Daytona 500: Top 10 Finishes of the Great American Race
The Daytona 500 has had its share of exciting finishes. The drivers involved in these finishes range from the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen, such as Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and David Pearson, to drivers that were unknown prior to the race.
The Daytona 500 is truly a race that creates and defines legends.
It is amazing that in the 53-year history of the race, we have 10 finishes that rank among the top finishes the sport has ever seen at any track. Restrictor plates have played a part in a lot of these and is the main reason these finishes are so exciting, since they keep the cars so close together. These exciting finishes span seven different decades of the race.
With the recent excitement of the finishes in the Daytona 500, we can only imagine what could happen in just a few days when we have the 54th running of the Great American Race.
#10: 1990: The Upset
The 1990 Daytona 500 was dominated by one driver. However, it wasn't the winner, it was Dale Earnhardt. He led 155 of the 200 laps that day blistering the field. On his final lap, Earnhardt had a commanding lead until heading into Turn 3, where his right rear tire shredded from debris.
This event allowed Derrick Cope to pass Earnhardt to take the first win of his career. That day defined the curse for Earnhardt.
#9: 1988 Father vs. Son
The “Alabama Gang” was running one and two in the final laps. Bobby Allison was trying to capture his third Daytona 500 while leading his son Davey Allison. This was the first Daytona 500 in the restrictor plate age.
Davey Allison waited until the final lap to try to pass his father. If he had attempted it earlier, it would have cost both men the win. Bobby Allison was too strong and Davey couldn’t pass him on the final turn and Bobby was first to the checkered flag winning the 30th running of the Daytona 500.
#8: 1999 Gordon vs. Earnhardt
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The final laps of the 1999 Daytona 500 don’t sound too exciting, but it was the anticipation that kept viewers on the edge of their seats. The race had the infamous “Big One” a little over the half way point in the race that left only 15 cars on the lead lap.
With 10 laps to go, Jeff Gordon was leading, with Dale Earnhardt in tow. While there was some jockeying for the position behind them, Earnhardt stayed in line, waiting to make his move. On the final lap, Earnhardt, who was going for his second Daytona 500 win in as many years, tried multiple moves to get around Gordon but was not getting help from behind. Move after move didn’t work, and somehow Jeff Gordon held off Dale Earnhardt to capture the 1999 Daytona 500.
#7 1993 the Dale and Dale Show
The last 30 laps of the 1993 Daytona 500 were the “Dale and Dale show." Dale Earnhardt led 27 of the 30 laps, but not the one that counts—the last lap.
With 38 lead changes, no one could really keep anyone behind them. On the final lap, Jarrett passed Earnhardt and held him off on the final turn. Dale Jarrett won the 1993 Daytona 500 with his emotional father, Ned Jarrett, in the TV booth calling the final laps of the race, which gave almost everyone that was listening chills.
#6: 2011 Trevor Bayne Wins
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A couple late caution flags in the 2011 Daytona 500 caused the race to have a green-white-checkered finish. Always exciting finishes, no matter what track they occur at, this was going to be even more exciting at Daytona.
With tandem racing and that some cars are always slower at the start, it truly was anyone’s race. When the green flag waved, Tony Stewart dropped off due to a slow start, and Trevor Bayne was leading with Bobby Labonte pushing, two other tandems of Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya were right behind them, as well as Carl Edwards and David Gilliland, who were about a football field behind.
A late charge from Edwards and Gilliland was too late and Bayne shut the door on Edwards off the final turn giving the Wood Brothers their fifth Daytona 500 victory.
#5: 1979 “The Fight Saw Around the World”
During the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough were battling for the win with a substantial lead. Yarborough tried to pass low when Allison blocked. They beat and banged each other back and forth and crashed in Turn 3. Both drivers got out of their car and started throwing punches when Bobby Allison, Donnie’s bother, came to help his bother. While all this occurred, Richard Petty went on to win the Daytona 500 in the first-ever fully televised Daytona 500.
#4: 2010 McMurray Wins
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In one of the longest races in NASCAR history, plagued by red flags and caution flags, this finish made a lot of people forget about them.
The race setup for a green-white-checkered with Kevin Harvick on the inside and Jamie McMurray on the outside. The inside line was quickly doomed by an early move from Carl Edwards shooting to the middle of the track in an attempt to get by Harvick. No one went with Edwards and that pulled the inside line back. It was Jamie McMurray being pushed by his former teammate Greg Biffle with the pack trying to catch up, that Biffle made his move… with no help…and…. too early. This created a drag race and allowed the pack to catch them. Biffle slid back after McMurray got the help. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of time making a late charge from tenth place to finish second. This was truly one of the most exciting two laps in Daytona 500 history.
#3: 2007 Won by Inches
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One of the most controversial finishes in Daytona 500 history, Mark Martin looked to be heading for the win in the Green/White/Checkered finish in his 23rd attempt. A last lap pileup ensued and the two cars left were Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick.
The late charge from Harvick put him right beside Martin. Unlike in prior races where NASCAR would normally throw the caution flag ending the race, it continued, letting two drivers drag race to the finish. Harvick would edge Martin by .002 seconds for his first Daytona 500 win.
#2: The Photo Finish
The1959 Daytona 500 was the first Daytona that wasn't run on the infamous beach. The christening of the pavement on the 2.5 mile super speedway was not a disappointment, other then the fact that if you were there, you thought the wrong driver won.
The photo finish occurred between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp. The battle occurred coming off of Turn 4 catching up with a lap car when the three crossed the line. Beauchamp was declared the winner and even had the celebration in victory lane. Three days later when reviewing the news footage of the race, it was found that Lee Petty actually won. This resulted in Beauchamp being stripped of his title and Lee Petty being declared as the winner.
#1: 1976 Petty vs. Pearson
David Pearson, a three-time series champion, had a phenomenal history at the Daytona International Speedway, except for the Daytona 500. Pearson only won one Daytona 500 in his career, but one victory ranks as one of the best finishes in NASCAR history.
During the final lap, Richard Petty was leading the race with David Pearson in tow. Pearson used a slingshot move to pass Petty in Turn 3. Beating and banging, the two hit the outside wall and spun into the infield grass. With both cars damaged and others a few laps down, it was like a boxing match where both fighters were knocked down and you were waiting for one to get back up. Petty, only a few yards from the finish line. was unable to get his car started and Pearson limped across the line in his mangled Wood Brothers No. 21.
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