The Daytona 500 has had some memorable moments in its history that have helped define the sport. Photo finishes, fights and huge underdog winners have highlighted the history of this classic race. Here are the top ten greatest moments in Daytona 500 history.
The 1979 event was the first time that the race was broadcast live. On the last lap Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough had a huge lead over third place when Cale dove low to pass. Donnie blocked, they banged fenders and wrecked in turn 3. Richard Petty took the win. After the race Allison and Yarborough got into a fight with Bobby Allison also stopping to join in, all on national television. This incident helped spark an interest in NASCAR that no amount of advertising could ever match.
After 20 years of near-misses and frustration Dale Earnhardt Sr. finally had the stars align in 1998. While the race was a good one the truly memorable moment here was that slow drive up pit road where every team and every member of the press went out to congratulate Dale. This may have been the single most popular victory in the history of NASCAR. I never called myself a Dale Earnhardt fan, but this was a beautiful moment.
1959 was the very first Daytona 500 on the brand new 2.5 mile superspeedway. Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp were battling for the win off of turn 4 on the last lap with the lapped car of Joe Weatherly in the mix. The three of them crossed the line side-by-side-by-side, Beauchamp on the bottom, Petty in the middle and Weatherly on top. Beauchamp celebrated in victory lane but three days later Petty was declared the winner when newsreel footage showed that he beat Beauchamp to the line.
Not a "great" moment, but certainly momentous. This race changed the future of the sport forever as NASCAR lost its greatest driver of all time when Dale Earnhardt Sr. lost his life in turn four of the last lap. This event made international headlines bringing NASCAR in focus in a way that it never had been before. NASCAR took the opportunity to make significant safety changes that have saved lives since. That renewed focus on safety continues to this day.
Richard Petty was leading on the last lap when David Pearson got around him on the bachstretch. Off of turn four Petty tried a slingshot move under Pearson but didn't quite clear him. They touched and both drivers crashed, coming to rest on the grass just short of the start finish line. Petty's car wouldn't start but Pearson kept his car running and creeped over the line on the shoulder for the win.
On a late race restart, Sterling Marlin was trying to pass Jeff Gordon for the lead when they got together. Gordon spun and a multi-car wreck happened behind them. Marlin was leading when NASCAR threw the red flag to clean up the mess and try to finish under green. When the cars stopped on the backstretch, Sterling jumped out of his car and tugged on his damaged right front fender. NASCAR sent him to the back for working on his car during the red flag, handing the win to Ward Burton.
After some scary moments in 1987 NASCAR introduced the restrictor plate to superspeedway racing for the 1988 season. The Daytona 500 was the first race with the new rules. Bobby Allison became the oldest driver to ever win the Daytona 500 when he beat his son Davey to the line for the win. The still-standing age record, warm family moment, and dawn of the modern restrictor plate era combine to make this one of the great Daytona 500s of all time.
While Dale Jarrett's first Daytona 500 victory in 1993 was a good race, what really made it stand out was his father Ned Jarrett rooting him on as a commentator for the TV broadcast. The rest of the broadcast team let Ned call the finish as he coached, urged and rooted for Dale to hold off Dale Earnhardt for the win. Ned was overcome with joy at watching his son take the win. It was an emotional Daytona 500 moment that is well worthy of this list.
When most people think of winning Daytona after years of trying Dale Earnhardt comes to mind first. In 1989 Darrell Waltrip finally won his after seventeen years of trying. Darrell won it on fuel mileage as he coasted across the line for the win. In victory lane Darrell imitated Cincinatti Bengals star Icky Woods, doing the "Icky Shuffle" and spiking his helmet.
With a firm lead in turn three of the last lap Dale Earnhardt cut a tire and handed the win to Derrike Cope. Derrike scored this, the first win of his career and one of only two total career victories, in only his third Daytona 500 start. This race truly set up the legend of Dale Earnhardt's Daytona 500 luck.