Holding a Pretty Wheel · Beth Lunkenheimer · Friday July 1, 2011
As the Sprint Cup Series heads off to Daytona for the annual Fourth of July visit, it’s hard for me to not look back at some of my favorite Daytona races. Since joining Frontstretch in mid-2005, NASCAR has taken on a different look to me, but one thing always remains the same: I always look forward to visits to Daytona thanks to the excitement and close-quarters racing.
1998 Daytona 500
Since no list of important Daytona races is complete without the 1998 Daytona 500, let’s just get things started there. Though I was still young and limited in my NASCAR knowledge (only four years into my discovery), I knew Dale Earnhardt was a man that commanded respect on and off of the track. And though I wasn’t ever happy when my driver was on the receiving end of his bump and run, I always respected the man that was Dale Earnhardt. In my four years since I had started watching NASCAR, I had read up on the accomplishments of some of the greats of the past as well as the present, so I was well aware how many attempts Earnhardt had made to score that elusive 500 win.
2001 Pepsi 400
It was the first visit to Daytona since NASCAR had lost Dale Earnhardt. In just five short months, so many things had changed. But it was a night of high emotions as there were tributes to the fallen driver. As the checkered flag flew over Junior’s No. 8 Chevrolet, I couldn’t even imagine the multitude of emotions that were tugging on the young driver that night. For me, it was only fitting that Junior take the checkered flag at Daytona just a few short months after losing his father at the same track.
2010 NextEra Energy Resources
That’s right, even the Truck Series made my list of most memorable races. Timothy Peters started deep in the field—25th—but wasted little time letting the rest of the field know he was there to win. And just when it looked like Todd Bodine might score his third consecutive victory at the 2.5-mile track in last season’s Truck Series season opener, Peters pulled off a nearly perfect crossover move that combined with a big push from Dennis Setzer helped the young driver kick off his 2010 season in victory lane.
2011 Daytona 500
Trevor Bayne’s unlikely victory in this year’s Daytona 500 ranks up in the top 5 races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway for me. Piloting the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, Bayne led the final six laps and scored a win that was talked about for weeks. It was a scenario that NASCAR desperately needed, and the buzz generated around the sport in the weeks following was far-reaching. For the team that has been around for nearly 60 years to struggle mightily on track like they have the last several seasons is disheartening at best. But the emotional victory for a young Trevor Bayne certainly made up for years of mediocre performance.
2005 Daytona 500
The 2005 Daytona 500 ranks right up at the top of my list because that was the first race I attended with my husband. Sure, we had visited Texas Motor Speedway several times together, but it was the first race I went to as a wife. And I still remember it like it was yesterday. After spending a night with my new in-laws in Fort Walton Beach, FL, we headed off to Orlando where we stayed before the race. And since we were in the area, we had to set up a meeting with a few of the people we met on the old Frontstretch Forums.
We headed out to the track around 2 AM only to realize I had forgotten to pack the tapes for the video camera. Since the speedway is situated right in the middle of pretty much anything you would need, we stopped into Best Buy for tapes before meeting up with our friends. After breakfast together and a little pre-race tailgating, it was time to head off to our seats. I can’t even describe what I felt when we walked out into the stands for the first time.
We sat in the fourth row and had to hold onto our hats each time the field came roaring by. But before we knew it, the race was over. We headed over to Daytona USA for the after party held there and retired to our hotel room exhausted, sunburned and covered in bits of rubber. And it will always remain as my all-time favorite race at Daytona.
I know I’ve got some pretty great memories of Daytona races, and I’m sure you do too. Between honoring Medal of Honor recipients just two days before Independence Day, the two-car drafts and the general close-quarters racing, there’s a good chance tomorrow night’s race might rank up there for all of us.
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