NASCAR season is finally upon us with the 2022 Daytona 500 kicking off the new Cup Series season as its annual tradition. Many legends have been made at the Daytona International Speedway for over half a century and the latest generation of drivers are looking to continue that legacy of excellence. With this in mind, now’s a great time to look back at the enduring legacy of the Daytona 500, which began all the way back in 1959.
NitroBetting is your one pit stop for the latest NASCAR betting odds, news, and previews throughout the 2022 Cup Series season. This time, let’s take a quick look back at the history and evolution of the Daytona 500 in anticipation of the 64th installment of The Great American Race on February 20.
A look back into Daytona 500’s Past
READ MORE: 10 Greatest Daytona 500 Races Ever
A Decade in the Making for NASCAR’s Biggest Spectacle
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) officially debuted in 1949 and it wouldn’t be until 1959 when the Daytona 500 would receive its official name. Between 1949 to 1958, though, Daytona International Speedway was simply the setting for the first race of the NASCAR season.
All 63 previous editions of the Daytona 500 have all been held in mid-to-late February and earned its moniker of being “The Great American Race” as one of the grandest sporting events on the calendar that also happens to take place shortly after the NFL’s Super Bowl. Thus, the Daytona 500 is also commonly referred to as the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing”.
1959’s Inaugural Daytona 500 race was won by Lee Petty, the father of NASCAR legend Richard Petty. Five years after Lee’s win, Richard would begin his own domination of Daytona for years to come.
The younger and more decorated Petty would go on to win a whopping seven Daytona 500 races between 1964 and 1981. His seven victories is a record on the course that still stands to this very day, with Denny Hamlin being the only active driver to date within a somewhat striking distance of tying that feat with three wins at the Daytona 500.
The Yarborough Era
While Richard Petty will forever be remembered as “The King” of the Daytona 500, one of Petty’s fiercest competitors also got his moment under the Floridian Sun in Cale Yarborough. The Hall-of-Famer is second in the list of most wins at the Daytona 500 with four, winning his first in 1968 and last in 1984.
Petty and Yarborough gave the Daytona 500 a captivating rivalry from the mid-60s to the mid-80s. And although a driver named LeeRoy Yarborough won the race the season after Cale’s first win, the two are not related at all contrary to popular belief. Otherwise, the battle between the Pettys and the Yarboroughs might have garnered much more recognition and drama on the tracks.
21st Century Parity
Since the turn of the year 2000, no driver has won more than two Daytona 500 races. Even modern-day greats such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson have only won the Daytona 500 two times apiece. Hamlin, whom we’ve brought up earlier, barely made it with his three wins as his first-ever victory at the Daytona 500 was in 1999. Matt Kenseth and Michael Waltrip are the two remaining drivers with two Daytona 500 wins in the 21st century.
That being said, Hamlin still has a great shot to make NASCAR history this week. A win would make him one of three men alongside Petty and Yarborough as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 on four or more occasions.
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