Best Daytona 500s By the Decades 1960 Remembered As Race Of Legends (This is the second installment in a six-part series on the best Daytona 500s, divided by decades. Today, the 1960 race is featured. Next up in the series: the best Daytona 500...
Best Daytona 500s By the Decades
1960 Remembered As Race Of Legends
(This is the second installment in a six-part series on the best Daytona 500s, divided by decades. Today, the 1960 race is featured. Next up in the series: the best Daytona 500 of the 1970s.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 8, 2008) -- The 1960 Daytona 500's significance in stock car racing history is based on the exceptional talent the field featured. Seven of the top-10 finishers in the race were named to the NASCAR 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998.
The talent -- and greatness -- was personified by the race winner, actually a long-shot going in, Junior Johnson.
But check out the guys who were in pursuit. Richard Petty finished third, Lee Petty fourth. Ned Jarrett, Curtis Turner, Fred Lorenzen and Rex White finished sixth-through-ninth.
Few people had given Johnson much of a shot at winning the Daytona 500. His team was put together at the last moment and he was driving a Chevrolet a year older and slower than many cars entered.
But in the week leading up to the Daytona 500 Johnson found something that would be crucial to victory -- drafting.
Rundown: The 1960 Daytona 500
The Favorites in '60: Fireball Roberts, Lee Petty and Jack Smith.
The Intangible: The fact that "drafting" was a relatively new concept but if used correctly could help slower cars stay in contention.
The Winner's Stats: Johnson started ninth, led 67 laps -- including the last eight -- and had an average speed of 124.74 mph and a 23-second margin of victory.
The Race: A crowd of nearly 40,000 showed up for the second running of the Daytona 500. ... As soon as the green flag dropped, the drivers started jockeying for position. The faster Pontiacs of Fireball Roberts and Bobby Johns took off early, leading the first 19 laps. Johnson started ninth and instantly started drafting off of the Pontiacs. ... Johnson's car was heavier and slower than the Pontiacs, but by drafting the faster cars he was able to run at the same speeds. ... Roberts had the car to beat until Lap 51, when he fell out due to engine problems. ... Johnson then led 45 laps, but on Lap 135 during a caution, young Richard Petty took the lead from Johnson which would be the first laps Petty ever led in the Daytona 500. ... Unlike the 1959 Daytona 500 which was a clean race from start to finish, the 1960 event had 11 accidents. ... Petty remained in the lead until his father, Lee, took the lead on Lap 164 during another caution. On Lap 170 Bobby Johns passed Lee Petty to put his Pontiac out front. Johnson rode Johns' bumper as he took the lead but was only fast enough to follow ... The two cars began to pull away from the rest of the field. ... Then came, as Johnson recalls, "one of the damndest things I ever saw on a racetrack." Johns' car was hit by a gust of wind on Lap 191. The air pressure popped the rear window out of his car sending him into a spin and opening the door for Johnson. ... Johnson capitalized on the moment and avoided Johns to take the lead. ... Johns was able to save the car and managed to race back into second but nobody could catch Johnson.
Johnson's Take: "It still amazes me that we won."
The Follow-Up: It had been a tough race for the competitors. The next two races, both in Florida, were cancelled so teams could rebuild and regroup. The series resumed two weeks later at Charlotte where Richard Petty went on to win his first race. ... Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett and Rex White all part of the race's memorable top 10, would combine for 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in their careers. .. Johnson continued to drive until 1966, but his win in the 1960 Daytona 500 would remain the biggest of his 50 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories.