Why Is The Daytona 500 NASCAR’s Biggest Race?

Each February NASCAR kicks of with the its biggest and most prestigious race of the season the Daytona 500. Most sports finish with the biggest race of the season, but not NASCAR, it starts with the biggest. We take a look at What makes the Daytona 500 the biggest and most famous race in the NASCAR season.

The Daytona 500 has always been one of the crown jewels of NASCAR. The first full television broadcast and the events of the race in 1979 cemented it in the top position of even these prestigious races. It attracts the largest viewer numbers of the season, the most prize money, and the biggest sponsorships.

We look at the history, the winners, the danger and the surprising reason why the Daytona 500 became the most famous and prestigious race in NASCAR below.

What is the Daytona 500 NASCAR Race?

The Daytona 500 is an annual race that is a part of the NASCAR Cup Series. It gets its name from the fact that it is a 500-mile-long race. The 500 miles are made up of 200 laps of the famous Daytona International Speedway, which is located in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The race is considered to be the most important and prestigious NASCAR race of the entire season. The race is always the Cup Series’ first race of the season, which is rare as sports often save their biggest events until the end of the year.

The Daytona International Speedway

The circuit is an asphalt tri-oval that is 2.5 miles long, and it has a total of four turns.  As it is a NASCAR Cup Series race, it is a stock car race, which means that the cars used are production-based ( though loosely). For 25 years the race had the highest television ratings in the USA for any auto race.

The winner of the famous race receives the Harley J. Earl Trophy, which is named after the second commissioner of NASCAR.

Why is the Daytona 500 the Most Prestigious NASCAR Race?

The race is sometimes known as ‘The Superbowl of Stock Car Racing’. It is very special due to the fact that it kicks off the season, which means that it gives great momentum to whoever wins it.

Multiple drivers have also said that they would rather win the Daytona 500 than win the entire Cup Series without taking the victory in the prestigious race. Though I’m fairly sure this is mostly bravado.

The race’s history is also very famous, and the influence it has had on stock car racing is frankly unrivalled. It has also hosted some unforgettable and legendary contests, that date all the way back to the photo finish at the first edition. Although NASCAR no longer publicly reveal the prize money for each event, it is known that the prize money for the Daytona 500 is more than any of the other races on the schedule.

The 1979 Daytona Was the First Full Race on Network Television

This landmark race was held on the 18th of February, 1979 and although it was the second race of the NASCAR Winston cup series it was the first ever to be broadcast in its entity from beginning to end.

Sports Historians and commentators have called it the most important race in NASCAR history. It was the first time the whole of the USA was able to watch a NASCAR race from the start to beginning. It also was the first time that viewers could see in the car.

The race also offered a made for TV ending with the two leaders coming to blows both inside and out side their cars on the last of the 500 laps! Carl Yarborough and Sonny Allison where fighting ( figuratively) for the win when they crashed into each other and veered onto the grass.

Richard Petty went on to win despite being almost half a lap behind, however soon after he took the checkered flag the cameras switched to another event.

Carl Yarborough Donny and Bobby Allison had started fighting after the aftemath of the crash that cost them both the win.

This was broadcast live across America,and due to the snowstorm in the North and Mid eastern states this viewership was even greater than expected.

These combined to cement the Daytona 500, as the most important race in NASCAR, and not only that. It brought Stock car racing firming into the mainstream where it is now the second most popular sport behind football.

Why Is The Daytona 500 NASCAR’s Biggest Race

When Was the First Daytona 500 NASCAR Race?

The first 500-mile stock car race held at the Daytona International Speedway took place in 1959. It was first referred to as the Daytona 500 in 1961, but the first two editions are still known as editions of the Daytona 500.

The first race was only the second 500-mile NASCAR race, with the first being the Southern 500 that was first held in 1950 at the Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. The inaugural Daytona 500 was officially known at the time as the ‘First 500 Mile NASCAR International Sweepstakes at Daytona’.

41,921 people attended the first race in February 1959, which saw chilly temperatures. The race opened the track, which was built by NASCAR founder Bill France so that it could host the races that were previously hosted at the Daytona Beach and Road Course.

20 of the 59 cars in the first Daytona 500 field were convertibles. Bob Welborn, who won a 100-mile race earlier in the week started the first Daytona 500 on pole position, but the race was won by Lee Petty, who led 38 out of the 200 laps in his 1959 Oldsmobile car.

The race went to a photo finish, with Johnny Beauchamp believing that he had won. The official winner, Petty, was declared after three days. Officials used photographs and news footage to determine who crossed the line first.

Who Has the Most Daytona 500 Wins?

Richard Petty, who is the son of Lee Petty, won the Daytona 500 seven times in his very successful career. He took part in the first Daytona 500, but he finished 57th after starting sixth. He took podium positions in two of the next three editions, with a third-place finish in 1960, and a second-place finish in 1962.

Richard Petty Daytona 500 Wins

YearCarAverage Speed
1964Plymouth Fury154.3 miles an hour
1966Plymouth 66160.9 miles an hour
1971Plymouth Road Runner (Superbird)144.4 miles an hour
1973Dodge Charger157.2 miles an hour
1974Dodge Charger140.8 miles an hour
1979Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme143.9 miles an hour
1981Buick Regal169.6 miles an hour

Driving a Plymouth in 1964, he qualified in second place for the race. He went on to win the race, leading 184 of the 200 laps. Petty didn’t compete in the 1965 Daytona 500, as he spent the majority of the year competing as a drag racer. However, he returned to NASCAR in 1966 and won the Daytona 500 from pole position.

He won the race again five later, in 1971. He took back-to-back Daytona 500 wins in 1973 and 1974 with Dodge. He won the race with Oldsmobile in 1979, before winning the race for the final time in 1981, with Buick.

His seven wins is a record that may never be beaten. The driver with the second most wins is Cale Yarborough, who has won the race four times

Why Is The Daytona 500 NASCAR’s Biggest Race

What are the Other Important Races? The Crown Jewels of NASCAR

The five biggest NASCAR races are known as the ‘Crown Jewels’. The Daytona 500 is one of them.

  • The GEICO 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama is another. The GEICO 500 is slightly longer than the Daytona 500, at 500.08 miles or 188 laps of the 2.66-mile circuit.  The race is commonly the second ‘Crown Jewel’ event of the season, often coming after Daytona.
  • The Coca-Cola 600 is another of the ‘Crown Jewel’ races. It is 600 miles long, making it the longest race on the NASCAROpens in a new tab. Cup Series schedule. It also has track conditions that change during the race, due to its start time at 6:20 PM. The race is also notable for being held on the same day as the most famous IndyCar race, the Indianapolis 500.
  • The Southern 500 is another ‘Crown Jewel’ race that is hosted at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The race is 501 miles long, or 367 laps of the relatively short 1.366-mile circuit. The race is usually held on Labor Day weekend in the USA. It is also called one of the season’s most difficult races by the drivers.
  • The yearly race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the fifth ‘Crown Jewel’ race but it was moved from the traditional oval course to the former F1 road course in 2021. Jeff Gordon has the most career ‘Crown Jewel’ race wins, with 21.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that the Daytona is the Superbowl of NASCAR. it attracts more viewers than any other race in NASCAR. It is broadcast and watched by millions each February.

It is also one of the most dangerousOpens in a new tab. races in NASCAR, with the highest percentage of crashes of any racetrack and the speeds of this Superspeedway make those crashes spectacular. Luckily fatalities and serious injuries are rare in NASCAR.

It has always been a special race since the first one on 1959, but the event of the 1979 race 20 years later are like the script of a movie, lead changes, last lap crashes, a 6 time winner and a fight on the last lap! All broadcast live to a snowboard audience around the country set it up to be the biggest and most prestigious race in the NASCAR season for years to come.






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