1. 1998 – A Legend is Cemented
The Call: ”20 years of trying, 20 years of frustration. Dale Earnhardt will come to the caution flag to win the DAYTONA 500. Finally!” –Mike Joy
For a driver that had accomplished it all, Victory Lane at the DAYTONA 500 was the only accolade that had eluded The Intimidator. After several close calls, Earnhardt finally found redemption along the famous tri-oval in his 20th try.
Perhaps the most memorable moments came shortly following the race as, in a display unprecedented to this day, every man on every crew came out to the edge of pit lane to congratulate the legendary driver.
2. 1979 – The Fight
The Call: "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." –Ken Squier
Claiming the second spot on our list is a moment that changed the trajectory of NASCAR from regional oddity to national obsession.
Despite its humble grassroots beginnings, big strides were being made as the 21st annual DAYTONA 500 was to become the first NASCAR event to be broadcast live flag-to-flag. The national broadcast, along with a snowstorm that blanketed much of the East Coast under several feet of snow, set in motion a convergence of circumstances that would result in the sport’s explosion nationally. As millions were forced to seek refuge in front of the warm glow of their televisions, the stage was set for NASCAR’s formal introduction to the country.
The seminal moment came during the final lap of the 500-mile event as Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, jockeying for the lead position, crashed side-by-side into the Turn 3 wall. As their cars came to a rest on the infield grass, a fistfight between Yarborough and Allison ensued. With camera crews on-hand to document the histrionics, a national audience became transfixed by this candid last-lap moment. For the uninitiated, this brash brand of entertainment was unique to anything that had been seen before.
The impact of the race on the American public cannot be underscored as it was colossal, scoring a then-record TV audience and putting NASCAR front and center on newspapers throughout the country.
3. 1988 - The Allisons
The Call: “They come to the stripe and the winner of the 30th annual Great American Race is Bobby Allison. Davey Allison, his son, in second. What a tremendous family performance.” –Ken Squier
This moment ranks so high as it represents a core tenant central to both NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway –family. From the Frances to the Earnhardts to generations of fans, DAYTONA has always been a place that brings families together.
The most striking example of this is the one-two finish of Bobby Allison and Davey Allison in the 1988 DAYTONA 500. Bobby and Davey battled each other on the final lap, with Davey trying to pass his father in Turns 3 and 4, but Bobby's experience won out and he beat Davey to the checkered flag.
4. 1976 - Petty vs. Pearson
The Call: “They did hit. Will they cross the finish line? He's going to win it spinning as I believe he is going to take the checkered flag. No he did not cross. Here comes Pearson. Petty has his car going. He wins the race!” –Bill Fleming
Widely considered to be the greatest race finish in NASCAR history, the 1976 DAYTONA 500 showcased the fierce rivalry between two of racing’s most accomplished drivers - Richard Petty and David Pearson. After battling back-and-forth all day, both cars wrecked and spun into the grassy infield coming off the final turn of the race.
The tension grew as both cars lay battered on the infield grass. Somehow Pearson was able to get his car to roar back to life to cross the finish line and claim the checkered flag. Petty, on the other hand, couldn’t get his engine to restart and had to sit helpless as Pearson prevailed.
5. 1959 - Photo Finish
Nobody knew what to expect from the very first DAYTONA 500, which was held at the brand-new, state-of-the-art Daytona International Speedway. What they got was an appropriate beginning to what would become The Great American Race.
Both Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp clocked in identical times before each wheeled to the winner’s circle and accepted congratulations from the crowd. However, the on-the-spot unofficial decision went to Beauchamp, much to the dismay of Petty. After three days spent examining the photos, NASCAR reversed the decision and gave the victory to Petty by a margin of less than a yard.
A photo by T. Taylor Warren, Daytona International Speedway’s official photographer, captured the tight finish in an image indelible in NASCAR’s history.
6. 1993 - Dale and Dale Show
The Call: “It's the ‘Dale and Dale Show’ as we come off Turn 4! You know who I'm pulling for, it's Dale Jarrett. Bring her to the inside, Dale! Don't let him get down there! He's gonna make it! Dale Jarrett's gonna win the DAYTONA 500!" - Ned jarrett
"The Great American Race" once again lived up to its billing as the race’s final laps turned into a duel between the great Dale Earnhardt, gunning for his sixth Winston Cup title, and Dale Jarrett, a young driver with just one career victory. The final lap turned dramatic as Jarrett held off a hard inside pass from Earnhardt on Turn 4, while CBS turned to Ned Jarrett to call his son home. Audio of Ned’s call and images of Martha Jarrett’s disbelief are lasting memories of this thrilling race.
7. 2011 - Age Before Beauty
The Call: “It's over. Cinderella Bayne is going to win the DAYTONA 500. Unbelievable!” -Mike Joy
Proving that anything is possible at DAYTONA, Trevor Bayne became the youngest winner in race history at 20 years and one day. Racing for the iconic Wood Brothers, Bayne overcame a late charge by Carl Edwards to give the team its first trip to victory lane since 2001. Bayne’s victory at DAYTONA, in just his second Sprint Cup start, is widely considered to be the biggest upset in NASCAR history
8. 1989 - The Ickey Shuffle
The Call: “I won the DAYTONA 500! I won the DAYTONA 500! I can't believe I won it! Don't lie to me, this is DAYTONA, ain't it? I'm not dreaming, am I?" -Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip pushed the limits of his car for his first DAYTONA 500 victory as he went the last 53 laps without a pit stop. Nearing an empty tank, Waltrip crossed the finish line an unbelievable 7.64 seconds before second-place finisher Ken Schrader. During the post-race celebration Waltrip is remembered for spiking his helmet and breaking into a rendition of the oft-imitated ‘Ickey Shuffle’ dance.
9. 1981 - Petty wins his 7th DAYTONA 500
The Call:” The assault of strategy he pulled here is like sinking a 90-foot putt to win the U.S. Open by one hole.”-David Hobbs
The 7th DAYTONA 500 victory for Richard Petty cemented his status as ‘The King’ with DAYTONA 500 victories in three different decades. The race was noteworthy for the strategy utilized by Petty’s crew chief Dale Inman. On Petty's final scheduled pit stop with 24 laps to go, Inman opted not to change his tires and only took on fuel, which allowed Petty to take a lead that he would not relinquish.
10. 2013 - Danica wins the pole
The Call: “Patrick started on the pole for the Nationwide race here last year and has knocked the Boss [Tony Stewart] off the pole here. Yes! The 196.43 miles per hour for Danica.”
Danica Patrick once again set new standards for women in NASCAR, becoming the first woman in NASCAR’s premier division to win a pole for "The Great American Race" at Daytona International Speedway. Her lap of 196.43 mph resulted in 45.81 seconds around the famous Speedway put her on the front row for her second DAYTONA 500 start.