As the green flag approaches for the 57th Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup season opener on Feb. 22, 2015, NASCAR is asking fans to select the most memorable Daytona 500, dating back to the first race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in 1959.
For fans who want to participate, head over to DaytonaMoments.NASCAR.com. The fan-vote selection process has a Chase for the Sprint Cup flavor, beginning with 16 races in round one, 12 in round two, eight in round three and so on. Voting is almost up for the first round, ending on Monday (Feb. 9). Second round voting will be Tuesday (Feb. 10) through Thursday (Feb. 12), third round Friday (Feb. 13) through Monday (Feb. 16) and the final round to determine the most memorable Daytona 500 will be Tuesday (Feb. 17) through the Thursday right before the 500 (Feb. 19).
The idea for this blog post began with me coming up with my own list of memorable Daytona 500s. When I checked out the 16 listed for the fan vote, I was reminded of some noteworthy others. The races I originally thought of were all on the list, and the list prompted me to add a few more. Then, one on the list made me think of an “honorable mention” not listed.
In the end, I came up with my top-eight, or “Elite Eight” if you will, plus my honorable mention. Here they are:
1959 — Isn’t the first of anything always memorable? This was the first Daytona 500, but that’s not the only thing that made this one memorable. Lee Petty won that first Daytona 500, but after a photo finish, it took NASCAR three days to figure that out.
1979 — This was the first Daytona 500 to get live flag-to-flag national TV coverage. Then there was that fight at the end. You know, that Cale Yarborough vs. Bobby and Donnie Allison brawl. It was when Yarborough hit Bobby Allison’s fist with his nose. At least that’s the way Allison tells it. By the way, the race was won by Richard Petty.
1988 — This Daytona 500 was a family affair, more specifically, an Allison family affair, at least when it came to finishing up front. Father Bobby Allison led son Davey to the checkered flag for a father-son, one-two finish.
1989 — In his 17th attempt, Darrell Waltrip finally wins the Daytona 500. It just so happens he was driving the No. 17 car that was pitted in box 17. But, honestly, the most memorable part of this Daytona 500 may have been the victory lane celebration, complete with Waltrip’s rendition of the “Ickey Shuffle.” Awkward dancing aside, to Waltrip’s credit, he did double check to make sure that the race he had just won was the Daytona 500 before he showed off his dance moves. Wonder if Michael Waltrip hit up big brother Darrell for dance tips during his stint on Dancing with the Stars? That desire to dance must run in the family.
*Note for 2015: Tony Stewart, yet to win the Daytona 500 despite wins in other races there, will be making Daytona 500 start 17 this season.
1993 — In what’s been affectionately referred to as the “Dale and Dale” show, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt raced to the checkered flag for the Daytona 500 win, while NASCAR legend-turned TV broadcaster Ned Jarrett, Dale Jarrett’s father, called the action. It’s that memorable late-race commentary from “Gentleman Ned” that makes this one memorable.
1998 — It’s another one of those “finally won after so many tries” stories. This time around, it was Dale Earnhardt’s long-time-coming Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt had won pretty much every race there was to win at Daytona, except for maybe Daytona Bike Week events and the Daytona 500. Earnhardt wasn’t a regular during Bike Week, so those races don’t count. Finally, after winning the Daytona 499 several times over, he pulled into victory lane to celebrate his one and only Daytona 500 win in 1998.
2011 — Nobody saw this one coming — the race result, not its appearance on this list. Trevor Bayne pulled off the ultimate upset, returning Wood Brothers Racing to victory lane in his first Daytona 500 start. It was the fifth Daytona 500 victory for the Wood brothers, but probably, by far, the least expected one.
2013 — This memorable moment, for the most part, came a week before the big race. Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole for the “Great American Race.” When the race did get underway, though, Patrick created more memoreable moments, becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the 500. Then, she finished eighth, becoming the highest-finishing female in Daytona 500 history.
2014 — Patrick’s 2013 Daytona 500 brought this one to mind for me. Richard Childress returned the No. 3 to the track after a hiatus that began with the checkered flag of the 2001 Daytona 500 and the death of Dale Earnhardt. NASCAR couldn’t have scripted it any better (That’s just a saying; no I haven’t jumped to the dark side of claiming races are scripted). Austin Dillon kicked off the No. 3′s return to Cup competition by claiming the pole.
After mentioning the No. 3′s return in 2014, I’ll say this, I omitted the 2001 Daytona 500 from this list for the very reason that the No. 3 was sidelined for years, opting to focus on the more positive and lighter moments of the sport.
What are your favorite Daytona 500 moments? Talk to us on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner
Before you go, check out our gallery of memorable Daytona 500 moments (photos courtesy of NASCAR and used with permission):