The 10 Biggest 'What Ifs' in NASCAR History
As with all things, we as NASCAR fans have our own little lists of "what ifs" that we talk about with other fans or think about when alone.
It's hard to avoid the implications of many of those "what ifs," especially considering the enormity of some of those situations that have occurred in NASCAR. What if Bill France Sr. had never gone to Daytona Beach? What if Richard Petty ended up losing on July 4, 1984 instead of winning his monumental 200th race?
What if we didn't lose Dale Earnhardt on February 18, 2001?
Everyone is sure to have their own special list of "what ifs," but the following is a compilation of the what ifs with the biggest implications for the sport's history.
10. What If Adam Petty Hadn't Crashed on May 12, 2000?
It wasn't just a setback for the Petty family when 19-year-old Adam Petty was taken from us in a practice crash at New Hampshire on May 12, 2000. It was a setback for the entire sport of NASCAR, especially the future of NASCAR.
Adam was the heir apparent to the legacy of the No. 43, and had he lived, he would have very likely turned the entire organization around. Granted, his results weren't mind-boggling, but as a prospective member of NASCAR's future youth movement, he had room to grow and plenty of time to do it.
Adam would have tasted success in the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series. He had the drive and the enthusiasm to succeed in NASCAR, and we would have seen NASCAR's first fourth-generation winner.
Alas, fate, like racing, is a very fickle thing.
9. What If Alan Kulwicki Wasn't in a Plane Crash?
Alan Kulwicki was one of NASCAR's unlikeliest success stories. While he was mingling with multi-car teams winning races on a weekly basis, he was doing it in his own car. Due to that, he won the 1992 Winston Cup championship on his own. Until 2011, he was the last owner/driver to win the title.
But what if he had been around for a few more seasons? Would he have done as well? Maybe even pulled off a repeat in 1993?
Absolutely. Early in the 1993 season, he had posted some good results and looked to be knocking on the door to Victory Lane prior to his fatal plane crash on April 1, 1993. Had his plane not crashed, he would have won at least three times during the season and would have contended for the 1993 title with Dale Earnhardt.
Kulwicki would have placed in the top three in points that season. Either he would have won his second championship or would have made the other guys sweat. But as NASCAR evolved, he would have slowed down a bit.
I like to think that he would have raced for AK Racing until his retirement, even if it meant retiring instead of selling his team. But as racing is such an alluring drug, he may have run a few races or seasons for another, stronger team. He was an excellent driver and would have made the most out of his situation.
8. What If the Daytona International Speedway Was Never Built?
For every NASCAR driver, a chance to race at Daytona is proof they have made it, that they are good enough to race in the major leagues. The amount of stock car history there transcends other venues such as Darlington Raceway and Martinsville Speedway.
But what if the 2.5-mile superspeedway never existed?
This is a hard one to think about, especially considering that we can't think about NASCAR without thinking of the Daytona 500 or the plight of drivers such as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. But what if Bill France Sr. decided to take the speedway elsewhere, like California or New York? Or, what if he moved the event and the speedway to the current hotbed of NASCAR activity, Charlotte, N.C.?
For one, we wouldn't be able to feel the romanticism that Daytona Beach carries, and also, there would be a chance that Daytona Beach would still be a smaller city than it is today.
Thankfully, we are able to experience one of the most historical cities in NASCAR history, and with that being said, we are definitely grateful.
7. What If the Restrictor Plate Was Never Made?
We all know that Bobby Allison's wreck at Talladega in 1987 was too close of a call for NASCAR, and they brought about the restrictor plate shortly afterwards. The device was used to slow down the immense speeds that speedways such as Daytona and Talladega brought about.
But what if NASCAR didn't bring about the restrictor plate?
For one, similar accidents such as Allison's would happen again at a higher rate than what is current, especially when you take into account Carl Edwards' 2009 Talladega flip and Kyle Larson's wreck at Daytona in this year's Nationwide Series opener.
Then again, NASCAR may have come up with an alternative by this time, such as shrinking the size of the motors used for the two behemoth race tracks, for one.
Still, the advent of the restrictor plate has led to some great racing and has helped in lowering the risk of injury to both spectator and driver.
6. What If the All-Star Race Wasn't Run Under the Lights?
Labeled as "One Hot Night," the 1992 edition of NASCAR's All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway lived up to the moniker, and then some. On the last lap, the battle for the win came down to Dale Earnhardt in the No. 3, Kyle Petty in the No. 42 and Davey Allison in the No. 28.
While Earnhardt was sent spinning in Turn 3, Allison got underneath Petty's Pontiac and barely edged him out at the line. However, Allison's Ford was sent backwards by Petty as they crossed the line and impacted the front stretch driver-side first. Allison was hospitalized but was still awarded the win.
That night was listed as one of NASCAR's defining moments, but what if it wasn't run under the lights?
Granted, the All-Star race already had some good history, but it risked becoming stale prior to the 1992 edition. There is something about night racing that brings out the absolute beauty of racing. Everything seems brighter at night, and the racing seems more edgy, so we would be missing so much had the All-Star stuck to days instead of nights.
We would have missed the outcome of the 1992 edition of the race, the 2000 edition of the race and the 2002 edition of the race, just to name a few. The racing wouldn't have been as electrifying as it is today.
The decision to move the All-Star race to nights was a perfect one indeed.
5. What If Dale Earnhardt Didn't Win the 1998 Daytona 500?
The racing world rejoiced on February 15, 1998 when Dale Earnhardt finally got the biggest win of his career in the Daytona 500. It had taken the elder Earnhardt 20 tries to finally accomplish that goal, as repeated losses had haunted him over the course of his Winston Cup career.
But what if Earnhardt didn't get the win that day? What if Earnhardt went winless in The Great American Race for the entirety of his career?
Earnhardt's legacy was already established prior to that date, so we wouldn't have to worry about labeling him as the greatest driver who ever lived. He was The Intimidator prior to the 1998 Daytona 500. He didn't have to worry about a tarnished reputation.
But like the career of Rusty Wallace, another NASCAR great and a rival of Earnhardt's, there would always be something missing. He wouldn't seem as established as another seven-time champion, Richard Petty. Petty had won seven Daytona 500s to go along with his seven titles.
If a 500 win was all that Earnhardt would have lacked in his career, then I believe he would have been fine. That win did not define his career, and it wasn't an official benchmark of greatness for Earnhardt. Derrike Cope won the 1990 Daytona 500; where is he now?
Although winning the 1998 Daytona 500 got the monkey off of Earnhardt's back, it wouldn't have been too big of a deal if he went without it. He was already our most beloved star, anyway.
4. What If Davey Allison Wasn't in a Helicopter Crash in 1993?
Despite his full-time Cup career lasting less than six years, Davey Allison made a huge impact in NASCAR. To this day, his impact is still felt among those who were fans of the Alabama Gang and the Allison clan in the early '90s.
But what if he wasn't in the helicopter crash that ultimately took his life in July 1993?
It's safe to say he would have won multiple Cup championships and would have possibly added on to his 1992 Daytona 500 win. He would have been the greatest driver of the '90s, instead of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
On top of that, his popularity would have soared. Easily one of the friendliest drivers in the garage, NASCAR's newest breed of fans would have taken to him quickly. His career statistic would have listed at least 70 or 80 wins and anywhere between three and four championships.
Allison was one of the greatest drivers to ever take to the high banks. If only he could have raced a bit longer.
3. What If a Fight Never Broke out at the 1979 Daytona 500?
On February 18, 1979, it wasn't Richard Petty's sixth win in the Daytona 500 that thrust NASCAR into the national spotlight. Rather, it was the scuffle that broke out at the bottom of Turn 3 between the wrecked race cars of Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, two men who thought for sure that one of them was going to win the race.
Donnie's brother Bobby, who had just taken a shot to the face from Yarborough's helmet, proceeded to channel his inner Dwayne Johnson and attempt to "layeth the smacketh down" on the driver of the No. 11 Junior Johnson-owned Oldsmobile. The incident was a boost for NASCAR's popularity.
But what if it never happened? What if Bobby Allison kept driving while Donnie discussed the incident with the angry Yarborough? More so, what if the crash never happened at all and the two drivers battled to the checkered in a side-by-side duel?
NASCAR would have never had something to tout in later years, for one. There wouldn't have been the always entertaining side that Bobby likes to tell where Yarborough's nose began to beat on Bobby's fists. NASCAR would have been just another redneck sport followed by southerners who loved beer a little too much.
NASCAR would have still grown, but not as quickly. For all we know, IndyCar could have taken over as America's premier motorsport, or maybe even the NHRA. Both excellent forms of motorsport, yet due to The Fight, both are overshadowed by NASCAR today.
I doubt NASCAR's going to apologize any time soon.
2. What If Dale Earnhardt Didn't Die in the 2001 Daytona 500?
It has been 12 years, yet you still see the commemorative T-shirts and decals with the stylized No. 3 paying tribute to the Intimidator. It's been 12 years, and for some, the pain still hasn't left.
His crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 overshadowed one of the greatest Daytona 500s ever run. It also overshadowed a truly emotional win for underdog Michael Waltrip, who finally scored his first win in 463 starts. It also left a huge void in NASCAR, as no driver was even close to filling in Earnhardt's shoes, not even his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But what if he wasn't taken from us in that last-lap crash? Even more, what if he didn't crash at all?
He might have still finished third, if not possibly shuffled back to at least sixth. He would have celebrated with his two drivers who finished 1-2 in the Great American Race, and he also would have celebrated the fact that he was now a Daytona 500-winning car owner.
Would he have won his record-breaking eighth championship? That's debatable, but he was definitely capable. He would have added on to his win total and possibly surpassed 80 wins.
If he were still alive today, he would have retired by now, and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated would still be a contending team. The NASCAR landscape would have been a lot different, but we would still see that Cheshire Cat grin, and that is something the fans miss.
1. What If Bill France Didn't Like Racing?
I know that question does seem a little vague, but without Bill France's love for auto racing, we'd have no NASCAR. We'd still have auto racing, but not NASCAR. Could any one of you imagine a world without our favorite motorsport?
There would be no Daytona International Speedway or Charlotte Motor Speedway. Richard Petty would just be a blue-collar guy in North Carolina, and so would Dale Earnhardt. The Indianapolis would be the undisputed title holder of "Most Prestigious Race" in America.
There wouldn't be a "Pass in the Grass" at Charlotte in 1987, or a dramatic photo-finish at the very first Daytona 500 in 1959. Nobody would know who Jeff Gordon was, and we'd never have the No. 24 car that first visited Victory Lane in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. We wouldn't even have a Coca-Cola 600.
We wouldn't have a nationally televised impromptu fight in Daytona on February 18, 1979. We wouldn't have celebrated with racing's favorite son at the 2004 Daytona 500.
It's something to think about, but what if all that has happened in the past 65 years had never happened at all?