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Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt and the Most Impressive Victories

Hank EptonCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2011

Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt and the Most Impressive Victories

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    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    The Daytona 500 is by just any estimation the grandaddy of stock car races.

    For 52 years, it's provided some of the sport's most memorable moments, juxtaposed with incredible heartbreaks.

    From the first Daytona 500 in 1959, each February has brought a new sense of hope for the drivers and teams.

    For those who leave the race without a trophy, it's a long year to get another shot at NASCAR's biggest single race prize.

    Here's a look back in no particular order at some of the more impressive races in Daytona 500 history.

1. 1959: Petty Nips Beauchamp at the Line

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    It's best to start at the beginning.

    In 1959, NASCAR was in its 11th season. For the first time, drivers made their visit to the brand new Daytona International Speedway.

    With the lap car of Joe Weatherly in the mix, Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp came to the line nearly simultaneously.

    Initially, everyone thought Beauchamp had won the race, until NASCAR called for press photographers to come forward with pictures of the last lap. Petty was declared the winner.

    So it began. One of the greatest dynasties in NASCAR history took its first step onto Daytona's stage with a Petty in victory lane.

2. 1979: Petty in the Right Place and Time for Sixth 500 Crown

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    It was the perfect storm.

    Literally.

    Most of the east coast of the United States was buried in a snow storm as CBS went to air for the first flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500.

    The night before the race, Daytona Beach had become a quagmire from rain that turned to snow as it headed north going into Sunday.

    Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough enjoyed a comfortable lead going down the back straightaway when they decided to settle a feud that began earlier that day—an accident coming out of the second corner.

    As they sacrificed a Daytona 500 win for spite, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foyt motored past. Suddenly, instead of racing far behind the leaders, they were the lead pack.

    Waltrip was down a cylinder and unable to make a move, and Petty led him to the checkered flag with A.J. Foyt in third.

    They were the only three cars on the lead lap.

1960: Hall of Famer Junior Johnson Wins Daytona 500

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    In 1960, the field for the Daytona 500 was much larger than it is today.

    68 cars took the green flag that day in a field of early NASCAR's who's who.

    Just days before, Junior Johnson was asked to come and pilot a car sponsored by the Daytona Kennel Club and prepared by the great Ray Fox.

    During that event, Johnson learned that he could pick up speed if he ducked in behind a car in front of him.

    With that thought, racing at Daytona was changed forever with the birth of drafting.

    Johnson never made it to victory lane in the 500 again, but his Hall of Fame career is complete with a Daytona 500 crown.

1994: Sterling Marlin Heralds His Dominance in the Daytona 500

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    For people who remember Sterling Marlin's two year stretch of domination in the Daytona 500, the thing that stands out is the sound of the car.

    In 1994 and '95, Morgan-McClure Racing brought two of the most dominant cars in the history of Speedweeks.

    They had a unique sound reminiscent of Indy cars, thanks in part to an innovative exhaust design.

    Morgan-McClure had been to victory lane before in the Great American Race with Ernie Irvan. In 1994, Irvan battled Marlin in a powerful Robert Yates Ford.

1993: Jarrett Stars in the Dale and Dale Show

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    It's sometimes hard to believe that there was a time when Joe Gibbs Racing was an upstart.

    In 1993, the team was still finding its way in NASCAR when the Daytona 500 came down to a last lap duel between Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt.

    With CBS covering the race and Ned Jarrett in the broadcast booth, the race provided one of the more emotional moments in Daytona 500 history.

    Coached by his father from the booth, Dale Jarrett did exactly as he was instructed, and the Dale and Dale show came to the finish.

    It was the first of three Daytona 500 crowns for Dale Jarrett.

1963: Heroism Pays Off for Tiny Lund

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    Just days before the 1963 Daytona 500, Tiny Lund didn't have a ride for the race.

    He happened to be at the track when he saw Marvin Panch flip his Mazerati preparing for the endurance race during Speedweeks.

    As the car burned, Lund came to the rescue and helped Panch out of the car.

    Panch's injuries kept him out of the Wood Brothers Ford for the 500, and they tapped the heroic Lund as the replacement.

    Lund didn't disappoint, and capped a fairy tale Speedweeks with a win in the Daytona 500.

1980: Buddy Baker Wins Fastest Daytona 500 in History

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    They call it Speedweeks for a reason, and the 1980 Daytona 500 was fast.

    In 1980, Buddy Baker won the Daytona 500 with an average speed of 177.602 mph. It's a record that stands to this day.

    It was Baker's only win in the 500, but his win is proof that nice guys do finish first, and they do it in a hurry.

1976: Pearson Bests Petty in Battle of NASCAR Legends

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    To this day, Richard Petty and David Pearson are atop NASCAR's all time win list. In February of 1976, they were atop the leader board as they came to the white flag for the Daytona 500.

    Down the back straightaway, Pearson was able to use a slingshot move to get around Petty.

    As they headed into turns three and four, a lap car forced Pearson high and the chaos ensued.

    Petty and Pearson crashed within sight of the finish line, and Pearson was able to get his car re-started and limp to the checkered flag.

    It ain't over 'til it's over, and after the smoke cleared, Pearson had won the 1976 Daytona 500.

1967: Mario Andretti Comes South and Wins The Daytona 500

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    In 1967, Mario Andretti was already an established star in American racing. But he had to have the biggest prize in stock car racing in his trophy case.

    As the race went down, a blown engine on Richard Petty's car brought out the caution as Andretti led the field to the white flag.

    There were no green-white-checker finishes in 1967, and Andretti remains one of only two men to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

1972: Super Tex A.J. Foyt Captures the Daytona 500

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    According to Bobby Allison, when A.J. Foyt came to try his hand in NASCAR, he brought the respect he'd earned around the racing world with him.

    He earned it in 1972.

    In the 14th running of the Great American Race, Foyt drove his Wood Brothers Ford to victory.

    He joined Mario Andretti in history as the only other man to win the most coveted prizes in American motorsports: The Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

1964: Richard Petty Begins His Illustrious Daytona Career

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    By 1964, Richard Petty had assumed the mantle of his father as the standard bearer in NASCAR.

    His father had won the first 500 in 1959, and five years later his son had become one of the biggest names in the sport.

    Lee and Richard Petty became the first of three father-son duos to win the Daytona 500.

1988: Bobby Allison Leads Son to the Checkers at Daytona

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    In 1988, Bobby Allison was in the twilight of his career, and his son would soon take the Allison family throne.

    Bobby had one big moment left.

    Showing the way for his son, Bobby Allison piloted his Stavola Brothers Racing Buick to victory.

    His son Davey finished second, but his day was coming.

1992: Davey Allison Takes His Place Among the NASCAR Elite

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    By 1992, Davey Allison was among NASCAR's most popular drivers, and one of its best.

    When the season ended at Atlanta in November, he had a shot to win the championship.

    Throughout the 1990s, Robert Yates Racing brought fantastic cars to the Daytona 500, and in 1992 they brought the best.

    Davey Allison's season began with great promise in the 1992 Daytona 500, as he became part of the second father-son pairing to win the Great American Race.

1989: 17 Is the Charm as Darrell Waltrip Wins The Daytona 500

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    Darrell Waltrip was in his 17th start in the Daytona 500 in 1989, and he finally got No. 17 a victory.

    Hendrick Motorsports showed its dominance with a one-two sweep of the Daytona 500, and Waltrip was the most surprised of anyone.

    In an emotional victory lane interview, he made interviewer Mike Joy confirm that it was indeed the Daytona 500.

    When Joy did, Waltrip broke down in tears and thanked God for what was one of the shining achievements of his highly decorated career.

1990: Derrike Cope Wins One for the Underdog

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    By 1990, the futility in the Daytona 500 was starting to mount for Dale Earnhardt, but Derrike Cope had nothing to lose.

    Earnhardt dominated the race, and looked nearly bulletproof for most of the day until the last corner.

    As he led a four car breakaway into turn three, he ran over debris and opened the door for Cope.

    Cope ducked below Earnhardt's wounded Chevy and took the win.

    He went on to win another race in 1990, becoming a driver who proved that if you could hang in until the end, anything was possible in the Daytona 500.

1997: Jeff Gordon Adds Daytona 500 Champion To His File

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    In 1997, Jeff Gordon was already a series champion, but he'd yet to win the biggest race in the sport.

    Hendrick Motorsports had established itself as the dominant team in NASCAR, and in 1997 the team managed to bring its cars home in a top-three sweep in the Daytona 500.

    A late race caution allowed the teams to line up and cross the line together, a visual demonstration of the Hendrick dominance that continues to this day.

2007: Kevin Harvick Wins a Thriller at Daytona

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    By 2007, Kevin Harvick was already established as one of the top drivers in the sport, and Mark Martin had become the sentimental favorite in the Daytona 500.

    A late race caution set up a two lap shootout that David Letterman later described as a jailbreak.

    As the leaders came off the fourth turn, a wreck allowed Harvick and Martin to race to the finish line, creating a photo finish in the Daytona 500.

    It was Richard Childress Racing's second Daytona 500 win.

2001: Michael Waltrip Ends Futility in the Daytona 500

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    Michael Waltrip's win in the 2001 Daytona 500 has become a post-script to one of racing's darkest days.

    In his achievement, though, he ended a streak of 463 starts without a win before being tapped by Dale Eanrhardt to pilot one of his DEI Chevys in the 500.

    Waltrip did manage to win another Daytona 500 in 2003, but his 2001 triumph would have been one of NASCAR's great moments if not for the passing of Dale Earnhardt.

2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Joins Father as Daytona 500 Champion

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    2004 marked three years since the passing of Dale Earnhardt, but the memories still ran deep.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. had already won at Daytona since his father's passing, but he still was seeking the sport's biggest prize.

    In dominant fashion reminiscent of the father, the son went to victory lane.

    Six years to the day earlier, his father won at Daytona.

    The Earnhardts are the third father-son pair to win the Daytona 500.

1998: Dale Earnhardt Wins!

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    Dale Earnhardt was in his 20th attempt at Daytona in 1998, and despite winning almost everything imaginable in the sport, he found himself shut out in the 500 in every way imaginable.

    As the laps wound down, the entire sport waited to see if fate would deal The Intimidator another cruel blow.

    The monkey finally came off Earnhardt's back.

    A late race caution allowed Earnhardt to cruise to his only Daytona 500 victory, but his two decades of dominance at Daytona are still the mark for performance at Daytona International Speedway.

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