crash happened around 70 laps later, when Ken Schrader spun out and hit almost the same exact spot in the road course that Park did.
Unlike Park’s wreck, Schrader’s scary rotation did not end quite as gracefully, and his car ended up landing on its roof.
Luckily, both drivers were uninjured, but the incidents just went to show the treachery of Sonoma Raceway, specifically when it comes to that tricky Turn 1.
It’s too bad that the wrecks seemingly overshadowed Gordon’s big win, because the four-time Cup Series champion went through a lot to nab the victory.
Gordon withstood seven cautions and a red flag with around three laps to go to narrowly beat Mark Martin, a road course ace, by a slim margin of just 0.197 seconds. The win marked Gordon’s fourth straight at a road course, tying him with Martin for overall road course wins.
As if Gordon’s Sonoma win weren’t impressive enough already, he did it all while suffering from the flu and laryngitis. Sadly, it’s a feat that a lot of fans just don’t remember. Sorry, Jeff. Sometimes bad wrecks steal the spotlight from good racing.
This post was originally published on March 15, 2019.