Daytona 500: 15 Most Memorable Moments of All Time
The start of the 2012 NASCAR season will commemorate the 54th running of the Great American Race.
When it's the time of year for the Daytona 500, you can’t do much else but think about all of the moments this race produced for the sport. There are many moments to choose from. In fact, it was very hard to come up with this list because there are so many defining moments.
This list is complied of many NASCAR legends that include Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt. These are moments that have given NASCAR the popularity it has today and defined the sport as a mainstay in this country.
The Daytona 500 is a race that has defined legends and created others. We will now count down the moments that have shaped the legends and NASCAR itself as we know it today.
15. 1974: The Daytona 450?
With the energy crisis, NASCAR shortened all of its races by 10 percent to do its part and conserve fuel, reducing the Daytona 500 to the Daytona 450. The race was started on Lap 21 to keep the tradition of 200 laps.
This race actually saw a dramatic ending, too. With 19 laps to go, the leader, Richard Petty, cut a tire and had to pit, relinquishing the lead to Donnie Allison. His chances of winning the Daytona 500 were seemingly gone.
Donnie Allison cut both front tires after a car blew an engine in front of him and gave the lead back to Petty for the last 11 laps of the race.
This gave Richard Petty his fifth Daytona 500 win.
14. 2011: Wood Brothers Win Their Fifth
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A couple of late caution flags in the 2011 Daytona 500 caused the race to have a green-white-checkered finish. These are always exciting finishes, no matter what track they occur at, but this was even more exciting at Daytona.
With tandem racing and the fact 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. A late charge from the tandem of 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.
This was very special for the sport and the Wood Brothers. The oldest team in the sport, the Wood Brothers were around before NASCAR was founded.
Over the past few years before this win, the Wood Brothers have been forced to go to part-time status as a team, only being able to run roughly 10-15 races a year. This huge win will hopefully propel them to future success.
13. 1972: The Guarantee
The famed Indy car driver AJ Foyt emulated Joe Namath and guaranteed his win for the 1972 Daytona 500. The confidence came from a disappointing Daytona 500 the prior year when Foyt ran out of fuel after leading late in the race.
In 1972, Foyt dominated the field on this February day with only one other driver within seven laps of the Indy car legend. He drove the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers car to their third Daytona 500 win.
Foyt became the last driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
12. 1960: The...Draft?
Junior Johnson didn't have a ride 10 days before the 1960 Daytona 500. Out of nowhere, the Daytona dog track owner decided to field a car bringing Junior Johnson down from Wilkes County, North Carolina.
The car was not up to the performance of the other cars, being about 30 mph slower. During practice Junior Johnson tried to stick to Cotton Owens’ bumper and somehow it kept up.
Johnson then figured out that the car ahead of him was putting less wind resistance on his car, allowing him to go faster.
Junior Johnson won the Daytona 500 that year, and the art of drafting was born.
11. 2007: Won by Inches
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This was 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 pile up 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, the race continued, letting two drivers drag race to the finish.
Harvick would edge Martin by .002 seconds for his first Daytona 500 win and this left Mark Martin winless in the Daytona 500 once again.
10. 1988: Allison vs. Allison
The “Alabama Gang” was running one and two in the final laps. Bobby Allison was trying to capture his third Daytona 500 victory, 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 because, if he did it earlier, it would have cost them both the win. Bobby Allison was too strong.
Davey couldn’t pass Bobby on the final turn and Bobby was first to the checkered flag, winning the 30th running of the Daytona 500.
9. 1989: Waltrip Wins
Waltrip was leading in the final laps with car after car running out of fuel. Darrell Waltrip even radioed to his crew three different times telling them he was out of fuel himself, but the car kept finding those last drops.
In his 17th year of trying to win his first Daytona 500, he did it in the No. 17 “Tide Ride.” This win put an exclamation point on his historic career.
Waltrip, always the entertainer, performed one of the most memorable victory lane celebrations by dancing the “Ickey shuffle.”
8. 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.
Dale Jarrett won the 1993 Daytona 500 with his emotional father, Ned Jarrett, in the TV booth calling the final laps of the race, giving chills to everyone who was listening.
The curse still continued for Earnhardt.
7. 1990: The Upset
The 1990 Daytona 500 was dominated by one driver, but that driver wasn’t the winner.
It was Dale Earnhardt who led 155 of the 200 laps that day, blistering the field.
On the final lap, Earnhardt had a commanding lead until heading into Turn 3, when his right rear tire shredded from debris. This event allowed Derrick Cope to pass Earnhardt to take the first win in his career.
That day defined the curse for Earnhardt.
6. 2004: Junior Wins One for Dad
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Six years ago to the day, Dale Earnhardt Sr. had won his only Daytona 500 on Feb 15, 1998, and in the final laps in 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in the lead.
With the death of his father three years earlier at the same track—the same as his father’s infamous No. 3—everyone saw the extraordinary moment unfolding before their eyes. Junior just could not be passed in those final 20 laps. His car got stronger and it was the strongest it had been the entire day at the end of the race.
Everyone in the grandstands and even the commentators were pulling for Junior. When he completed the final lap and took the checkered flag with Tony Stewart in tail, everyone watching that race in person or through the television knew how special it was.
5. 1959: The Photo Finish
1959 was the first Daytona 500 that was not run on the infamous beach. The christening of the pavement on the 2.5 mile superspeedway was not a disappointment, other than 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 getting stripped of his title and declaring Lee Petty as the winner.
4. 1976: The Battle to the Finish
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.
On the final lap, Richard Petty was leading the race with 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. Both cars were damaged and the other cars were 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.
3. 1979: “The Fight Saw Around the World”
On 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 wrecked in Turn 3. Both drivers got out of their car and started throwing punches when Bobby Allison, Donnie’s bother, came to help.
While all this occurred, Richard Petty went on to win in the first ever fully televised Daytona 500.
This catapulted NASCAR into the headlines and put it on the front page of many newspapers.
2. 1998: Earnhardt Finally Wins
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After 20 years of trying, Dale Earnhardt found himself once again leading the Daytona 500 in the final laps. Earnhardt lead the race for most of the last 75 laps.
After years and years of nearly winning only to have something spoil that outcome, everyone was waiting for something unfortunate to happen again.
On the final lap the accident happened, but this time it was behind Earnhardt, leading to one of the most memorable wins in NASCAR history.
It was truly fitting that the race ended under caution laps. Everyone was able to give him the ovation he deserved. The celebration was just as memorable. After crossing the finish line, every pit crew member from every NASCAR team greeted Earnhardt on pit road to congratulate him.
This ranks at the top as the best victory in NASCAR history.
1. 2001: The Loss of a Legend
It was supposed to be a great day for Dale Earnhardt. His race team was finally taking shape, he was finally healed from neck surgery, he was at the track where he has had the most success of any driver and the pressure was off because he finally won the Daytona 500 three years earlier.
In the final laps, Dale Earnhardt found himself in third place. Of course he would have liked to be leading the race at this point, but he had the next best thing. In front of Earnhardt in first and second place sat Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both cars of which he was the owner.
Then on the final lap, the unthinkable happened.
We lost Dale Earnhardt.
The winner was Michael Waltrip, but even he would like to forget that day and give back that trophy for Dale to be alive today.
This moment changed NASCAR and every fan it had, forever. The safety of the cars and drivers today is because of this unfortunate accident. Still to this day, for all of the newer fans out there, when you are at the track and someone is holding up three fingers on the third lap, it is to remember “The Man in Black.”
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