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Top 5 Daytona 500 Moments in History

In less than 24 hours, the Super Bowl of NASCAR will take place. The 65th annual Daytona 500 will be an opportunity for drivers to make history. The Daytona 500 isn’t just another race. It’s a pinnacle of not only NASCAR but motorsports. One driver has a chance to do something that we may never see again. For some, it is their best opportunity to earn their first career victory, and it has happened before. Most recently, Michael McDowell in 2021. There are 36 races on the NASCAR Cup Series in a calendar year, but there is only one chance a year to win the Daytona 500. Throughout the history of the Daytona 500, there have been many memorable moments. These are the top 5 moments in the history of the Daytona 500.

#5: Trevor Bayne Wins in his Second Cup Series Start (2011):

As the sun grew on the 2011 season, young 19-year-old Trevor Bayne was signed on to a part-time deal with Wood Brothers Racing to drive the famous #21 car. Right from the get-go, it was apparent that the Wood Brothers brought a great racecar for Bayne for Speedweeks. That caught the attention of four-time Cup Series champion, Jeff Gordon. Before the start of his Thursday afternoon Gatorade duel race, Gordon went to Bayne and suggested that they work together throughout the race. Bayne was stoked to have the opportunity to draft and work together with his childhood hero. This alliance would carry over to that coming Sunday and the Daytona 500. Early on throughout the race, it was apparent that Bayne continued to have a fast racecar. Unfortunately, Gordon would be taken out on lap 29 in a multi-car crash.

A late race caution would set up a green-white-checkered finish that would come down to Bayne, and Ford teammate, David Ragan. As Ragan and Bayne brought the field back for the restart, Ragan would be penalized as he switched lanes too soon before the restart. Ragan would serve the penalty under the following caution and would be out of the equation. On the final restart, Bayne would get a good push to the lead from Bobby Labonte. Bayne would lead at the white flag and would come back to take the checkered flag. Bayne would make history to become the youngest winner in Daytona 500 history at 20 years old and one day. This was a storybook moment for NASCAR. Trevor Bayne may not have been the greatest driver ever, but he will always be a Daytona 500 champion.

#4: Dale Earnhardt Sr Finally Wins The Daytona 500 (1998):

For years before 1998, the Daytona 500 was the one race that haunted Dale Earnhardt Sr as the one race he had never won. There always seemed to be something that went awry for Earnhardt when it came to the Daytona 500. In 1990, Earnhardt was leading with just half a lap to go but ran over a piece of debris and cut down a tire. Derrike Cope passed Earnhardt in turn three to win the 1990 Daytona 500. In 1991, Earnhardt quite possibly had the best car in the field. Unfortunately, with three laps to go, Earnhardt would crash out of the race after racing hard with Davey Allison. Every year, it seemed that something different would happen to Earnhardt to prevent him from winning the 500.

Coming into the 1998 season, Earnhardt and car owner, Richard Childress, were looking at this season to finally break through into Daytona victory lane. This was Earnhardt’s 20th start in the Daytona 500. As far as a restrictor plate race, this was a fairly clean race with only three cautions throughout the race. With three laps to go, it would come down to three cars to fight for the win. Dale Earnhardt Sr, who was leading, Bobby Labonte in second, and Jeremy Mayfield in third. The caution would come out as the cars would come down the back straightaway, and Earnhardt would beat the field back to the line. The race would finish under caution as Earnhardt would win the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt.

#3: The Dale and Dale Show (1993):

The 1993 running of the Daytona 500 was full of headlines, before and after the race. CBS Sports would broadcast the race with announcers Ken Squire, Neil Bonnett, and Ned Jarrett. Kyle Petty would bring the field to green for the start. With 31 laps to go, Derrike Cope and Michael Waltrip would make contact coming out of turn two. Cope would be sent spinning down into 1989 Cup Series champion, Rusty Wallace. The contact between Cope and Wallace would send Wallace into a horrific series of barrel rolls down the back straightaway. Thankfully, Wallace would be okay. This would thin the field down even more and would set up a fantastic run to the checkered flag. As the race would continue and winded down, three drivers established themselves as the contenders with just three laps to go.

Dale Earnhardt Sr, who was leading, rookie Jeff Gordon in second, and Dale Jarrett in third. Sound familiar? Dale Jarrett is the son of two-time Cup Series champion and CBS commentator, Ned Jarrett. As the three drivers would come around with two laps to go, Jarrett would make a move on Gordon to move up into second. As the drivers would take the white flag, Jarrett would go to the inside of Earnhardt to take the lead on the final lap. Once the cars hit the back straightaway, CBS producers told Squire and Bonnett to let Jarrett call his son home. And thus, we have the call that is now known as “The Dale and Dale Show.” This would be Jarrett’s first 500 win, and the first win for car owner, Joe Gibbs.

#2: The Finish of the 2007 Daytona 500:

The finish of the 2007 Daytona 500 was something that only race fans could dream of. David Gilliland and veteran Ricky Rudd would bring the field to the green flag. For the most part, the race ran under green flag conditions. Up until lap 152, there were only two caution flags. That is until the two fastest cars of the race wrecked together. Kurt Busch, who led 95 laps to that point, and Tony Stewart, who led 35 laps up until that crash. After this caution flag, is when the car of veteran Mark Martin came alive. This was Martin’s 23rd attempt to win the Daytona 500. As the laps would wind down, an incident with five laps to go would set up a green-white-checkered finish. The restart order would be Martin in first with Kyle Busch behind him.

As the cars would come up to speed in turn one, Martin would keep Busch behind him. Some drivers would start to make a second lane on the outside to have a chance at Martin and the win. Kevin Harvick was leading the charge on the outside lane. As the field would enter turn three on the final lap, Harvick made his way to the outside of Martin. As the field would come back to the checkered flag, it would be either Martin or Harvick for the win. It would be a drag race to the line, and behind them, a massive wreck which collected the rest of the field. Harvick would edge Martin out by 0.02 seconds to win the Daytona 500. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer, Harvick’s teammate, crossed the start/finish line upside down and on fire. Yes, you read that right. This was a dream finish for the fans.

#1: “The Fight” (1979):

Some would call this a perfect storm. This is what put NASCAR on the map for the nation. CBS Sports and NASCAR had signed a deal to broadcast the Daytona 500 on national TV. This was a huge deal for the sport. As the date for the 500 rolled around, the entire east coast of the nation was snowed in. What else could the east coast do but watch the race? This would be the first 500-mile event to be broadcasted on national TV. It had rained a good portion of the morning and the track was very damp. The race had to start at 1 PM according to the contract signed with CBS sports. The race did start at 1 PM, under green and yellow flag conditions. Eventually, the cars did their jobs and dried the track enough for the race to officially start on lap 16.

But the finish of the race is what sold NASCAR to the nation. Following green flag pit stops, Donnie Allison would take the lead on lap 178 with Cale Yarborough close behind. The two would fight for the lead for several laps, all the way down to the last lap. As the pair headed down the back straightaway on the final lap, Yarborough would attempt the slingshot on Allison. The two would slam into each other and slide to the infield in turn three. Richard Petty, who was over half a lap down to the leaders, would pass the wrecked cars and win his sixth Daytona 500. But no one cared about who won. Why? There was a massive fight between Allison and Yarborough which involved Donnie’s brother, Bobby Allison. This had made new fans out of the nation. This will always be the best moment in Daytona 500 history.

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