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.
Moving through the next six decades, we take a look at the other 57 years of DAYTONA 500 history.
The new millennium did not disappoint as the 2000s provided some of the most exciting and memorable moments in the history of “The Great American Race.”
Waltrip wins two. Michael Waltrip picked the biggest, richest and most prestigious race to get his first NASCAR Cup Series victory in 463 career starts at the 2001 DAYTONA 500. With his brother and fellow DAYTONA 500 champion Darrell Waltrip broadcasting the race on FOX, he used the drafting help of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join Darrell as the first brother combination to win the DAYTONA 500. He won again in 2003 after leading 68 of the 109 laps and outpacing Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Chevy domination. Chevrolet dominated the 2000s, winning six of the 10 DAYTONA 500s in the decade, including a record five straight from 2003-2007. The final year of the streak saw Kevin Harvick win the closest DAYTONA 500 in history at the time as Chevy went on to win 26 Cup races with Jimmie Johnson winning his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Chevrolet currently holds the record for most DAYTONA 500 wins by a manufacturer with 23.
Dale Jr. wins at DAYTONA. In just his fifth career start in “The Great American Race” and exactly six years to the day that his father won his first and only DAYTONA 500, Earnhardt Jr., who already won a Can-Am Duel earlier in the week, used a late lap pass to slip past Tony Stewart to win the 2004 DAYTONA 500.
Closest DAYTONA 500 Finish. The now second-closest DAYTONA 500 finish in history was by a margin of only .020 seconds. At the beginning of the final lap, Mark Martin, seeking his first DAYTONA 500 victory in his 23rd start led the field. As drivers hit the backstretch, however, Kevin Harvick made his move, working his way to the front of the pack with the drafting help of Matt Kenseth. Nose-for-nose out of Turn 3, Harvick gained the advantage right at the start/finish line.
2 – Michael Waltrip (2001, '03)
• The 2000s are the only decade in which a single driver won multiple DAYTONA 500s.
• In 2001, Bill Elliott tied the record for most career DAYTONA 500 pole positions with his fourth and first since 1987.
• In 2009, Matt Kenseth won from the lowest starting position (39th) of any DAYTONA 500 champion.
• In 2006, Jimmie Johnson became the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1997 to win both the DAYTONA 500 and Cup Championship in the same year.
• Dale Jarrett’s 2000 DAYTONA 500 victory remains the last time a driver won the DAYTONA 500 from the pole position.
• In 2002, Shawna Robinson became the first female driver to start in a DAYTONA 500 since Janet Guthie last did so in 1980.
What was your favorite moment from the DAYTONA 500 during the 2000s? 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.