10 Greatest Daytona 500 Races Ever

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series kicks off at the Daytona International Speedway. Sunday gives us the 64th edition of the Daytona 500 race. A total of 36 drivers are locked in the grid, while four spots are left open to non-chartered cars, bringing us unlimited action to start the race calendar. Catch the race on Sunday, February 20, at 2:30 P.M ET.

But before getting into the nitty-gritty details of the event, let Nitrobetting take you on a trip down memory lane and look back at the 10 Greatest Daytona 500 races.

Top 10 Daytona 500 Races

READ MORE: The History and Evolution of the Daytona 50010. 1962 – Winner: Glen “Fireball” Roberts

Only 27 seconds separate the winner and the second-place finisher of this race. Glen Roberts was the star of the show and a frequent podium finisher in the 1950s and early 1960s. However, he never got to celebrate a hometown win until 1962. He came close in 1955 but was disqualified following a mechanical technicality. In 1961, he created a solid lead only for his engine to blow before the race. Nonetheless, Roberts soldiered on to the 1962 race and went head-to-head with a youngster by the name of Richard Petty. Roberts had more grit that day and created a 27-second lead that was enough to give him his first and only Daytona 500 trophy.

9. 1959 – Winner: Lee Petty

The first Daytona 500 was the best start any event could ever hope for. When the checkered flag flew on the inaugural event, Johnny Beauchamp, Lee Petty, and Joe Weatherly crossed the finish line so close together. It was so close to the point that officials could barely determine who finished first. Petty and Beauchamp fought to the dying laps of the race, while Weatherly’s lapped car joined to complete the trio. It was Beauchamp who crossed first and secured the first Daytona 500 victory. But after NASCAR officials closely reviewed the footage and photographs of the finish, Petty was declared the race winner three days later.

8. 1967 – Winner: Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti is a household name in motorsports, and his 1967 Daytona 500 win is written in history books as one of the greatest of all time. Stock car racing was nothing in its grassroots stages when Andretti decided to head to Daytona. He had won the series championship in 1965 and 1966, giving him a sizable edge over his competitors. Andretti dominated the field and led for over 100 laps in the 200-lap race. By the end of the race, Andretti said: “You don’t baby a car at Daytona like you do [in Indy cars] at Indy [Indianapolis Motor Speedway]. It’s flat out.”

7. 1988 – Winner: Bobby Allison

The 30th annual Daytona 500 introduced the restrictor-play in stock car racing. After Bobby Allison’s Buick took off and nearly hit the grandstands of Talladega Superspeedway a year before, NASCAR demanded that all cars use smaller carburetors and install restrictor plays to slow the cars down. Allison suited up for the race at 50-years-old and the closing stages of his career. What made the race even more interesting is that he was racing his son, Davey Allison, who also qualified for the 500. As they traversed the course and ate the laps away, Bobby set the tempo while his son was a few cars behind. He showcased his experience to claim his final NASCAR victory.

6. 1994 – Winner: Sterling Marlin

Marlin went through the grind of the sport, and probably one of the longest we’ve seen in the sport. The race car driver from Columbia, Tennessee, landed a drive with Morgan-McCulture Motorsports at the end of the 1993 season. This was the break he needed to get a shot at his first Cup Series victor. Marlin stayed with the pack and worked his way to the front, pulling away from a late challenge from Ernie Irvan, and went flat out at the finish. He crossed the line .09 of a second ahead of Irvan. It was one of the closest finishes in Daytona 500 history.

5. 1997 – Winner: Jeff Gordon

Gordon is one of the most decorated drivers in NASCAR and arguably the most popular in the sport. His victory in the 1997 Daytona 500 is one of the most iconic in his long list of wins. He became the youngest driver to win the event. The race ended under caution but had no shortage of action. Gordon and Bill Elliott battled heavily for the lead. Adding to the drama was Dale Earnhardt’s crash during the race. He insisted on unhooking his car from the tow truck, crawled in the car, strapped in, and managed to avoid a DNF.

4. 2007 – Winner: Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick was having an amazing 2007 season and the Daytona 500 was one of his primary targets that year. He started the race weekend with his first career restrictor-plate race, crossing the finish line first in the Nationwide Series race. But for all that, he did not have the most competent car when hitting the 2.5 mile-high banks. Harvick qualified 34th for Sunday’s race. It’s the worst starting position by a race winner, making the year even more significant. On top of that, he tied the record for the fewest laps led on his way to victory. Kevin Harvick was only ahead of Mark Martin by only 0.20 seconds.

3. 1979 – Winner: Richard Petty

Two memorable moments happened in 1979. Cale Yarborough trading fists with the Allison brothers, Donnie, and Bobby was one of the highlights. Cale and Donnie had a skirmish heading into the final lap. Neither would give up the position, which ended in a collision. Their wrecked cars spun off the track and into the muddy infield. Bobby drove in the back of the pack to check on his brother. He also made the mistake of provoking Yarborough. The latter had a quick temper, leading to swinging helmets and punches. While it happened, nobody noticed Richard Petty crossing the finish line first. It was the first NASCAR race to be televised, and viewers got the most of the show.

2. 2001 – Winner: Michael Waltrip

The year 2001 had a major impact on NASCAR. Michael Waltrip ended the 2001 edition of the Daytona 500, but it was the death of his team owner, Dale Earnhardt Sr., that reverberated across the sport that day. Senior survived a major crash in Talladega, but that did not stop him from racing the Daytona a week later. He endured multiple crashes throughout his career, and many expected him to survive his crash at the 2001 Daytona 500. However, there was no sign of life after the crash. Not even a signal that he was okay. The entire nation held its breath as the medical crew approached Earnhardt Senior’s car. Hours later, it was announced that he had lost his life on the race track. This led to a technological revolution in racing safety.

1. 1976 – Winner: David Pearson

Nicknamed the “Silver Fox”, Pearson was known for his sneaky moves in the track. He was also one of Richard Petty’s rivals during the team. The duo had many memorable races over the years, but the 1976 Daytona 500 tops that list. They were side-by-side at the finish line stretch. It was survival of the fittest and neither driver gave up even an inch of space. The cars touched, swerved, and then hit the wall 20 yards before the finish line. Petty’s damaged car spun into the infield and stalled. Meanwhile, Pearson managed to get his wrecked car running and wobbling across the finish line at barely 30 miles per hour. It was the greatest finish in the event’s history.

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