The first DAYTONA 500 at Bill France Sr.’s newly constructed 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway took place on Feb. 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.
Moving through the 2000s, we take a look at the other 59 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.”
Dale Jarrett’s 2000 DAYTONA 500 victory remains the last time a driver won the DAYTONA 500 from the pole position. He also became the fourth driver to win the race at least three times, followed by Jeff Gordon’s third victory in 2005.
Michael Waltrip picked the biggest, richest and most prestigious race to get his first NASCAR Cup Series victory in 463 career starts, taking the checkered flag in 2001. With his brother and fellow DAYTONA 500 champion Darrell Waltrip calling the race on FOX, he used the drafting help of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join Darrell as the first set of brothers to win the DAYTONA 500. He won again in 2003 after leading 68 of the 109 laps and outpacing Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson in the shortest DAYTONA 500 to date.
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, including Jimmie Johnson winning his second consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Chevrolet currently holds the record for most DAYTONA 500 wins by a manufacturer with 23.
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.
Beginning with his victory in the 2006 DAYTONA 500, Jimmie Johnson would go on to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship later that season, the first of a record five consecutive Cup Series championships. Johnson became the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1997 to win both the DAYTONA 500 and Cup Championship in the same year. With a partial stake in Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon remains the latest to win the DAYTONA 500 as both a driver and owner.
The now second-closest DAYTONA 500 finish in history was by a margin of only .020 seconds in 2007. Mark Martin - seeking his first DAYTONA 500 victory in his 23rd start - led the field in the final lap. 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 checkered flag.
In 2008, Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman won the 50th Anniversary DAYTONA 500, which featured 42 lead changes to win the first “Great American Race” for Team Penske.
To close out the decade, Matt Kenseth won his first of two DAYTONA 500s in 2009, a rain-shortened affair that ran the third-fewest laps in race history.
2 – Michael Waltrip (2001, ’03)
• In 2001, Bill Elliott tied the record for most career DAYTONA 500 pole positions with his fourth and first since 1987.
• Also in 2002, Shawna Robinson became the first female driver to start in a DAYTONA 500 since Janet Guthrie last did so in 1980.
• The 2005 DAYTONA 500 was the first to implement the “green-white-checker finish” rule, and was thus the first DAYTONA 500 to go over 500 miles with the addition of three extra laps. Both years following also implemented the rule.
• The 2006 running of “The Great American Race” was the first to finish under the lights, while the 2007 race was first to end in prime time.
• To commemorate the 50th running of the event, the Harley J. Earl Trophy was plated in 24K gold rather than silver for the 2008 DAYTONA 500.
• In 2009, Matt Kenseth won from the lowest starting position (39th) of any DAYTONA 500 champion.
Be a part of the next chapter of history by attending the 60th running of the DAYTONA 500. Tickets are on sale now and going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.
What was your favorite moment from the DAYTONA 500 during the 2000s? Let us know by leaving us a comment below!