Hood: Ten 500s Which Will Never Be Forgotten
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
The last time Daytona International Speedway was paved the year was 1978 and NASCAR was considered a regional sport at best. A few months later, the fresh coat of asphalt helped produce a memorable Daytona 500 that thrust NASCAR into the national spotlight.
After a series of potholes developed during last year’s Great American Race, track officials had little choice but to repave the historic facility. During a three-day test at the 2.5 mile tri-oval for the Sprint Cup Series this week, drivers gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to the new ribbon of asphalt.
The new, smooth racing surface prompted some drivers to predict that next month’s Daytona 500 will be the most exciting event in the 52- year history of the speedway.
My memories of the Daytona 500 only date back to 1976, but it’s chock full of moments I’ll never forget:
10. Derrike Cope’s improbable win in 1990
During a dominating performance when he led 155 of 200 laps, Dale Earnhardt was likely practicing his victory speech as he led the field to the white flag. But a cut tire in Turn 3 with the checkered flag nearly in sight forced Earnhardt to limp to the finish line in his No. 3 Chevrolet as Derrike Cope swept by to take the victory in a car prepared by crew chief Buddy Parrott.
9. The launch of Awesome Bill’s dream season in 1985
Three brothers from the north Georgia mountains showed plenty of promise during the 1984 season.
But nobody figured a red-headed Bill Elliott’s win in the 1985 Daytona 500 would jumpstart one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history. With brothers Ernie and Dan calling the shots from the pits, Elliott also scored big wins at Talladega and Darlington on the way to capturing the Winston Million.
8. Father and son finish 1-2 in 1988
The Alabama gang ruled the day as Hueytown’s Bobby Allison held off son Davey Allison to capture his third victory in the Great American Race. Allison’s win came less than a year following his spectacular crash at Talladega, Ala. during a race won by Davey. Bobby Allison’s 1988 win at Daytona turned out to be his final trip to victory lane. He suffered a career-ending wreck at Pocono later that season.
7. Harvick nips Martin at the line in 2007
As final lap fireworks go, few races can top the 2007 running of the Daytona 500 which saw Kevin Harvick escape the carnage of a multi-car wreck in Turn 4 to edge Mark Martin by inches at the start-finish line. Seconds after the checkered flag waved, Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing teammates Chevrolet slid wildly through the tri-oval grass on its roof.
6. Gordon wins, Earnhardt flips in 1997
Leading with six laps remaining, Bill Elliott’s Ford was a sitting duck with Jeff Gordon and his two Hendrick Motorsports teammates locked onto his rear bumper in the 1997 Daytona 500. Gordon edged Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven to reward team owner Rick Hendrick with a 1-2-3 finish. However, the race might best be remembered for Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet going onto its roof late in the event with 11 laps remaining. Earnhardt managed to finish the race in his battered car.
5. Earnhardt scores a popular win in 1998
On an overcast day, Dale Earnhardt scored a long-awaited win in the 1998 Daytona 500 by beating Bobby Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield to the finish line in an event that finished under caution. Earnhardt’s trip to victory lane was temporarily delayed after he was greeted by a long line of crew members from each team offering their congratulations as he drove down pit road. Earnhardt carried a lucky penny on the dash of his Chevrolet that Sunday. It was given to him by a small child that weekend.
4. Pearson and Petty’s spin in 1976
In a race when the key moments aired live on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, a national television audience watched the final laps of the 1976 Daytona 500 as the sport’s two biggest stars, Richard Petty and David Pearson, battled to the finish in NASCAR’s most important race. Running side-by-side while exiting Turn 4 on the last lap, both drivers lost control and slid into the grassy area between the start-finish line and pit road. As Petty’s team ran to his car to offer him a push, Pearson’s No. 21 Mercury limped across the finish line to score the victory.
3. It’s the Dale and Dale show in 1993
This race will be remembered for Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt’s stirring duel during the final laps and Ned Jarrett’s memorable call on the final lap. With his father, Ned, leading the cheers from the CBS booth, Dale Jarrett’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet managed to hold off Earnhardt’s frantic charge.
2. Petty wins, the fight in 1979
An east coast blizzard led to monster ratings for CBS, which became the first network to air a
NASCAR race live from start-to-finish with its coverage of the 1979 Daytona 500. Millions of viewers watched in disbelief as Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough crashed on the backstretch during the final lap. That opened the door for Richard Petty, who was forced to hold off Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foyt to notch the win.
1. Waltrip wins, Earnhardt loses his life in 2001
Emotions ran the gamut as Michael Waltrip finally scored his first victory by outrunning Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. But Waltrip’s celebration was short-lived after learning that team owner Dale Earnhardt had been injured in a crash with Ken Schrader on the final lap. Just over an hour later, the nation looked on in disbelief as NASCAR president Mike Helton announced that Earnhardt had died from an injury sustained in the incident.
– Jeff Hood can be reached at email@example.com Comments