The first DAYTONA 500 at Bill France Sr.’s newly constructed 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway took place on February 22, 1959. Famously, the race ended in a three-wide photo finish with Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp seemingly in a dead heat for the win. While the on-the-spot unofficial decision went to Beauchamp, after examining photos – including T. Taylor Warren’s signature image – NASCAR reversed the decision to give the victory to Petty by a margin of approximately two feet.
The 1990s provided some of the most exciting and memorable moments in the history of “The Great American Race.”
Like father like son. Both Davey Allison and Dale Jarrett had a tremendous racing heritage, with the likes of Davey’s father Bobby and Dale’s father Ned. Davey captured his lone DAYTONA 500 in 1992 four years after finishing second to his father Bobby, while Ned Jarrett called his son’s 1993 battle with Earnhardt to the checkered flag as a member of the CBS broadcast team.
Glory for underdogs and heartbreak for Dale Earnhardt. Derrike Cope completed one of the greatest upset victories in NASCAR history, passing Earnhardt on the last lap in Turn 3 to win the 1990 DAYTONA 500. The following year, Earnhardt was once again passed late in the race, this time by Ernie Irvan in only his third career DAYTONA 500 start.
Dale finally does it. After several close calls and late-race disappointments, Daytona International Speedway’s all-time winningest driver finally captured the one race that had eluded him for years. The driver of the famous black No. 3 Chevrolet won his lone DAYTONA 500 in 1998 on his 20th attempt. Earnhardt’s Gatorade Victory Lane celebration was memorably delayed by the scores of crew members who lined pit road to congratulate him.
Jeff Gordon era begins. On Feb. 16, 1997, 25-year-old Jeff Gordon claimed his first DAYTONA 500 victory, becoming the youngest winner in race history. In a field that included 27 drivers older than 35 years and 16 drivers at least 40 years old, Gordon introduced the racing world to the next era of NASCAR. Proving that his victory was no fluke, Gordon claimed his second DAYTONA 500 victory in 1999 and would go on to ultimately win three DAYTONA 500s and four Sprint Cup championships in a legendary 23-year career.
2 – Dale Jarrett (’93, ’96), Sterling Marlin (’94, ’95), Jeff Gordon (’97, ’99)
• The 1990s are only one of two decades in which three different drivers won multiple DAYTONA 500s.
• In 1997, Jeff Gordon (25 years old) became the then-youngest driver to win the DAYTONA 500.
• Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most career starts (20) before winning a DAYTONA 500.
• The 1990s are one of two decades in which two drivers (Derrike Cope, Sterling Marlin) claimed their first NASCAR Cup Series win with a DAYTONA 500 victory.
• Sterling Marlin remains the only driver whose first two career victories were the DAYTONA 500.
• 1999 served as the final year in the incredible 32 consecutive DAYTONA 500 starts streak set by Dave Marcis.
What was your favorite moment from the DAYTONA 500 during the 1990s? Let us know by leaving us a comment below! Be a part of the next chapter of history by attending the 59th running of the DAYTONA 500. Tickets are on sale now and going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.