Some call it NASCAR’s “Super Bowl.” Much like football’s greatest game, the “Great American Race” has had some of its greatest moments in its greatest event.
Several races merit honorable mention. Among them, a win by Indy legend A.J. Foyt in 1972, Dale Jarrett’s 1993 victory with dad Ned announcing it, and Fireball Roberts’ victory in 1962. 2001’s Daytona 500 race, won by Michael Waltrip was historic, but the tragic death of Waltrip’s boss, Dale Earnhardt, overshadowed the Mikey’s first points victory.
Let’s get it to it….
10. 2011- “Are you kidding me?”- In just his second Cup start, Trevor Bayne gets the legendary Wood Bros. Racing back in victory lane for the first time in years. The upset is a feel good story, giving NASCAR its own version of Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin.
9. 1989- In the 17 car, on the 17th try- With three championships and 84 wins, Darrell Waltrip enjoyed a Hall of Fame worthy career; yet it wouldn’t have been the same without this victory. So overjoyed at the win, D.W. showed one talent he lacked: the ability to dance; the winner spiked his helmet and did a redneck rendition of the “Ickey Shuffle.”
8. 1963- A (Not So) Poor Substitute- Filling in for an injured Marvin Panch, Tiny Lund wins for the Wood Bros. Lund was offered the ride after he pulled Panch from a burning Maserati days earlier. Many sportsmen are called heroes, Lund really was one.
7. 2007- Happy, Martin and Mayhem- NASCAR’s perennial bridesmaid, Mark Martin, appeared poised for a big win. Upstart Kevin Harvick and his RCR teammates were charging hard, along with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Busch got loose, triggering the “big one.” Clint Bowyer went skidding to the finish on his roof. Harvick caught and passed Martin at the very end. Martin’s has 40 Cup wins in his fine career, but the Daytona 500 isn’t one of them.
6. 1994- Marlin off the snide- It took 279 starts, but Sterling Marlin finally got his first NASCAR Cup win, beating out Ernie Irvan. Marlin would go on to win in the 1995 race as well in his 10-victory career. Marlin dedicated the victory to his father, “Coo Coo,” a longtime racer who never saw victory lane.
5. 1988- A Family thing- This race featured many memorable moments, including a frightening rollover by Richard Petty. The most memorable was the finish, as Hall of Famer Bobby Allison finished 1-2 with son Davey behind him to win his third 500 victory. Davey would win here in 1992, the year before his untimely death.
4. 1959- He won! No, he did!- NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France knew the value of drama. In the days before high tech, Johnny Beauchamp was awarded the victory unofficially in a tight finish against Lee Petty. The pioneer Petty protested. France solicited photographs and reviewed newsreel footage. After three days of anticipation, Petty was declared the winner, but not before garnering a ton of media attention in the process.
3. 1998- “Finally”- This is not about how it was won, but who won it. 7-time champion Dale Earnhardt had 34 wins at Daytona International Speedway, but his win in the 500 didn’t come until his 20th try. This time there were no seagulls, flat tires or anything to deny him. High fives from opposing pit crews awaited as the 3 car entered pit road.
2. 1976- “Where’s Richard?”- Among all NASCAR rivalries, none tops the two leaders in all-time wins. The “Silver Fox” passed “The King” on the backstretch of the final lap. Petty attempted to pass Pearson but couldn’t clear, sending both drivers in a wild ride into the infield grass. Petty couldn’t get restarted, while Pearson hobbled his piece to the checkered flag.
1. 1979- The Fight- Richard Petty won this race, but that’s not what this race was most famous for. Leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison banged doors on the final lap, causing both cars to wreck. Petty eased on by for the trophy. Allison and Yarborough went at it, with Donnie’s brother Bobby lending aid. Bobby says Cale went to banging on his fist with Yarborough’s head, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.” It was the first race televised live nationally from flag to flag, and the principals made sure to give all who watched something to talk about the Monday following a Sunday where much of the country was stuck at home due to bad weather.