The Daytona 500 is a 200-lap, 500 mile (805 km) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule.
The Daytona 500 is widely considered to be NASCAR's most important and prestigious race, and has the largest purse, although it is equivalent to other races on the calendar for championship purposes. It is also the circuit's first race of the year; this phenomenon is virtually unique in sports, which tend to have championships or other major events at the end of the season rather than the start. Since 1995, U.S. television ratings for the Daytona 500 have been the highest for any auto race of the year, surpassing the traditional leader, the Indianapolis 500, even though the 1995 race was available in fewer homes than in the past, because broadcaster CBS had lost affiliates in major markets. The event is also known as "The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing" and "The Great American Race."
The winner of the Daytona 500 is presented with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Victory Lane, and the winning car is displayed for one year at Daytona USA, a museum and gallery adjacent to Daytona International Speedway.
Memorable Daytona 500sEdit
Lee Petty, patriarch of a famous racing family whose most renowned member was his son Richard, won the first Daytona 500 on February 22, 1959 defeating Johnny Beauchamp in a highly unusual manner. Petty and Beauchamp were lapping the car of Joe Weatherly at the finish, when officials initially called Beauchamp the winner as the three cars crossed the line. After reviewing photographs and film of the finish for three days, the call was reversed, and Petty won the first Daytona 500.
The first rain-shortened Daytona 500 was the 1965 event. Leader Marvin Panch and Fred Lorenzen made contact on Lap 129, as rain began to fall; Panch spun out, and Lorenzen won when the race was finally called on Lap 133. The 1966 Daytona 500, won by Richard Petty, was also shortened to 198 laps due to rain.
The 1974 Daytona 500, won by Richard Petty, was shortened to 180 laps (450 miles) in response to the energy crisis. To preserve the 200-lap count, the first lap was counted as Lap 21. The Twin 125 qualifying races were also shortened to 112.5 miles.
In the 1976 Daytona 500, Richard Petty was leading on the last lap when he was passed on the backstretch by David Pearson. Petty tried to turn under Pearson coming off the final corner, but didn't clear Pearson. The contact caused the drivers to spin in to the grass in the infield just short of the finish line. Petty's car didn't start, but Pearson was able to drive his wrecked car just enough to limp over the finish line for the win.
The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first 500-mile race to be broadcast live on national television. A final lap crash and subsequent fight between leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison (along with Donnie's brother Bobby Allison) brought enough publicity to put NASCAR on the national radar. Donnie Allison was leading the race on the final lap with Yarborough drafting him tightly. As Yarborough attempted a slingshot pass at the end of the backstretch, Allison attempted to block him. Yarborough refused to give ground and as he pulled alongside Allison, his left side tires left the pavement and went into the wet and muddy infield grass. Yarborough lost control of his car and contacted Allison's car halfway down the backstretch. As both drivers tried to regain control, their cars made contact several more times before finally locking together and crashing into the outside wall in turn three. After the cars settled in the grass, Allison and Yarborough began to argue. After they had talked it out, Bobby Allison, who was lapped at that point, pulled over and began defending his brother, and a fight broke out. Richard Petty, who was over half a lap behind at the time of the crash, went on to win the race.
The 1988 Daytona 500 was the first race requiring the use of new restrictor plates. Before the race, there was much uncertainty about how well the restrictor plates would work. They were mandated because it was felt the speeds were getting too high at the superspeedways, as demonstrated at Bobby Allison's crash at Talladega in 1987. In the 1988 Daytona 500, Bobby Allison beat his son Davey Allison to the finish line for the win; father and son celebrated together in Victory Lane. Bobby Allison thus became the oldest driver to win the Daytona 500. The race is also remembered for Richard Petty's wild accident. Petty spun, got airborne and tumbled along a large section of catch fence before his car came to a stop. The car was then torn nearly in half from hits by A. J. Foyt and Brett Bodine. Petty escaped without serious injury.
The 1989 Daytona 500 was won by Darrell Waltrip, his first Daytona 500 victory after 17 attempts. (Coincidentally, the car he drove to victory wore the number 17.) Fans loudly cheered the child-like exuberance of Waltrip's victory celebration. As he was being interviewed by CBS pit reporter Mike Joy, Waltrip shouted, "I won the Daytona 500! I won the Daytona 500!" Shortly after, an exuberant Waltrip performed an "Ickey Shuffle" dance in Victory Lane.
After years of trying to win the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt appeared headed for certain victory in the 1990 event until a series of events in the closing laps. On lap 193 Geoff Bodine spun in the first turn, causing the third and final caution of the race. Everyone pitted except Derrike Cope, who stayed out on the track. On the lap 195 restart, Earnhardt retook and held the lead. On the final lap, Earnhardt punctured a tire when he drove over a piece of metal bell housing that had fallen from the failed engine of Rick Wilson's car. As Earnhardt's damaged car slowed, Cope drove past and earned his first Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) victory. It was the first of two victories for the relatively unknown Cope in the 1990 season.
In 1998, Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 after 20 years of trying. Though Earnhardt had usually been a strong competitor in the Daytona 500, mechanical problems, crashes or bad luck had prevented him from winning the race. In 1998, however, Earnhardt was leading when Lake Speed and John Andretti made contact on Lap 198, causing the race to end under caution. After his victory, a joyous Earnhardt drove slowly down pit road, where members of other race teams had lined up to give him handshakes and high-fives. The victory was widely celebrated, even by people who weren't his fans, and was a defining moment in Earnhardt's career and legacy.
On the last turn of the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash. This was the second restrictor-plate race run under a rules package (discontinued after the 2001 season) that included a small strip atop the car's roof and a small lip on the rear spoiler. Though it was meant to give power back to the drivers and help produce more lead changes, critics charged that it created dangerous racing conditions. An 18-car crash on lap 173, which sent Tony Stewart's car flying end-over-end, caused the race to be red-flagged (stopped) while the track was made safe. Michael Waltrip, making his first start for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., won the race, with his teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishing second.
The 2001 Daytona 500 was also the first NASCAR Winston Cup (now Nextel Cup) points race to be televised by the Fox Network, which covered the other major Cup events during Speedweeks, as well as the previous day's Busch Series race. Fox's commentators and reporters included Darrell Waltrip, Michael's brother, and Larry McReynolds, who had been Dale Earnhardt's crew chief at the 1998 Daytona 500.
Sterling Marlin was battling Jeff Gordon for the lead of the 2002 Daytona 500 when they made contact. Gordon spun while a multi-car crash broke out behinf them. NASCAR red-flagged the race so it could be raced to completion, and stopped the field on the backstretch. Marlin had been told that the right front fender on his car had been knocked into the right front tire, and jumped out of the car to pull the fender away from the tire. NASCAR officials in the safety vehicle immediately jumped out and stopped him. Since no one is allowed to work on a car during red-flag conditions, Marlin was sent to the back of the field. Marlin's move led to Ward Burton's win.
In 2003, Michael Waltrip won when rain shortened the race to 109 laps, and in 2004, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the race three years after his father's death and exactly six years to the date that his father won the Daytona 500.
Changes to the Daytona 500 meant the race could run into the dusk, with engines starting at 2:40 PM, and the green flag waving around 2:55 PM, meaning the race would finish under the lights as darkness fell at the finish. In 2005, Jeff Gordon won his third Daytona 500 in the first instance NASCAR used the "green-white-checkered" rule in the 500. Jimmie Johnson took the honors in 2006, also under a nighttime green-white-checkered finish.
Qualifying is unique at Daytona for the 500. Some teams must race their way into the Daytona 500 field. However, since 2005, all exempt teams (the top 35 teams of the previous year in owner points) are guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500. The first row is set by one round of qualifying, normally held one week before the race. (Prior to 2003, this was two rounds; prior to 2001, it was three rounds.) The remainder of the field is set by qualifying races (these were 100 miles from 1959-1967; 125 miles from 1969-2004; and 150 miles, with two-lap overtime if necessary, beginning in 2005. These races were not held in 1968 because of rain), with the top two cars not exempt advancing. After the exempt teams and top two non-exempt cars are added to the field, the top three non-exempt cars are added by fastest qualifing laps. A former Nextel Cup champion, if necessary, is added. Otherwise, the fourth fastest car is added to the field.
Prior to 2005, after the top two cars were set, the top 14 cars in the qualifying races advanced to the field, and then between six (1998-2003), eight (1995-97, 2004), or ten (until 1994) fastest cars which did not advance from the qualifing race were added, and, since the mid-1980's, between two and seven cars were added by previous year's points performance and or championship.
The Daytona 500 was the first 500-mile auto race to be televised live and in its entirety when CBS aired it in 1979. CBS continued airing the Daytona 500 until 2000. From 2001 to 2006, the race alternated between FOX and NBC under the terms of a six year, $2.48 billion NASCAR television contract. Starting in 2007, Fox will be the exclusive home of the Daytona 500 under the terms of NASCAR's new television package.
A byproduct of both the track's 1998 lighting and the 2001 television package has been later start times. The race started at 12:15 p.m. (Eastern United States time) from 1979 until 2000. The start time was moved to 2:30 p.m. for the convenience of West Coast fans. The 2005 race ended at sunset for the first time in its history, and in 2006 it ended in near-complete darkness. The changing track conditions caused by the onset of darkness in the closing laps force the crew chiefs to predict the critical car setup adjustments needed for their final pit stop.
In 1986, the Daytona 500 paid tribute to astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and many cars carried a decal in memory of the STS-51-L crew. Seventeen years later, in 2003, a similar tribute was paid to the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. All cars carried a decal in memory of the STS-107 crew.
List of Daytona 500 winnersEdit
- 1965: 322.5 Miles (129 laps) because of rain
- 1966: 495 Miles (198 laps) because of rain
- 1974: 450 Miles (180 laps) because of energy crisis
- 2003: 272.5 Miles (109 laps) because of rain
- 2005-2006: 507.5 Miles (203 laps) because of green-white-checkered rule
NOTE: Effective July 25, 2004, NASCAR changed finish rules in national (Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series, Craftsman Truck Series) competition. If at any time during the penultimate lap the race is under caution, the race will end with two green flag laps or the next caution upon the ensuing restart.
- Top 10 Daytona 500 moments
- Video clip from 1964 Scenes of pre-race time trials which include several crashes and spin outs. From the State Library & Archives of Florida.
- Official track website
- Daytona 500 history from official track website
- 2006 Daytona 500 results, use the left dropdown menu to select a different year
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