Top 10 Tuesday: July Daytona Moments

Spencer Neff

This weekend, NASCAR returns to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400. For the first time since 1997, the Independence Day classic at the 2.5-mile oval will not be contested on Saturday night, running instead on Sunday night.

Additionally, NBC returns to broadcast its first NASCAR race since the 2006 finale at Homestead. In celebration of the famed race, here are the top moments throughout its 56-year history.

10. 1997- Andretti Wins for Yarborough: The surnames are two of the most recognizable in all of motorsports.

On July 5, John Andretti led 113 laps en route to a dominating victory in the Pepsi 400, edging Terry Labonte on a one-lap sprint to the finish by .029 seconds, at the time the closest finish at Daytona.

The win was the first of two in the Cup Series for Andretti and the lone win for Cale Yarborough (1967 and 1968 race winner) as an owner.

9. 1985- Sacks Scores his Lone Victory: Driving a “research and development” car prepared by Crew Chief Gary Nelson for DiGard Racing, Greg Sacks started the day ninth.

Sacks powered his way to the front and held off Bill Elliott by 23.5 seconds to win his first and only Cup Series race. The legality of the winning car came into question, but nothing was ever proven and the win stood.

8. 1963-The “Firecracker 400” is born: For the first four years, NASCAR’s July event at Daytona was a 250-miler. In 1963, that all changed, as the event was extended to 400 miles.

Fireball Roberts won in a race that boasted 39 lead changes for his second straight and third overall win in the event. It would be one of the last wins for the legendary Roberts, who passed away a year later from injuries sustained in a crash at Charlotte.

7. 1990-The Intimidator Conquers Daytona: The struggles that the late Dale Earnhardt saw at Daytona have been well-documented. One of his most infamous heartbreaks at the track came at the 1990 Daytona 500.

With less than half a lap to go, Earnhardt cut a tire and relinquished the win to Derrike Cope. In the summer, luck would be on Earnhardt’s side.

After leading for 127 of 160 laps, Earnhardt held off Alan Kulwicki by 1.47 seconds to win his first of two July races at Daytona.

On the first lap of the race, Greg Sacks triggered a 23-car crash that is regarded as the first “Big One” at a restrictor plate track.

6. 1988-July 4th Streak Ends: For the first 29 years, the July event at Daytona fell on Independence Day. For 1988, the event would be run on a Saturday, but the date would be July 2.

In the race, Bill Elliott beat Rick Wilson by 3 feet after starting 38th. The race also marked the first time in 15 years that restrictor plates would be used in the event. In the past 26 years, the event has only been run on July 4th twice.

5. 1972-1974: Pearson Wins Three Straight: Mired among the long list of accomplishments in his racing career are three straight wins for “The Silver Fox” in the July race at Daytona.

Capping off the streak in 1974, Pearson let Richard Petty slip in front of him on the last lap, but used the draft from Petty’s car to sling shot past him for the win.

Even more impressive is that Pearson remains the only driver to win three straight years in either of the Cup Series races at Daytona. The race also featured 45 lead changes, a record that would stand until 2010 (47 lead changes).

4. 2007-McMurray Edges Busch: Earlier in the day, Kyle Busch had won the rain-delayed Busch Series event at Daytona and was looking to become the first driver to win a Cup and a Busch Series race on the same day.

Jamie McMurray, who had not won in 166 starts, thwarted those plans though, as he drove past Busch at the start/finish line on the last lap to win by .005 seconds, the closest finish in the speedway’s history. The race would also serve as the last time the Generation 4 car would be used at a restrictor plate track.

3. 1998-Night Racing Begins at Daytona: The 1998 edition of the July classic was scheduled for July 4th night, however the first night race at the Florida track would be delayed by wildfires. On October 17, history was finally made and stock cars ran under the lights at Daytona.

After a 37-minute red flag for rain with five laps to go, Jeff Gordon held on for his 11th of 13 victories (tied for a modern-era record) in 1998 and his second of three in the July Daytona race.

2. 2001- Dale Jr. Wins his first at Daytona- 2001 had been a trying season for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR to say the least. His father, Dale Sr., was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500, while DEI’s Michael Waltrip won and the younger Earnhardt ran second.

On the final restart in the July event, Earnhardt started sixth but worked his way to the front and held off Waltrip for his first of three wins and the second straight DEI 1-2 at Daytona.

1. 1984- “The King” gets his 200th win- Perhaps the most memorable moment in NASCAR history, the day started with President Ronald Reagan giving the command to start engines on Air Force One before flying to the track. Eventually, President Reagan made his way to Daytona. On the track, Richard Petty went into the race with 199 career wins.

Petty would battle for the win with Cale Yarborough, who led 71 laps that day and nabbed Yarborough as the two took the caution flag with two laps remaining following Doug Heveron’s, flip. After the race, Reagan joined Petty to celebrate what would be the final win of his illustrious career.



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