Daytona 500 Upset No. 1: Derrike Cope in 1990
(Note: This is the fourth installment in a five-part series, "The Top 5 Greatest Daytona 500 Upsets." Previously listed: At No. 5, Pete Hamilton's victory in 1970; at No. 4, Mario Andretti's victory in 1967; at No. 3, Ward Burton's victory in 2002; at No. 2, Tiny Lund's victory in 1963.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2007) -- Seventeen years later, it still seems hard to believe what transpired on Feb. 18, 1990 in the 32nd annual Daytona 500.
By then, the long-running 500 frustration of NASCAR's preeminent driver Dale Earnhardt had become a yearly refrain. Starting the 1990 season, Earnhardt had won three of his eventual seven NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championships. On the other hand, he had yet to win even one Daytona 500.
As in other years, Earnhardt's black No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet soon established itself as the dominant entry, as the Daytona 500 approached. Earnhardt qualified second. He won one of the Twin 125 qualifying races. Surely this would finally be the year, many thought. But it wasn't to be. The frustration would continue and a late-blooming 32-year-old from Spanaway, Wash. would end up benefiting. Truth was indeed stranger than fiction, when Derrike Cope became a Daytona 500 champion.
Daytona 500 Upset No. 1: Derrike Cope, 1990
* The Favorites: Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt.
* The Intangible: A last-lap tire problem for race-leader Earnhardt that ruined his chances.
* The Winner's Stats: Started 12th; led 5 laps; average speed 165.761 mph; $188,150 in prize money.
* The Rundown: Cope had started two previous 500s but had failed to finish either one. But the No. 10 Purolator Chevrolet ride he landed for 1990 was a good one and crew chief Buddy Parrott was a great one. ... Earnhardt dominated the race, leading an incredible 155 of 200 laps. But throughout, Cope lurked. Earnhardt had a huge lead when on Lap 193, Geoffrey Bodine's spin caused a caution. Everyone pitted -- except Cope. After that, Cope ran flat-out despite used-up tires. Earnhardt took the lead from Cope on the restart with five laps remaining and appeared headed toward the elusive 500 victory. But on the last lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of debris from another car's engine. Suddenly, his right rear tire shredded. Entering Turn 3, Earnhardt had to throttle down and concentrate on keeping his car from crashing. As he slowed, Cope raced by on the inside -- en route to the biggest upset victory in the history of the Daytona 500.
* The Follow-Up: Cope won one more race that season, at Dover. He hasn't won since. He ran full NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seasons through 1998, and finished a career-best 15th in the final series points in 1995. ... This year, he is attempting to make the Daytona 500 field for the 15th time.