Tag: Bobby Allison

Rating the Sprint Unlimited: 4 Stars ****

A new NASCAR season opened Saturday after an offseason full of an incredible amount of changes, but the action in the Sprint Unlimited should have reminded folks why stock car racing is such a fun sport to watch, especially at Daytona International Speedway.

The racing gods seem to save some of the wildest moments in stock car racing for events at Daytona, and the exhibition race to begin the season had enough to easily garner a 4 Star Rating.

This race may have had fewer than half of the cars in its field than will line up to begin the Daytona 500 at the end of Speedweeks, but it had just about everything that can happen in a 200-lap race compacted into 75 circuits.

It had one of the most famous aspects of restrictor-plate racing, a huge wreck, about midway through the second of three segments, which were divided into 30, 25 and 20-lap increments, as voted by fans in an online vote.

Matt Kenseth made a classic restrictor-plate racing mistake when he changed lanes with Joey Logano underneath him. The front-right corner of Logano’s car caught the tail end of Kenseth’s and the two-time Daytona 500 champion spun in the middle of the tri-oval to trigger a nine-car crash that left half of the field to complete the final portion of the race.

But the nine cars that remained put on a show worthy of a full field.

The beautiful packs of cars that thunder around restrictor-plate tracks fell into a single-file line around the top of the racetrack for an extended time just once, and it came early in the first segment. Otherwise, the drivers raced hard enough to keep the intensity level plenty high.

And, this being Daytona with a full moon above, the pace car caught on fire during the break between the second and third segments.

The delay was not particularly long, especially compared to the 2012 Daytona 500 when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet dryer and caused it to explode in Turn 3, but the pace car problem added to the sometimes surreal drama that can accompany races at Daytona.

Denny Hamlin ultimately won the race and led 27 of the 75 total laps, but he had to fight off challengers who regularly took the lead throughout the event. In all, seven drivers led at least one lap, and the race showed the restrictor-plate racing rules package this year should be solid enough to produce an entertaining Daytona 500.

Plus, it also showed that races don’t need a bunch of participants to fight for the victory to put on a good show. NASCAR has tried to include more and more drivers in scenarios such as the Chase that has now expanded from 10 to 16 drivers in 10 years, and in caution periods that allow have lucky dog and wave-around rules.

Sometimes a battle between few drivers is better than one among many.

The good ol’ days of NASCAR had a few select drivers who dominated the series week after week and year after year. People love to remember the great Daytona 500 finishes that involved drivers such as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison, but often those were some of the only drivers on the lead lap by the end of the race.

Maybe Saturday’s race proved to some extent that less is more, or maybe it will be remembered solely for the big crash.

Either way, it did its job. NASCAR originally created the exhibition race 35 years ago to stoke the beginning of Speedweeks with energy that it hoped would be replenished with each event throughout the following week.

Well, the 2014 Sprint Unlimited delivered and showed promise that this could be a very fun Speedweeks.

Have a great week, everybody. Be sure to check out the Monday Morning Crew Chief Rating System and come back to visit each Monday throughout the season for the rating of each race.

Photo credits: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images and Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

Caldwell’s top five Daytona 500s: No. 2 – 1979

The 1979 Daytona 500 was a race that meant a lot to NASCAR fans, and to the sport itself.

It was the first race to go flag-to-flag live coverage on television, across the country. The 1979 President’s Day Blizzard had people all across the Northeast stuck inside and able to watch this race, and the drivers didn’t disappoint.

Youngsters Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Geoffrey Bodine and Kyle Petty were all making their Daytona 500 debuts. A new wave of drivers was just beginning, but the crafty veterans were the ones that put on the show.

By the time the green flag dropped, the race was already 15 laps old. Because of a rainstorm before the race, NASCAR made the cars run 15 laps under caution before the race started to try to help dry the track.

Finally, the race did go green.

Pole sitter Buddy Baker, driving for Harry Ranier, was the man to watch, as he also won his qualifying race before the 500.

On what was now the initial green-flag start, Donnie Allison, younger brother of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, took the lead from Baker. Allison and his Hoss Ellington No. 1 Oldsmobile were strong from the start.

For the first 15 or so laps of green flag racing, there were three contenders. Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough. Bobby Allison made contact with his brother’s left rear quarter panel and sent the three contenders through the muddy infield grass, with water shooting up everywhere.

It appeared that the hopes of those three drivers to win the race were gone, and it was anyone’s race at that point.

Yarborough and Donnie Allison didn’t really hit anything, they just got stuck in the mud.

Fellow Alabama Gang member, Neil Bonnett, was the new race leader.

As the race restarted, Bobby Allison was charging hard on the inside to try to get his lap back, and he was following a 28-year-old second-generation driver named Earnhardt, who was charging to the lead. Earnhardt would lead 10 laps and wind up eighth in his Daytona 500 debut.

On lap 55, Gary Balough hit the wall, triggering “the Big One” that took out another favorite in 1976 winner, David Pearson. Not long before that, Baker had a mechanical failure and exited the race.

After the race got restarted, Donnie Allison was able to race his way back on the lead lap. In 1979, there was no such thing as the Lucky Dog rule, and drivers actually had to pass the leader to get their laps back. On lap 74, Bonnett spun out to bring out the caution flag, and Allison, who was showing how fast his car was, got back on the lead lap.

After John Utsman’s engine blew up on lap 103, Yarborough was able to get his lap back, as well. Now two of the favorites, Allison and Yarborough, were back on the lead lap.

With 20 laps to go, it was Allison and Yarborough battling for the lead. They were far out in front of the other pack of cars, which was led by Richard Petty in third, and hoping something bad would happen to the leaders.

For the next 19 laps, Yarborough was glued to Allison’s back bumper. When the white flag flew, people knew there’d be fireworks before the cars came back around to the finish line.

In the middle of the backstretch, Yarborough pulled to the inside below the line, which would be illegal today, and tried to pass Allison. Allison threw the block. When he did, Yarborough’s momentum carried him forward and Allison nearly put Yarborough in the grass. Yarborough got loose and sideways. He made contact with Allison’s car, and both cars slid up the racetrack and into the outside wall. The two dominant cars of the race sat on the grass, not moving.

Just riding in third, and being happy about it, was Petty, but after the leaders crash, Petty took the lead off of Turn 4 and went on to win.

It was an exciting finish and the fans were on their feet. The anticipation of Yarborough’s move on Allison was exciting, and when it did happen, something happened that you don’t see in any other sport. The two best cars of the race put it all on the line to win the Daytona 500.

Petty got a challenge from new second-place driver Darrell Waltrip, but DW couldn’t get around Petty, who won his sixth Daytona 500. It seemed to have made up for the misfortune in 1976 when he lost to Pearson on a final-lap crash.

The crowd was on its feet. You could hear the excitement and the passion in announcers’ voices. It was an exciting finish, and the Daytona crowd wanted more, and so did the TV crowd.

CBS was wrapping up the first NASCAR race broadcast on live television, and it was a success.

Then announcer Ken Squier, while wrapping up the broadcast, yelped, “AND THERE’S A FIGHT! BETWEEN CALE YARBOROUGH AND DONNIE ALLISON, THEIR TEMPERS OVERFLOWING. THEY KNOW THEY HAVE LOST, AND WHAT A BITTER DEFEAT.”

In the middle of the chaos was Donnie’s brother Bobby. The Allison brothers took on Yarborough in Turn 3, and it showed the true passion that the drivers had.

Bobby Allison said later, “Cale just kept smashing his face against my fist.”

It was a fight that took place because the three drivers were mad about the wreck that took place earlier in the race. Yarborough had blamed Bobby Allison for it, and the fiasco started.

It was NASCAR, and it showed passionate competitors, great racing and exciting finishes. NASCAR was on television to stay and would only get bigger and bigger from there.

The 1979 Daytona 500 was the single most important race in NASCAR’s history. It had a little bit of everything: an incredible finish, a huge fight with one brother defending the other, and it again showed the family aspect of this sport. There was something for everyone in this race.

During a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013, a fan told me that two old ladies from Alabama still can’t talk about the 1979 Daytona 500. They still blame Yarborough for taking a win away from Donnie Allison. Thirty-four years later, and fans are still irate about what happened at Daytona International Speedway that day.

That’s why this race is No. 2 on my list. One race to go, and it’s the most underrated race in the sport’s history. Check back next week for it.

Photo credits: ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images, Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR and Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR.

Caldwell’s top five Daytona 500s: No. 3 – 1988

– By Brandon Caldwell

Since the days of running moonshine and bringing the cars to the tracks on open trailers all the way through today, NASCAR has had only one constant.

Family.

Since its inception, passed down from generation to generation, NASCAR has been about fathers and sons bonding over a sport in which they could both relate. Whether if it were driver, team owner, etc. That’s what NASCAR has always been about.

From Bill France Sr. to Bill France Jr. to Brian France, or from Lee Petty to Richard Petty to Kyle Petty to Adam Petty, or from Bobby Allison to Davey Allison, the family aspect of the sport of NASCAR has been important since day one.

Going into the 1988 race, no one really knew what to expect. It was a transitional time for NASCAR. The sport’s legends were growing older and new kids were storming in and trying to make the sport their own, and just a look at the starting grid showed the mix of kids and crafty veterans, with a new style of racing, was going to make the 1988 Daytona 500 one for the ages.

Asthe face of NASCAR was changing, so was the face of the Daytona 500, forever.

Following a crash in 1987 when Bobby Allison broke down the catchfence at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR needed a way to slow the cars down going into the 1988 season, and its best solution was the restrictor plate.

Starting on the pole was Ken Schrader. Although Schrader was 35 years old, he was still relatively new to the NASCAR ranks. On the outside of the front row was one of those young drivers, hotshot Davey Allison, a second-generation driver who was making a name for himself with his quick speed and gutsy demeanor.

In row two were the veterans. The favorite going in, 50-year-old Bobby Allison, who already had two Daytona 500’s on his resume, and three-time Winston Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, who was still gunning for his first Daytona 500 victory.

The race started off like they all do nowadays. Watching this race in 2014, you’d never know anything was different.

It took the cars the now standard half-lap to get up to speed, but once they did, the race became very competitive.

There was a bunch of lead changes early in the race, as the laps began to tick away.

On lap 49, legend Cale Yarborough, in his final Daytona 500, spun out and hit the outside wall to end his day.

The race restarted without much action, as the race took the crossed flags.

Seven laps later was one of the most memorable moments in Daytona 500 history.

Seven-time Daytona 500 winner, “The King” Richard Petty got loose coming off of turn 4, and driver Phil Barkdoll made contact with the STP Pontiac.

Richard’s car got airborne and crashed into the catch fence, and then barrel-rolled over and over again, before finally landing on its wheels, only to get hit again by Barkdoll’s car, and finally coming to a rest.

It was a crash that looked like it may end Petty’s career. Thankfully, he wasn’t seriously injured, and the rest of the field raced on.

On lap 178, Harry Gant spun on the back straightaway, which brought out the yellow flag and began the last round of pit stops.

On the restart on lap 181, Phil Parsons led the field to the green. Seventeen cars were on the lead lap, and in the new restrictor-plate style of racing, they all had a chance to win it.

Parsons was lined up in front of Davey Allison and Waltrip.

As the green flag dropped, and the cars got up to speed, Allison was pushing Parsons’ back bumper hard going on the backstretch.

Waltrip was the first car out of line. The veteran wanted to win the Daytona 500 more than any race in his career, and he was showing it in the final laps of this race.

Behind him came Bobby Allison. Parsons and Davey Allison were in the high lane, Waltrip and Bobby Allison in the low lane. It was veterans against youngsters, and racing families going at it for bragging rights to this Daytona 500.

As Waltrip and Bobby Allison took the lead from Davey Allison and Parsons, they began to pass on their own. Bobby Allison went low, and Waltrip went high.

Bobby Allison’s car was clearly better in the low lane, and he was using the side draft to keep his car up front and running strong.

Davey Allison managed to get around Parsons, and it was these three cars left to decide the 30th annual Daytona 500.

Davey Allison originally seemed to be working with Waltrip’s car. Then he went low to help his father, in fear of his life.

The younger Allison is able to keep his foot in it and get his father and himself past Waltrip and into the first and second positions.

After the final debris caution, the Alabama Gang, Bobby and Davey Allison, were sitting one-two. They were chomping at the bit to get to the green flag and go racing for the final 10 laps of the 1988 Daytona 500.

Buddy Baker, the 1980 winner, was third, and he wasn’t going to let the Allison family spoil his fun or another shot at a Daytona 500 victory.

The field went green for the final time, and Bobby Allison got out in front. His son caught up to him, and Baker wouldn’t let Davey push Bobby without being glued to the back bumper of Davey Allison’s Texaco/Havoline Ford.

With eight laps to go, it was Baker who got out of line and tried to get past Davey Allison headed into Turn 3.

Davey Allison and Baker, another driver from a racing family, raced side-by-side for second place, knowing that would be the place to be to make the final run at the win.

As Allison got to the outside, the rest of the pack, knowing he had one of the fastest cars of the day, followed him, and Baker became the first NASCAR driver to lose a race by being “hung out to dry” on the inside lane.

For the majority of the final 10 laps, the cars were single file.

Bobby Allison was keeping his car out in front, and Davey Allison was trying to put himself in a position where he could pass his father and get his first win in the Daytona 500.

In the middle of turns 3 and 4 on the final lap, Davey Allison shot low, and tried to pass his father, his hero, for the Daytona 500 win.

Bobby Allison kept it floored off of Turn 4, and Davey Allison could do nothing with his father, who went on to win his third Daytona 500.

“I went down low in 3 and 4, but he was too strong,” Davey Allison said after the race.

A father-son duo had finished one-two in NASCAR’s biggest race of the season.

“Ever since he ran so good last year, it’s been my dream to race him in the Daytona 500,” Bobby Allison said in a postrace interview.

It certainly was a feat, as only Lee and Richard Petty had previously accomplished that milestone.

“As a kid, I always dreamed about finishing one-two with my dad in the Daytona 500, but I wanted him to be second,” Davey Allison said with a big grin on his face, as he came up just short to his father that day.

The 1988 Daytona 500 brought NASCAR into a new era. It showed that racing at Daytona and Talladega with these new restrictor plates was still going to be OK. A 50-year-old legend and his hot-footed young son, finishing one-two showed that no matter what age, even with the plates, it still came down to skill and determination and a good-handling racecar to win the Daytona 500.

This race is etched in the memory of race fans because of what it meant. The beloved Allison family got its time to shine and showed that NASCAR was headed in a new direction that yielded a new group of superstars that was also headed into the right direction into the 1990s.

The 1988 Daytona 500 was the third-best race in Daytona 500 history because it brought to life what racing is all about: Family. The reason why many people got started watching and loving racing was probably because of their dad, and it showed that families could compete and battle and still love each other at the end. We can all relate to that. I could watch that finish over and over again and not get sick of it. That’s why it’s third on this countdown.

With two more races to go on this countdown, the next two races will have that family emphasis because from the beginning that’s what NASCAR has been all about. I sure hope you enjoy the next two, because they are dandies and have even this race beat by a long shot.

 Photo credits: Racing Photo Archives/Getty Images, Don Hunter, Racing One/Getty Images, Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR, ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images and RacingOne Multimedia.

Caldwell’s top five Daytona 500s: No. 4 – 1976

– By Brandon Caldwell

The 1976 Daytona 500 is one of the most famous Daytona 500s ever because of the finish between Richard Petty and David Pearson,who made contact in the final corner.

Being the only two cars on the lead lap, Petty and Pearson crashed and slid into the infield grass, causing both cars to stop. King Richard failed to get his car going, and Pearson took his damaged Wood Brothers Mercury and just crept across the finish line for his first and only Daytona 500 victory.

It’s a finish that has been seen many times on television shows and shows that highlight auto racing.

But the race itself was also a dandy.

Two unusual drivers sat on the front row. Pole sitter Ramo Stott, more known for being an ARCA driver, and former truck driver Terry Ryan were on the inside and outside of the front row because some of the top qualifiers times were disallowed.

The early part of the race was dominated by one of the biggest names in auto racing history, 1972 Daytona 500 winner A.J. Foyt, who many racing gurus consider the greatest driver ever.

Foyt’s car eventually lost an engine, and his chance at winning his second Daytona 500 was taken from him.

Then it was Benny Parsons’ time to shine.

Parsons, the defending race winner, was out front for a good portion of the race.

It was at that time when race commentators realized that Pearson and the Wood Brothers team needed only one more pit stop, while most of the other drivers, including Parsons needed to pit two more times.

Once Parsons pitted, there were only two drivers on the lead lap and in contention for the win: Petty and Pearson.

Petty and Pearson, two of the biggest names in NASCAR’s rich history, battled it out with 15 laps to go toward a possible photo finish.

As laps ticked away, Petty was in Pearson’s shadow, as they ran one-two. The King did not let the Silver Fox gain an edge on him, and Petty looked to strike when the time was right.

Pearson was in the same position in 1975. He was going for the lead with three laps to go, tried to pass Cale Yarborough and came up in front of Yarborough. The two made contact, and Pearson spun out and ruined his chances at winning.

It was something that he didn’t want to happen again with Petty running in second.

But the King lived up to his name and used the draft to sling shot past the No. 21 car of Pearson and take the lead with 13 laps to go.

The impending finish was exciting. Pearson was soon in the same position as Petty had been a few laps earlier, and he was trying to set up Petty. The leader is in control of only his car, and his only defense is to block. The driver running in second is the one who decides which line, high or low, that the pass or block will take place. Pearson was trying to figure out the best one that worked for him.

Coming off of Turn 2 at Daytona International Speedway on the final lap is when Pearson finally decided to make his move.

He caught up to the back of Petty’s car and both of them try to get passed a lapped car on the inside.

Just as he had done the year before, Pearson chose the inside line and tried to make his move in the middle of the back straightaway, and Petty of course went down to block.

Pearson had too strong of a run to block, and he shot by Petty into Turn 3 and took the lead.

The announcers could barely be heard over the screaming crowd as Petty pulled the switch-over and shot to the inside of Pearson off of Turn 4.

Similar to Pearson the year before, Petty crossed up in front, and Pearson made contact that sent both cars into a spin. They both hit head-on into the outside wall and came down the track to a stop in front of the rest of the field.

The two leaders, stopped, were not able to get their cars going. Two of the fastest cars in the race were now junk, and the fans, and everyone involved in the race, weren’t sure who was next in line to win the Daytona 500.

It looked as if Petty was going to spin across the finish line, but he stopped about 75 yards shy.

Just as his car came to a stop, Pearson got his car going and was moving at walking pace but was still moving.

The torn up, mangled No. 21 car went to victory lane in dramatic fashion. Petty fans were livid. Pearson fans were thrilled, and everyone was entertained, and their hearts were pounding as one of the greatest Daytona 500’s came to an end in only a way that Pearson and Petty could do it.

Richard’s crew, among them, his 16 year-old son Kyle, helped push his car across the finish line. NASCAR had a one-lap penalty for pushing the car across the line, but with Petty and Pearson being the only two cars on the lead lap, King Richard was still able to come home with second-place money, something he needed to fix up that destroyed STP Dodge.

As the late, great Chris Economaki said in the post-race interview, “I’ve never seen one like this…” and it was one for the ages, for sure.

The fans stuck around as they tried to gather what had just happened. The 1976 Daytona 500 was one of the greatest races of all-time not just because of the finish, but because of what it meant for NASCAR.

Two of its biggest names battled for the win and did every thing in their power not to lose. There were no hard feelings between the two drivers.

The strategy that took place was also what made it great. It was never boring; everyone knew Pearson was biding his time and waiting for the finish to make a run for it.

The Daytona 500 in 1976 was truly a classic 500-mile race. Drivers such as Foyt and Bobby Allison were favorites but fell out early because their cars couldn’t hold up for the full 500 miles.

If this were 2014, a debris caution may have clouded what was a great finish. The fact that the race ran green the whole way is what made the end interesting for all because Pearson’s strategy was able to pay off, and worked to barely beat Petty that day.

With how great this race was, it’s hard work to find three better Daytona 500’s, but there’s better races still to come in the following weeks. I hope you’re as excited to read them as I am to write them.

Photo credits: RacingOne MultiMedia, ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images and Don Hunter.