As Atlanta Motor Speedway celebrates it's 50th Anniversary season, many moments from the track's past have come to define the Speedway as one of the most storied in NASCAR's history.
Two such Atlanta Motor Speedway moments include Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt claiming victory in a pair of NASCAR's closest finishes.
No. 4: Carl Edwards Claims First Sprint Cup Series Win in Photo Finish
When Carl Edwards came to Atlanta Motor Speedway in the spring of 2005, the young driver was a known commodity to many in the racing industry, but was yet to become a household name with NASCAR fans.
The Missouri native entered the 2005 Golden Corral 500 race weekend having won Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors, but he was yet to claim a victory in NASCAR's top-two divisions.
But Edwards level of fame would seemingly change in an instant when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver not only won the Saturday Nationwide Series race, but also edged past Jimmie Johnson in the weekend's top contest to claim his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
"Five years ago, my whole career changed in an instant by beating Jimmie Johnson back to the finish line and winning my first race in the Sprint Cup Series," said Edwards.
Edwards edged Johnson to the line by just 0.028 seconds in NASCAR's 15th-closest finish in history.
And despite more than five years passing – and 15 additional NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins – Edwards still recalls the emotion of the moment.
"I just could not believe that I had won the race. I just couldn't believe it," explained Edwards. "I remember right after I passed the start-finish line, the thing I remember the most is it took a second to sink in because I was racing so hard with [Johnson]. I thought, 'Man, the race is over. There's nobody in front of me. I just won the race. That means I won!'
"It was so cool – such a neat feeling," Edwards continued. "And I knew right where Victory Lane was because I was there the day before. I just couldn't believe it."
Edwards' Saturday win at Atlanta Motor Speedway also marked two additional historical footnotes: his first Nationwide Series win and the first Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series weekend sweep in Atlanta Motor Speedway history. And despite his success in the Saturday event, Edwards was still uncertain entering what would be his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
Exhausted from pulling double duty and claiming a pair of victories, Edwards nearly struggled with what has become his seemingly-trademarked celebration.
"I almost didn't make the backflip," Edwards now says with a laugh. "I didn't even care. That was just a neat moment."
No. 3: Earnhardt Nips Labonte for Final Atlanta Win
Already a living legend of NASCAR and the all-time wins leader at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt entered the 2000 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 race weekend looking to break a tie with Richard Petty for the most championships in NASCAR history, with seven.
After a poor finish in Daytona, Earnhardt entered Atlanta coming off a pair of top-10 finishes in the following races, but The Intimidator was yet to find Victory Lane since the fall of the previous season.
Starting from the 35th position, Earnhardt failed to be a factor in the race's exciting early moments, as 12 different drivers led a circuit by lap 71 to set a new track record for most race leaders.
However, despite running 17th at lap 60, Earnhardt soon after catapulted towards the front and sat seventh by lap 80. He emerged with lead by lap 135, his first in Atlanta since the 1998 Primestar 500, but pitted one lap later and relinquished the front position.
As the race progressed, Earnhardt returned to the front and found himself battling Bobby Labonte and Mike Skinner for the lead position. However, despite Skinner proclaiming his willingness to, "... crash my Mom to win my first race," Skinner retired from the contest after a blown engine, leaving Earnhardt and Labonte to battle for the win.
Entering the final laps, the NASCAR stars battled for position and found themselves side-by-side on the race's last lap. Entering the final sweeping corner of the race, Labonte held the advantage before Earnhardt used the high line's momentum exiting Turn Four to push past Labonte and claim the win by a mere 0.010 seconds, the fifth-closest finish in NASCAR history.
"I was racing for all I could get and all it would do. I was giving everything I had. It wasn't time to take it easy," Earnhardt said after his 75th-career victory. "I knew I had to get all the yardage I could because I knew Bobby was good on long runs."
Years later, Earnhardt's team owner, Richard Childress, sees the 2000 Atlanta win as a classic example of the dominant driver's style.
"The 2000 win was vintage Dale, racing hard with Bobby Labonte to the checkered flag and never giving an inch," said Childress. "Dale loved racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He won in 1980 and in 2000, and seven other times in between. The 3 team went to the race track with the belief that that the trophy and the prize money was ours and the success we had at Atlanta gave us a little more swagger when we walked through the gates."
Earnhardt's victory in the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 marked the star's final win in Atlanta prior to his untimely death a year later. Earnhardt still remains the all-time wins leader in Atlanta, with nine, in addition to holding the track record for lead-lap finishes and top-five finishes.