COUNTDOWN: NO. 2 OF TOP 5 DAYTONA 500 MOMENTS ANNOUNCED No. 2: 'Petty and Pearson' in 1976 last-lap showdown DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2006) -- Crossing the finish line at Daytona International Speedway usually is a full-speed situation,...
COUNTDOWN: NO. 2 OF TOP 5 DAYTONA 500 MOMENTS ANNOUNCED
No. 2: 'Petty and Pearson' in 1976 last-lap showdown
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2006) -- Crossing the finish line at Daytona International Speedway usually is a full-speed situation, meaning nearly 200 mph.
But one of the most memorable Daytona 500s involved a finishing speed of considerably less. It also involved two of NASCAR's greatest drivers.
Seven-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Richard Petty and three-time champion David Pearson didn't race to the finish of the 1976 Daytona 500; they limped there. A last-lap collision resulted in both of their cars finishing at a velocity slower than most neighborhood speed limits, with Pearson claiming the only Daytona 500 victory of his career.
Pearson's 1976 win is No. 2 on the list of Top 5 Daytona 500 Moments being announced, as a historical lead-in to the 48th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 19. The countdown culminates with the No. 1 moment announcement on Monday, Feb 13.
As for the moments previously announced:
• At No. 5, "The Fight" involving Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough at the end of the 500 in 1979.
• 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.
Some specifics on the Petty-Pearson paint-trading follow.
Top 5 Daytona 500 Moment No. 2: Petty and Pearson in '76 ... The 1976 Daytona 500 began as always, with a full field and the high hopes of each driver. But it wound down to two drivers -- Richard Petty and David Pearson -- battling for the victory. They traded the lead for 45 of the final 46 laps, racing bumper-to-bumper and door-to-door.
On the final lap, Petty and Pearson entered Turn 4 side-by-side; they collided and crashed into the outside wall, bouncing off of it, down the frontstretch.
An oft-forgotten fact: after he and Petty collided, Pearson's car also hit that of Joe Frasson, who had shot down pit road to avoid him.
Petty's No. 43 Dodge and Pearson's No. 21 Mercury finally stopped along the infield grass without crossing the finish line.
Both drivers were fine. Their cars were not.
Petty -- who still holds the record for the most Daytona 500 wins (seven) -- could not get his car restarted. The collision had pushed the radiator into the fan blade and kept it from running.
Pearson, meanwhile, had pushed in his clutch. He managed to keep his engine running with minimal momentum but it was enough to propel him back onto the frontstretch and across the finish line at approximately 20 mph -- enough to claim the checkered flag and the only Daytona 500 victory of his storied career.