Once the second week of February rolls around, it can only mean one thing: NASCAR is back, and it's almost Daytona 500 time.
Leading up to the 62nd annual running of the Great American Race (Sunday, February 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX), NBC Sports Washington will be previewing the 2020 season.
The 500 comes with much intrigue per usual, but also allows us to reflect on some of the more memorable events in the six-decade history of NASCAR’s Super Bowl.
10. 1963 — Tiny Lund Scores Miraculous Victory
I say miraculous because the fifth running of the Daytona 500 is better known as “The Miracle” at The World Center of Racing. Tiny Lund, who was anything but tiny, standing at 6’5”, wound up winning his first career race, doing so driving for the now historic Wood Brothers.
But Lund wasn’t even supposed to compete in the race. When Marvin Panch was badly burned in a wreck earlier in the week, the Wood Bros. called on Lund to fill in for Panch. Wouldn’t fate have it that Lund was the one who pulled Panch from the fiery wreckage, too.
9. 2004 — Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Triumph
Exactly six years to the day after his late father won his elusive 500 (we’ll get to that, don’t worry), Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his very own Harley J. Earl trophy, holding off Tony Stewart in the closing laps to do so.
It was Junebug’s 10th career win at the time and sixth on a restrictor plate track, following in his father’s footsteps. The image of his red and white, Budweiser draped No. 8 car parked at the start/finish line as Earnhardt jumps into his crew members arms will forever be a lasting one.
8. 2011 — Trevor Bayne Gives Wood Brothers Surprise Win
“Am I dreaming right now?!” were the first words an incredulous Trevor Bayne uttered over the radio to his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team after crossing the finish line at 20 (!) years old to become the youngest Daytona 500 winner. The win was the first for the team since 2001.
Bayne’s victory is widely regarded as one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. I’ll never forget my dad’s hands on his head and mouth wide open in disbelief at what we witnessed.
Much like Dale Jr.’s jubilation in 2004, I’ll never forget the look on Bayne’s face upon climbing out of the car in the infield grass and looking up at 180,000+ fans. It went from pure joy to utter shock and disbelief. I think everybody still is trying to figure out how that actually happened.
7. 1993 — The Dale and Dale Show
In what's now looked at as a historic race on multiple fronts, Dale Jarrett gave Joe Gibbs Racing its first win in Cup Series competition, and did so holding off “The Intimidator” himself.
The win was Jarrett's second overall, but came in JGR’s second season (1992 was winless). Jarrett wound up passing Earnhardt on the final lap held him off for the final 2.5 miles. His father, Ned Jarrett, was in the broadcast booth that day and famously coached his son to the win. His candor as if his won was listening to every word, the elder Jarrett begged the No. 18 to not let the No. 3 get to the inside, and he held him off. The call and interaction between the two in Victory Lane was a heartwarming moment that lives on in NASCAR folklore.
6. 2016 — Hamlin Beats Truex By A Nose
Denny Hamlin's first of two Daytona 500 wins came in 2016, where he beat future JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds, the closest finish in 61 versions of the event.
Matt Kenseth appeared to be on his way to what would’ve been his third 500, but Hamlin faked him out going into Turn 3 and sent the No. 20 to the back. It was a drag race to the line from there, and Hamlin bested Truex by inches.
5. 1959 — Lee Petty Wins The Inaugural Daytona 500 … A Few Days Later
The term “photo finish” actually came to life in the inaugural running of the Daytona 500.
Lee Petty wound up crossing the finish line by less than half a car length over Johnny Beauchamp, but Beauchamp was declared the winner and celebrated in Victory Lane. Petty protested, saying “in my own mind, I know I won.”
It took three full days for newsreel footage and photographs to make their way back to the NASCAR offices, but Bill France eventually declared Petty the winner.
4. 1998 — The Intimidator Exercises Daytona Demons
Let’s face it: Dale Earnhardt and the Daytona 500 just didn’t get along. But that all changed in 1998, when The Intimidator was able to get his elusive victory in the Great American Race.
In perhaps one of the best calls in sports history, Mike Joy spoke into existence what all of NASCAR fans were feeling and thinking.
“20 years of trying, 20 years of frustration. Dale Earnhardt will come to the caution flag to win the Daytona 500! Finally!”
On his way to the winner’s circle, every crew member lined up at the exit of pit road to congratulate Earnhardt on his victory. It could be argued that 1998’s 500 was the most popular and biggest in its rich history.
And in Victory Lane, the weight lifted off Earnhardt’s shoulders was palpable.
“The Daytona 500 is ours, we won it, we won it, we won it,” he said.
3. 1976 — Petty vs. Pearson
Richard Petty. David Pearson. The King. The Silver Fox. The Daytona 500.
How much better than that does it get? The two names are synonymous with winning, and this race came at the peak of both their careers. And boy oh boy did it deliver.
The famed No.’s 43 and No. 21 battled all race, and battled a little too hard coming to the checkered flag. They wrecked coming to the tri-oval and both stalled on the infield grass. Pearson was able to re-fire his Mercury and limped across the line for the win, while Petty finished second after a push start from his crew.
2. 2007 — “The Closer” Steals It From Mark Martin
This is the first Daytona 500 I can really remember. As the sun went down, the action heated up.
This may be the best finish overall in Daytona 500 history. Sure, Kevin Harvick beat Mark Martin to the line by inches to win for Richard Childress Racing, but how about how he got there?
Harvick, then driving the No. 29, made a couple of bonzai moves on the white flag lap, getting big pushes at the right time down the backstretch to drive up alongside Martin’s No. 01. While the rest of the field wrecked behind them (and Clint Bowyer crossed the finish line on his roof), “The Closer” Harvick pinned Martin down on his inside and won in an instant classic.
Mike Joy on the call once again, with words that’ll give me goosebumps every time I hear them.
“Big crash, here they come, checkered flag … HARVICK!”
1. 1979 — “And There’s A Fight!”
Although Harvick’s 2007 triumph may have been the best finish in Daytona 500 history, 1979 may as well be the most memorable.
It was the first live flag-to-flag televised NASCAR race of any kind in the United States. With most of the eastern seaboard snowed in with nothing else to do, viewership was as high as it had ever been. The show on track was great, but the fireworks shortly after were captivating.
Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison ran first and second on the final lap. Cale made his move down the backstretch, Donnie blocked, they touched and subsequently crashed. As their cars floated down to the infield motionless, third-place Richard Petty came around to win his sixth Daytona 500 over Darrell Waltrip.
Then all of a sudden, Hall of Fame broadcaster Ken Squier chimed in…
“And there’s a fight! Between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison. The tempers overflowing, they’re angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.”
The 1979 Daytona 500 was the race that put NASCAR on the map and gave it national recognition. The rest is history.
- 1990 — Derrike Cope scores one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history after Dale Earnhardt blows a tire on the final lap
- 1988 — Bobby and Davey Allison become the first (and only) father/son duo to finish 1-2 in the Daytona 500. The elder becoming the oldest (50) to win the race, too
- 2019 — Denny Hamlin wins his second Great American Race, doing so with J.D. Gibbs’ name above the door, mere weeks after the Joe Gibbs Racing co-founder passed away
- 1989 — Darrell Waltrip drives the No. 17 Tide ride to the win in his 17th year vying for the Harley J. Earl trophy (and did some dancing that would’ve made a fire Tik Tok)
- 1997 — Hendrick Motorsports scores a 1-2-3 finish, with Jeff Gordon besting Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven