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Daytona 500: The Ups and Downs of the Big Race

385743 01: Safety vehicles arrive on the scene of the fatal crash involving Dale Earnhardt and Ken Schrader during the NASCAR Winston Cup Daytona 500 race February 18, 2001 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida. Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, died from injuries sustained in the crash on the last lap of the race. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Allsport)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Ben SwareyContributor IOctober 29, 2016

The Daytona 500 is the first and most exciting race of the NASCAR season.

NASCAR drivers are required to race with restrictor plates in their engine to keep the speeds from getting dangerously high. As a result, the cars race closer together, creating much more action than the average race.

In NASCAR restrictor plate racing, there is something known as "the draft." The draft is what enables the cars to race so tightly packed together. Because of the draft, it doesn't take much for a driver to go from the front to the back of the pack, or vice versa. If a driver falls out of the pack, their chances of winning the race could be eliminated.

Daytona is notorious for what is known as the big one. It got its name because the cars race so close together, and all it takes is one driver to mess up, and then it happens. That's right, the big one happens, causing dozens of drivers to get caught up in a big crash, sending cars all over the track.

Some fans like when cars crash on the track, and some do not. Sometimes interesting things happen following a wreck on the track. Some wrecks are small, and some are huge. Just because a wreck only involves a few cars does not mean that no drivers will get hurt.

On Feb. 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was attempting to block fellow driver Sterling Marlin from passing him and gaining a position. Earnhardt made a mistake and overcorrected. The end result was tragic. Earnhardt was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Coincidentally, Earnhardt's teammate, Michael Waltrip, drove to victory lane. When Waltrip won, he was told not to go to victory lane. He had no idea what he was about to hear. When Waltrip pulled in behind the wall, his team broke the news to him.

When he heard about Earnhardt's death, Waltrip was in shock. He wasn't alone. The entire NASCAR community was stunned. Nobody expected a driver as popular as Earnhardt to lose his life so tragically. This was one of the worst days in NASCAR history.

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