10 Moments That Changed NASCAR History

Joseph Shelton@@JosephShelton88Contributor IIIAugust 10, 2013

10 Moments That Changed NASCAR History

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    Throughout the course of NASCAR's history, fans both here and long gone have bore witness to several monumental occurrences that have changed the face of our favorite sport. This will continue to go on for as long as NASCAR is around.

    While we've been around to witness such events like the induction of the Sprint Cup Chase or the inclusion of the Toyota Motor Corporation into the ranks of NASCAR, we can only imagine what our predecessors must have felt when the points system that was used until 2003 was introduced in 1971, or when the Daytona International Speedway was built in 1959.

    Nonetheless, history will continue to be made in the sport, and these are some of the defining moments that currently hold a special place in the hearts of the fans.

10. Toyota Comes to NASCAR

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    For the longest time NASCAR had been established as a sanctioning motorsports body that solely ran American makes such as Chevy, Ford and Dodge. However, beginning in 2004, the sport welcomed Japanese automaker Toyota into the mix.

    With its initial focus being the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Toyota earned its first NASCAR win in August of 2004 when Travis Kvapil won at Michigan. That win would serve as a catalyst for other Toyota drivers as the wins would begin to come at a steadier pace.

    In 2006, the year it won its first NASCAR championship with Todd Bodine in the No. 30 Toyota Tundra, Toyota announced its intention to run the Camry model in the 2007 Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series. While the Cup efforts were less than pleasant, Jason Leffler earned the first Busch Series win in a Camry when he won at O'Reilly Raceway Park in July of 2007.

    Kyle Busch became the first Sprint Cup Toyota winner when he won at Atlanta in March of 2008. That year Busch would win a total of eight races. With that being said, it was a given that Toyota wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.

9. Daytona International Speedway Is Born

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    While Daytona Beach is considered the birthplace of NASCAR, it wasn't until the Daytona International Speedway was built that the landscape of NASCAR was changed.

    Prior to the first race held at the speedway in 1959, the Grand National stock cars raced along the beach/road course that was part sandy beach and part Highway A1A. However, with the large crowds that were turning out for the races on the beach, promoters felt that a permanent track would help both the city and the sport. 

    The banked design allowed for higher speeds, plus it gave a better view of the cars for the fans. The first Daytona 500 was held in 1959, and in what was a precursor for the excitement and drama that was to come, Lee Petty beat Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish that took three days to decide. 

    That was how the most prestigious stock car race was born.

8. Petty Wins 200

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    On July 4, 1984, Richard Petty managed to set a motorsports record that no other race driver has managed to equal by winning his 200th major event at the Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

    Several factors helped to make this such a big event. For one, Petty was already in the twilight of his career, as the stout finishes he was usually known for weren't coming as often. He had already won the last of his championships in 1979, and it would be eight years before he officially retired.

    Also making the day special was the fact that President Ronald Reagan happened to be in attendance, becoming the first sitting president to hold such a distinction.

    Late in the going, Petty was doing close battle with Cale Yarborough for the lead. But with three laps remaining, Doug Heveron flipped going into the first turn. Yarborough and Petty began leaning on each other coming back to the caution, and it was Petty who crossed the line first, by inches.

    Frustrated, Yarborough assumed the race was over and went down pit road before the checkered flag even dropped. He came back out and finished third, while Harry Gant finished second.

    After the race, Petty dined with President Reagan over buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. It does not get any more American than that.

7. Wendell Scott Wins at Jacksonville

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    Although known for being a predominantly white sport, NASCAR has had its share of drivers who broke through the racial barriers over the years. But before drivers like Darrell Wallace Jr., Bill Lester and Willy T. Ribbs, there was NASCAR's first (and to date only) black winner in Wendell Scott.

    Scott, who ran his own team for many years, happened to join the sport amid heightened racial tensions in America, especially in the south. Although underfunded, Scott still managed to make a go of things and scored five top-10s in his first season of 1961.

    But perhaps the highlight of his career came at Jacksonville Raceway Park in 1964. With 25 laps to go, Scott passed Buck Baker for the lead and managed to win the race by two laps. Although officials blame scoring problems and initially give the win to Buck Baker, it wasn't until hours after the race that a correction is made and Scott becomes the first black man to win a NASCAR Grand National event.

    Scott retired in 1973 due to injuries suffered in an accident at Talladega Superspeedway. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 69 and was posthumously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.

6. The Dawn of NASCAR's Modern Era

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    When R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company decided to get involved in NASCAR in 1971 with its Winston Brand, NASCAR as a sanctioning body received a major overhaul in many areas.

    For one, the Grand National Series was renamed the Winston Cup Series. The season was shortened from 48 to 31 events a year, and dirt events were removed from the series. But the biggest changes were in the point system, as it was modified to where all points races awarded an equal number of points to the competitors.

    Several shining moments happened during this era of NASCAR, such as Kannapolis, N.C. native Dale Earnhardt winning seven championships and 76 points races throughout the course of his career, the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta, and Richard Petty winning his 200th event in 1984.

    In 2003, it was announced that the Winston Cup Series would become the NEXTEL Cup Series, and the point system would receive a major overhaul with the induction of the 10-race postseason Chase for the Cup.

5. The Birth of the Restrictor Plate

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    At the May 1987 Talladega event, Bill Elliott set the NASCAR world on its head when he set the qualifying record of 212 mph. At that same event, Bobby Allison also set the NASCAR world on its head, but for a completely different reason.

    Coming through the tri-oval, Allison's No. 22 cut down a tire, which sent the car into a spin, ultimately sending it sailing through the air. Although the car did not get upside down, it did end up backing into the catch fence, tearing down a large portion and injuring several fans.

    While there were no fatalities, NASCAR still felt that the accident was too close of a call and mandated restrictor plates for the other Daytona and Talladega events for the rest of the 1987 season and ultimately from then on out. The move was safety based, in order to keep the speeds under 200 mph. Ironically, it was Bobby Allison who would win the 1988 Daytona 500, the first 500 run with the restrictor plate.

4. NASCAR Mandates the Roof Flap

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    1993 wasn't the most pleasant year in NASCAR, and one driver who definitely felt that way was Rusty Wallace, who suffered through not one but two flips during the season, one at the Daytona 500 and one at the first Talladega event of the year.

    NASCAR began researching methods into keeping the cars grounded and came up with the roof flap. Although the flaps are kept away during the course of a race, once a car gets backward the flaps deploy to disrupt the air flow over the vehicle and reduce the lift on the vehicle.

    While cars still continue to turn over, imagine how many more cars would have flipped without the flaps. 

3. The Chase for the Cup

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    Following one of the least exciting championship seasons in 2003 when Matt Kenseth won the title on the strength of one early season win, NASCAR felt the need to change the point system to make it more exciting. Thus, the Chase was born.

    After the first 26 events of the season, the top 10 in points would be reset with the first-place driver receiving 5,050 points and the 10th-place drivers receiving 5,005 points. This was the system from 2004 to 2006, with the field expanding to 12 in 2007.

    Also that year, every driver was reset to 5,000 points with 10 additional points per win, and in 2011, the last two drivers were to be wild-card spots given to drivers between 11th and 20th in points who had the most wins.

    The first Chase did not disappoint, as Kurt Busch became the 2004 champion by eight points over future five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

2. The 2001 Daytona 500

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    It was supposed to be the dawn of a new day for NASCAR. A new television deal, the re-introduction of a nameplate that was a former NASCAR staple. The second race with NASCAR's new and exciting aerodynamic package.

    When it came to exciting, the 2001 Daytona 500 did not disappoint. Forty-nine lead changes among 14 drivers. An 18-car accident late in the going that sent Tony Stewart flipping down the backstretch. Then, of course, there was the matter of underdog Michael Waltrip finally winning his first Cup race.

    He did end up winning the race, his first win in 463 starts. But the 2001 Daytona 500 won't be remembered for that. Instead, the race will forever be remembered as the day we lost Dale Earnhardt.

    In the final turn of the final lap, Earnhardt's No. 3 got loose, swooping down the track before shooting back up the track and collecting the No. 36 of Ken Schrader before going up into the wall. The impact was so severe that the seven-time Winston Cup champion was killed instantly.

    With that being said, the 2001 Daytona 500 changed the landscape of NASCAR as we knew it.

1. 1979 Daytona 500

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    The events of February 18, 1979 can be described as a perfect storm for NASCAR. For one, a new television deal with CBS made the 1979 Daytona 500 the first 500-mile race to be broadcast from flag to flag live. Also, with a large snowstorm holing up several people in the northeast and midwest United States, the television audience was fairly large.

    On the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison were running first and second when Donnie made a move on the backstretch. Yarborough threw a block, causing both cars to lose control and crash into the Turn 3 wall.

    While this was happening, Richard Petty came from third place to first to win his sixth Daytona 500. But while he celebrated, Bobby Allison, Donnie's brother, came to offer Donnie a ride to the garage only to be met with a helmet to the face by Yarborough. Bobby's response?

    Beat the fire out of Yarborough.

    The fight was broadcast on the live CBS telecast and became the topic of conversation around water coolers across the nation the next day. Americans who weren't fans before had witnessed the raw emotion that comes with NASCAR. The 1979 Daytona 500 is the race that put NASCAR on the map.

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