Before I start this list, can we all agree that the July race at Daytona used to have one of the best race titles of all? It's little things like this that are missing in the sport today in my opinion. Back in the day, when someone mentioned "Firecracker 400" you knew immediately what race they were referring to. Nowadays sponsors change around at tracks so much, it's hard to remember who sponsors what race.
In any event, here are the 10 best Firecracker 400/Pepsi 400/Coke Zero 400 races in my opinion.
10. 1994 Pepsi 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZnTuDimHZY
This race was a battle between the two favorites for the championship in 1994; Ernie Irvan and Dale Earnhardt. Irvan is the more dominant of the two, leading 86 laps to Earnhardt's 31. In the final stages though, Jimmy Spencer comes to the front to give Irvan a serious challenge for the victory. Most of us remember the finish and even if you weren't a fan of Mr. Excitement you had to give him credit for pulling off the win in this race. A lot of drivers would not have been able to even get along side someone like he did on the last lap for the lead.
9. 1986 Firecracker 400
1986 was a heartbreak year at Daytona for eventual series champion, Dale Earnhardt. In the Daytona 500 he was poised to possibly win but ran out of fuel with just a few laps remaining. When the series returned for the July event, Earnhardt was strong again leading the most laps with 69. However a late race crash took him out of the running. Tim Richmond takes the lead with eight laps remaining and holds off young Sterling Marlin to win his first and sadly only race at Daytona.
8. 1987 Pepsi Firecracker 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqmTuilCJA4
The 1987 Pepsi Firecracker 400 proved to be a bit confusing at the end. Prior to the final restart, there was no driver/car that had proven to be a true favorite. Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Ken Schrader and surprising Dave Marcis all took turns leading portions of the event. In the late going, Bobby Allison was able to get back on the lead lap. Under caution, Allison put four fresh tires on his car. On the restart Allison was a rocket, driving through the field and making a three-wide pass on Schrader and Marcis to take the lead coming to the white flag. While the win was well in hand by the time the checkered flag was in view, the finish was still a memorable one as Ken Schrader got sideways and flipped.
7. 2001 Pepsi 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmphcMC-f7I
Little needs to be said in regards to what this race meant and still means to a lot of race fans, particularly those who are either fans of Dale Earnhardt, or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt, Jr. was absolutely dominant, leading 116 laps. Even though the 8 car was clearly the class of the field, Earnhardt still had to drive his way to the front in the final few laps to take the victory. The strength of the 8 car was a foreshadow of what would come to be at Talladega in coming years.
6. 2007 Pepsi 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-3ri8fJXK0
The 2007 event proved to be very competitive with 28 lead changes among 11 different drivers. Clint Bowyer looked to be the class of the field as he led 55 laps but he was not amongst the leaders in the final laps. Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch duked it out trading the lead in four of the final five laps. Coming to the checkered flag, it looked as though Busch had the advantage, but in the tri-oval McMurray got a surge and came to the line five-thousands of a second ahead of Busch to take the win.
5. 2010 Coke Zero 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kssUHJG2FI
It was a crash-marred 2010 race with nine cautions for 37 laps. However, the race did feature 47 lead changes between 18 different drivers. Kevin Harvick led the most laps, a mere 28, but led the most important one, the final.
4. 1984 Firecracker 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExUeGHmWxzo
There is no denying that the 1984 Firecracker 400 features one of the most memorable finishes in NASCAR history. But the race in itself was an important event with then current President, Ronald Reagan viewing the race in person. Race fans long remember the race to the caution flag and the white flag between Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty and there is no denying that this race is one of the most important in all of NASCAR.
3. 1989 Pepsi 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRuDnlixWJA
Bill Elliott leads the most laps in this one (50) and is amongst the leaders in the final stages of the race. Mark Martin looks to be in contention for his first ever win before running out of fuel with six laps remaining handing the lead over to Davey Allison. Allison is able to hold off Morgan Shepherd and Phil Parsons to win his first race at Daytona.
2. 1988 Pepsi Firecracker 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51oR0gW9968
The best car in this race looked to be Dale Earnhardt's black GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. Even so other drivers like Bill Elliott, Rick Wilson, Phil Parsons, Darrell Waltrip, Ken Schrader and Sterling Marlin all had time up in the lead. The race came down to a battle between the established veteran in Elliott and the young talent in Wilson. Coming off turn four, Wilson looked to have his first win in hand. However, Elliott had enough strength on the high line to move past Wilson to take the victory by only three feet.
1. 1993 Pepsi 400 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jNWx5nHca0
Even though Dale Earnhardt was the class of the field in the 1993 event, this race was still an action packed event that had a lot happening throughout the entire event. Coming off turn two on the final lap, Earnhardt almost bought the farm. How he was able to not only save his race car, but also fight off Ken Schrader and Sterling Marlin to win is a testament to his skill behind the wheel. This win marked Earnhardt's second points paying victory at Daytona, his first having come three years earlier in the same event.
Agree/disagree? Your thoughts and opinions are not only welcome but encouraged!
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