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Greatest Daytona 500 Moments

Greatest Daytona 500 Moments

by February 16, 2015 0 comments

Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images for NASCAR

The staff of TheFourthTurn.com recount their favorite memories of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Jason Beck
Twitter: @jasonbeckracing

1998 Daytona 500
My favorite Daytona 500 didn’t feature much bump drafting, many three wide passes or even ‘the big one.’ In fact, the race finished under caution. By all accounts the race was unremarkable – except for its remarkable winner.

In 1998, Dale Earnhardt Sr. dominated the Great American Race, leading 107 of 200 laps. It wasn’t the seven-time champion’s manner of victory that made the race special – it was the prior years of futility. The unusual circumstances and heartbreak accompanying his 19 previous attempts made finally winning that much more meaningful.

Running out of gas in ’86. The flat tire in ’90. The second place finishes in ’91, ’95 and ’96. The flip in ’97. Earnhardt Sr.’s victory wasn’t entertaining or even interesting, but it was a lesson in triumph over adversity. NASCAR’s greatest driver had finally won the sport’s greatest race, and everyone witnessing understood what the man had overcome. But there was no way to have foreseen the historical significance of the moment in the sport’s history.

When Earnhardt Sr. lost his life at Daytona three short years later, it was a given he’d be remembered as the sport’s ultimate hero. But without finally conquering the Daytona 500 that cold, dreary day in February of 1998, would the Earnhardt legacy ever have been complete?

Kyle Pokrefky
Twitter: @kpokrefky

2004 Daytona 500
By the time the 2004 running of the Daytona 500 rolled around, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had proven that he was a formidable threat on restrictor plate tracks; winning the 2001 Pepsi 400 and at Talladega four times prior to entering his fifth attempt at the “Great American Race”.

Once the green flag dropped for the 2004 race, “Little E” dug hard from the start and looked like the strongest threat in the first half of the race, but slipped back a bit towards the middle stages of the 200-lap event. With the drafting help of Tony Stewart, who was also yet to win the 500, Earnhardt Jr. clawed his way back to the front to hold the lead for the final 20 laps and to the checkered flag.

Three years after losing his father, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr., in the 2001 Daytona 500; the then driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet conquered the race that eluded his father for 20 years in an extremely emotional win. In terms of the emotional impact of a Daytona 500 win, I’d say that there has yet to be one that eclipsed the impact of “Little E’s” first.

Hunter Thomas
Twitter: @HunterThomas08

2011 Daytona 500
There have been many great finishes in the Daytona 500, but my favorite of them all was when 20-year old Trevor Bayne took the Wood Brothers Racing’s iconic No. 21 car back to Victory Lane in 2011, becoming only the second driver in history to win the “Great American Race” on his first attempt.

The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 was certainly one that didn’t lack any action. Many drivers were still trying to figure out the whole two-car tandem drafting, and the fresh asphalt gave the drivers plenty of confidence to hold it wide open. With only four laps to go, it appeared as if it were going to come down to six pairs of cars, but then Regan Smith got turned in front of the lead pack, taking out several strong cars.

On the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, David Ragan switched lanes too soon to get in front of Trevor Bayne so the Ford tandem could catapult to the lead, but, before Ragan could come back around the track to serve his penalty, the caution came out for a crash involving Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

During the second attempt at a green-white-checkered, it was Bobby Labonte on the back bumper of Trevor Bayne, pushing him in front of the pack. In the closing laps, it was Bayne and Labonte paired together, followed by Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya and then Carl Edwards and David Gilliland. In the end, it Trevor Bayne crossing the finish line first, in a breathtaking and incredibly historic moment.

Alanis King
Twitter: @alanisnking

2012 Daytona 500
Staying true to my viewership of NASCAR, which began in April 2009, I decided that it was only fair to choose a “favorite finish” from a Daytona 500 that I actually witnessed in real time, so that I would know firsthand the excitement, the uncertainty, the edge-of-your-seat feeling that the new NASCAR season provides right out of the gate — all things that are much harder to replicate when you already know the outcome of the race.

Of those five runnings of “The Great American Race” I had to choose from, the finish of the 2012 edition would have to be my favorite — partly for the reason that the race actually finished. Finishing the Daytona 500 under the lights gave the start of the season a type of aura unmatched by any other, even if the race started a day late in the first place.

And, in typical Daytona fashion, the finish itself was fairly entertaining too: with a late-race crash and the green-white-checkered finish that we all know and love, Matt Kenseth’s Daytona 500 victory over Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle was an accomplishment for us all — drivers, crews, media, and viewers — simply because we had made it to the checkered flag on an already delayed race that had officially spilled over into the next calendar day, with the No. 17 crew hoisting the trophy in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

Between rain, a jet-dryer explosion, driver races to the infield port-o-potties rather than around the track, and all of the other madness that went on, the finish of the 2012 Daytona 500 is certainly my favorite of the ones that I have witnessed, mainly because it was a collective group effort to get there.

The Staff

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