COUNTDOWN: N0. 1 OF TOP 5 DAYTONA 500 MOMENTS ANNOUNCED No. 1: Dale Earnhardt's long-awaited victory in 1998 tops list Dale Earnhardt's only win at the Daytona 500 came in 1998 and was determined to be the number one moment in Daytona 500 ...
COUNTDOWN: N0. 1 OF TOP 5 DAYTONA 500 MOMENTS ANNOUNCED
No. 1: Dale Earnhardt's long-awaited victory in 1998 tops list
Dale Earnhardt's only win at the Daytona 500 came in 1998 and was determined to be the number one moment in Daytona 500 history.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 2006) -- With nearly 50 years of racing contested across its asphalt surface, Daytona International Speedway remains one of the coveted arenas for NASCAR drivers to conquer.
Its signature event -- the Daytona 500 -- is also NASCAR's signature event, in addition to being the season-opener for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, and always a career highlight for its winners.
Dale Earnhardt had many significant wins by the time he arrived at the 1998 Daytona 500, but he had never captured the sport's crown jewel. At age 47 and in his 21st attempt, Earnhardt finally achieved his most elusive goal that season, and his only Daytona 500 victory tops the list of Top 5 Daytona 500 Moments.
The "countdown" has been a historical buildup to the 48th annual Daytona 500, set for Sunday. The previous four moments announced:
* At No. 5, "The Fight" involving Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough at the end of the 500 in 1979, the first year the event was televised in its entirety.
* At No. 4, "DW's Victory Dance" at the 1989 race, when Darrell Waltrip won the 500 for the first time, then did the "Icky Shuffle" in Victory Lane. (The "shuffle" was a celebration dance made popular by Cincinnati Bengals running back Icky Woods.)
* At No. 3, Lee Petty's controversial win in the inaugural 500, in 1959. Petty won the race by the narrowest of margins over Johnny Beauchamp. Photos and videos were scrutinized for three days before Petty was declared the official winner.
* At No. 2, Pearson and Petty in 1976. David Pearson and Richard Petty shared a paint-trading last lap that caused them to crash. Petty's car stalled. Pearson's kept moving, barely, to take the checkered flag.
As for the No. 1 Daytona 500 moment, read on.
Top 5 Daytona 500 Moment No. 1: Earnhardt finally wins ... Stymied in so many other attempts, Dale Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500 by beating a pack of pursuers to the finish line after grabbing the lead on the final pit stop with less than 30 laps remaining -- a win made sweeter by all the frustration that preceded it.
Four times prior to 1998, Earnhardt had led the Daytona 500 with 10 laps remaining only to lose it in some unlucky fashion. When he completed his cool-down lap in '98 and spun in celebration in the infield grass, crews along pit road swarmed to his famous black No. 3 Chevrolet as he drove toward Victory Lane, greeting "The Intimidator" with congratulatory shouts and hand slaps.
"I cried a little bit in the race car on the way to the checkered flag," Earnhardt said that day. "Well, maybe not cried, but at least my eyes watered up."
Adding to the poignancy was a pre-race meeting with a young fan. A girl in a wheelchair offered Earnhardt a lucky penny to put in his car, and he ran the entire 200 laps with the coin affixed to his dashboard.
Said Dale Earnhardt: "That's pretty special."