The Daytona 500 is a 200-lap, 500 mile (805 km) NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. In stock car racing, it is the most important race of the year. Not only is Daytona NASCAR's biggest race, it is also the circuit's first race of the year; this phenomenon is virtually unique in sports. Since 1995, U.S. television ratings for the Daytona 500 have been the highest for any auto race of the year, surpassing the traditional leader, the Indy 500. The event is also known as "The Super Bowl of NASCAR" and "The Great American Race."
The race is the direct successor of a race that was held on Daytona Beach itself; however, the Daytona 500 proper has been held at the Daytona International Speedway since its inaugural run.
Lee Petty, founder of a famous racing family whose most renowned member was his son Richard, won the first Daytona 500 on February 22, 1959 defeating Johnny Beauchamp in a highly unusual incident. Petty and Beauchamp were lapping the lapped car of Joe Weatherly at the finish, when officials initially called Beauchamp the winner as the cars crossed the line. After reviewing photographs and video of the finish, on February 25, 1959, after three days of review, the call was reversed, and Petty won the first Daytona 500.
Richard Petty won the race a record seven times.
It holds the record for the most cars crashed at once, 38, on February 13, 1960, on the second lap in a 73-car Sportsman 250-mile race. (An April 2003 race at Talladega Superspeedway had a 27-car crash which, percentagewise, was the most cars crashed at once.)
Qualifying is unique at Daytona for the 500, as teams actually must race their way into the Daytona 500 field, instead of taking qualifying laps.
It was the first 500-mile auto race to be televised in its entirety, when CBS did it in 1979, and continued until 2000. Since 2001, the race has alternated between FOX and NBC under the terms of the current $2.48 billion NASCAR television contract. It is expected that FOX will broadcast the race on it's own starting in 2007.
List of Daytona 500 winners
|Year||Driver||Car #||Car Make||Start||Laps Led||Purse||Speed (in mph)|
|2004||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||8||Chevrolet||3rd||59||$1,495,070||156.341|
All of the above races were 500 miles long, except those listed below:
- 1965: 322.5 Miles (129 laps) because of rain
- 1966: 495 Miles (198 laps) because of rain
- 1974: 450 Miles (180 laps) because of energy crisis
- 2003: 272.5 Miles (109 laps) because of rain
- 2005: 507.5 Miles (203 laps) because of green-white-checker rule change. A July 2004 NASCAR rule change states if at any time during the penultimate lap the race is under caution, the race will end with a two green flag laps or the next caution upon the ensuing restart.
- List of current NASCAR races
- Video clip from 1964 Scenes of pre-race time trials which include several crashes and spin outs. From the State Library & Archives of Florida.