One of the most significant races in the history of the DAYTONA 500 was the 2008 DAYTONA 500 – the 50th running of ”The Great American Race” where, on this special golden anniversary, Ryan Newman and the No. 12 Dodge team gave owner Roger Penske his first DAYTONA 500 victory.
It was a star-studded pre-race as the 24 living DAYTONA 500 champions served as Grand Marshals, seven-time DAYTONA 500 champion Richard Petty was the Honorary Starter, 1960 DAYTONA 500 champion Junior Johnson was the Honorary Pace Car driver, country music star Trisha Yearwood sang the National Anthem and the USAF Thunderbirds provided the flyover.
With defending back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson starting on the pole and two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Michael Waltrip beside him, along with Can-Am Duel winners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin in the second row, it seemed as if things were lined up for one of the favorites to take home a special gold-plated Harley J. Earl DAYTONA 500 Trophy.
The race ran smoothly with only two caution flags in the first 151 laps. Young drivers came of age during this race as 27-year-old Hamlin led 32 of the first 67 laps and 22-year-old Kyle Busch led a race-high 86 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. Following the first caution on Lap 151, the race saw 14 lead changes over the last 49 laps.
A Lap 197 restart turned the 50th DAYTONA 500 into a three-lap sprint to the finish, with Newman in fourth. Jeff Burton, who had worked his way up to the top spot, had a fuel problem on the restart. Tony Stewart passed Burton on the outside, bringing Newman with him as Kyle and Kurt Busch challenged on the inside. Stewart led the next two laps, closing in on what would have been his only DAYTONA 500 victory.
However, in Turn 2 of the last lap, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Stewart and Kyle Busch pulled to the inside as the Team Penske cars of Newman and Kurt Busch set up a run on the outside line. Kurt Busch pushed Newman to victory giving Penske Racing a 1-2 finish with Stewart finishing third.
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