In a sport in which superteams throw overloads of money, technology and personnel into every race, it isn’t always the excess that bubbles to the top.
Sometimes, there are upsets. Even in the biggest race of all, the Daytona 500.
That’s part of the reason why 43 drivers will begin today’s 54th edition of NASCAR’s marquee race holding onto hope that the stars will align and, perhaps magically, the day will end with them in victory lane.
The improbable happened last year when Trevor Bayne, one day past his 20th birthday, drove a part-time team – the Wood Brothers – to victory lane for a 500 victory few could have predicted.
It was an upset for the ages.
And there have been others across the years. To name a few:
Tiny Looms Large (1963) – Tiny Lund won the fifth edition of the 500 despite approaching the race without a ride. The Wood Brothers put Lund in their car after their original driver, Marvin Panch, was injured in a sports car crash at the track. Lund was among several individuals who rushed to Panch’s aid at the crash site. Lund won the race and later received the Carnegie Medal of Honor for his role in rescuing Panch.
Andretti’s Drive-Through 500 (1967) – Ford brought superstar Mario Andretti to Daytona for a rare stock-car appearance in 1967, and he scored his only NASCAR win in the race, driving a very loose race car with wild abandon to one of the major victories of a spectacular career.
Parsons Makes It Work (1975) – After retiring from driving, Benny Parsons built a second – and probably more popular – career in NASCAR broadcasting. Winning the ’75 500 was probably the highlight of his career. The door opened for the Parsons win when David Pearson and Cale Yarborough crashed with two laps to go.
Derrike Can Cope (1990) – Upstart driver Derrike Cope was in the right place at the right time to score one of NASCAR’s biggest upsets. Dale Earnhardt, struggling to score his first win in stock car racing’s biggest event, appeared to have victory in hand with the lead on the last lap, but he ran over debris and blew a tire entering the third turn, opening the door for Cope to score a most unlikely win.
Mikey Breaks Through (2001) – On one of the sport’s darkest days, one that ended with Dale Earnhardt’s death on the 500’s last lap, Michael Waltrip scored the first points win of his career after a long drought. Ironically, Waltrip was driving for Earnhardt’s team.
Ward And The Whirlpool (2002) – Ward Burton took the Bill Davis Racing team to victory lane after Sterling Marlin broke NASCAR protocol late in the race by climbing out of his car to adjust a damaged fender under red-flag conditions, a violation that sent him to the rear of the field. Burton famously later said the surprise 500 victory launched him into a “whirlpool” of media appearances and post-race activity.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.