Tag Archives: Dale Earnhardt

Dirtiest Moves in NASCAR

In light of Denny Hamlin pulling one of the dirtiest moves I can recall in my 30 years of watching NASCAR and hearing some people say, “that’s just racin'” I decided to compile a list of moves that compare similarly to what Denny pulled on Sunday night.

Wrecking the leader is not “racing”. Not when it’s intentional without any intent to actually try to race. Moving the leader? Wrecking him accidentally by driving too hard in an attempt to win? Those are acceptable. Frustrating for the driver and fans of the driver on the short end of that stick, but acceptable.

Flat out driving through someone, or hooking them after they go by you? That’s not racing. That’s, as Harry Hogge once called it, “low-down, shit-ass racin'”.

A mistake made while going for the win, which I still believe is what happened with Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr at Richmond, doesn’t put you on this list. Granted, I’m the only judge here and you’re welcome to disagree, but intent is a major factor here. If it looked like the driver had at least some intent, or even hope, of trying to make the pass without there being an accident, it doesn’t qualify. But if it looks like you made up your mind that the guy in front of you was going to wind up sideways off your bumper, then that’s not racing to me, and that qualifies your move as dirty. Cutting off a driver or coming down on a guy who has already stuck his nose under you, even if he probably shouldn’t have, also doesn’t count.

Some have tried to argue such tactics are common place, but going through race after race for roughly the past 1,000 races or so, finding a time where the leader was deliberately taken out in the final 25 miles or so of an event is difficult. It doesn’t happen often. At all. So I decided to point the times that I can recall it occurring over the past 30 years or so at the Cup level, listed in order of egregiousness.

In many of these you will see some blocking, and some contact perhaps even initiated by the ultimate victim. But as mentioned earlier, there’s a big difference in beating and banging, and bumping and trading paint than in just wrecking someone. Moving someone out of the way and taking a win away while costing them a few spots at most is one thing. Taking a guy from a potential win to a 25th place finish because you ruined his entire race is something entirely different. And that’s the key here, did the guy who previously possessed the lead still finish near the top of the leaderboard? If so, that moment doesn’t make this list. It’s the ones who had their entire race ruined by a dirty move that make it here.

So here we go, the dirtiest, most blatant occurrences of someone deliberately taking the leader out, usually in an effort to win for one’s self, though notably at the top of the list is an act of vengeance.

1- 2015 Matt Kenseth wrecks Joey Logano at Martinsville

2- 1986 Dale Earnhardt wrecks Darrell Waltrip at Richmond

3- 1989 Rusty Wallace wrecks Darrell Waltrip in The Winston

4- 1998 Rusty Wallace wrecks Jeff Gordon at Richmond

5- 2017 Denny Hamlin wrecks Chase Elliott at Martinsville

6- 1999 Dale Earnhardt wrecks Terry Labonte at Bristol

7- 2015 Joey Logano wrecks Matt Kenseth at Kansas

8- 2005 Brian Vickers wrecks Mike Bliss to win Nextel Open

9- 2006 Jeff Gordon wrecks Matt Kenseth at Chicago

 

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Daytona Win Would Cure All Ills for Stewart

Everyone knows the Dale Earnhardt story, especially when it comes to the struggles to win the Daytona 500. Note, I did not say struggles at Daytona, but struggles to win the Daytona 500. Earnhardt was not alone. Many of the sport’s top drivers failed to win the Daytona 500, especially of the recent generations. Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, and Ricky Rudd headline the list of top tier drivers in the past 30 years who failed to ever win the Daytona 500. However, where Earnhardt separated himself from those other drivers however was his overwhelming career success.

In fact, the only drivers to join Earnhardt as multiple time series champions to make at least 16 starts in the Daytona 500 without a win are Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, and Tony Stewart.

One of these was often compared to Earnhardt when it came to belaboring their Daytona nightmares.

Labonte, for all his successes at the Cup level, is what I would call the Tim Duncan of NASCAR. Almost nothing he did was noticed. While much was made of Earnhardt and Waltrip’s struggles to win the Daytona 500, it’s almost forgotten that Terry Labonte finished second in the Daytona 500 three different times. You can’t get much closer than that. Perhaps it was that Labonte only led a combined 12 laps in the three races. In fact, only once did Terry Labonte lead double digit laps (1996 when over heating issues relegated him to 24th place) in a single Daytona 500. So despite three runner-ups, and six top five finishes, Labonte, and his “mere” two championships never got quite the same attention when it came to striving for Daytona 500 glory, and as such, never received the sympathy for his failures.

Close, but not close enough for Labonte in 1997.

Close, but not close enough for Labonte in 1997.

Darrell Waltrip though was a different story. Before there was Earnhardt and his well documented struggles, there was D.W. Waltrip, like Earnhardt, was a multiple time champion (three) who had won everything there was to be won in the sport. Everything, of course, except Daytona. And much like Earnhardt, Waltrip had won just about everything at Daytona….except the Daytona 500. Well, with one exception. While he had won the qualifying race on Thursday five times, finishing second an additional three times, and also claimed victory in the Busch Clash, three of the Saturday Busch Series races (Now Xfinity Series), and an IROC race, Waltrip had never won a points paying Winston Cup race at Daytona. So even he didn’t compare similarly to Dale Earnhardt.

Waltrip's Daytona heartbreak stemmed more from hard accidents, including this one in 1983 that Waltrip says changed his career. "I want to win as many races as I can, going as slow as I can".

Waltrip’s Daytona heartbreak stemmed more from hard accidents, including this one in 1983 that Waltrip says changed his career. “I want to win as many races as I can, going as slow as I can”.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone who does.

Waltrip’s run of futility ended in his seventeenth start, which happens to be the number start Tony Stewart will make in the Daytona 500 when the green flag falls this Sunday.

And when it comes to comparing the Daytona nightmare to Earnhardt, nobody compares quite like Stewart.

Stewart, like Waltrip, is a three-time champion. But as good as Waltrip’s record was at Daytona, Stewart’s is vastly superior. The remarkable thing, is that as superior as Stewart’s is, Earnhardt’s is that much better. But I digress. Stewart has the overall career success, the Daytona success, and like Earnhardt, the supreme Daytona heartbreak riding with him in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The resume speaks for itself for “Smoke”. He’s won the Sprint Unlimited three different times, finishing second on two other occasions. The Thursday Gatorade duels? Stewart has gone to victory lane three times in those as well, finishing second another five times. In fact, from 2002-2010 Stewart finished worse than second only twice. Stewart however did something Waltrip never did, win on Daytona’s road course, winning an IROC race there, while also adding a win on the traditional 2.5 mile layout in 2002. But where Stewart’s dominance at Daytona most resembled Earnhardt? The Saturday Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) race at Daytona. From 2005-2013 Tony Stewart won the race a remarkable seven times in nine years. But the Stewart Daytona 500 resume doesn’t end there. He also won the July Cup race four different times, and added a runner-up. If you’re doing the mat at home, that’s 19 wins at Daytona for Stewart and another eight runner-up finishes in events aside from the Daytona 500. To say he’s dominated this track is an understatement.

But…..

But he hasn’t won the Daytona 500.

And he’s been close. He’s been very close. He’s suffered heartbreak in every way imaginable, just like Earnhardt. He’s had the dominant car, he’s lost late leads, and he’s had the race end before it ever even got started.

Stewart qualified on the outside poll for his first Daytona 500 in 1999, but engine failure prevented him from contending for the win. Unfortunately for Stewart, it seemed the trend had been set.

Stewart has led in half of the Daytona 500s he has entered, and on multiple occasions established himself the class of the field.

The 2001 Daytona 500 is known for many things, but perhaps lost in that shuffle was the big accident that Earnhardt narrowly missed, the one that happened with 27 laps to go that resulted with Stewart flipping wildly down the back straightaway. 2001-02-18-daytona-crash2

In 2004 Stewart led almost half the race, for a total of 94 laps, but Dale Earnhardt Jr passed him with twenty laps to go en route to his first Daytona 500 victory.

In 2005 Stewart took it up a notch, leading over half the race, for a total of 107 laps, and held the lead with four laps to go, only to be shuffled back to seventh place by the event’s conclusion.

Two years later, Stewart had established himself, along with Kurt Busch, the clear class of the field. But after leading his 36th lap of the race on lap 152 of 200, Stewart and Busch tangled in turn four with Stewart leading, paving the way for the spectacular Mark Martin/Kevin Harvick finish.

What appeared a two man show, became a two man disaster.

What appeared a two man show, became a two man disaster.

The following season Stewart led the field to the white flag…only to watch Penske teammates Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch draft past him on the final lap.

The Trevor Bayne Cinderella story in 2011 almost wasn’t….. Stewart restarted second on the final green-white-checkered, but a poor restart cost Stewart and he wound up 13th.

But Stewart lady luck didn’t always wait until the final 20 laps to snatch victory from Stewart. In 2002, the first return to the 500 after the wild crash the previous year, Stewart only made it two laps before the engine failed in his Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac.

So to say Stewart has had it with the Daytona 500 might be an understatement. Considering what Stewart has gone through over the past 18 months, between the broken leg, the poor on track performance, the Kevin Ward tragedy, and now dealing with the Kurt Busch saga, what could be sweeter for Smoke than to finally exorcise those Daytona demons? Waltrip did it in his 17th try, maybe that’s the trick for Stewart too.

 

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Ranking Three Decades of Daytona 500s In My Life

There's really nothing quite like the Daytona 500.

There’s really nothing quite like the Daytona 500.

So as we embark on the 57th Daytona 500 this Sunday, I decided to take a look at all the ones run in my lifetime. Fascinating enough, I actually have vivid memories of all but three of them. And that’s rather unfortunate, since one of those probably is going to rank pretty high on this list. 2015 will mark the 31st Daytona 500 of my lifetime, so how would I rank the three decades worth of Daytona 500s I have seen? Keep in mind, this isn’t based strictly on entertainment value, or the competitiveness of the race, it ranks on my level of enjoyment and the memories I personally have of the race, along with where it ranks in my personal lore. So while one race that’s vastly less competitive and enjoyable to watch from a neutral fan’s perspective might rank at the bottom for some, it might rank near the top for me dependent upon the characters at play.

32) 1992 Davey Allison- What could have been one of the more exciting 500s of my lifetime, on lap 92 became the worst. A massive crash on the backstretch eliminated essentially all but one or two contenders, and left nobody to challenge Davey Allison. Among the contenders, Bill Elliott, who, if you don’t understand why that’s important, I wonder if you know me at all. Making it worse was that Elliott had spent the week establishing himself as pretty much the favorite, represented by the fact that he was the leader when the shenanigans took place. Also taken out in the crash were guys like Waltrip, Petty (making his final start in the Daytona 500), and Earnhardt. Ernie Irvan became the first thing in sports I ever felt anything close to actual hatred for. And this is where it was born, as my dislike from previous wrecks he’d caused turned to hate with this one.

31) 2003 Michael Waltrip- Rain shortened? Check. My favorite driver in contention then having problems and finishing well back in the pack? Check. Lack of drama and excitement late? Check. No thank you.

30) 2009 Matt Kenseth- Despite the fact that I was in attendance, seeing Matt Kenseth (who I don’t particularly dislike, he just doesn’t move the needle for me) win a rain shortened race that was constantly threatened by inclement weather just didn’t provide much for me. The only redeeming part was that Kyle Busch, who dominated the race, was swept up in a massive wreck triggered by Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was not on the same lap as the leaders.

29) 1995 Sterling Marlin- Despite Bill Elliott beginning a new chapter by returning home to Dawsonville, this race lacked appeal for me, personally. Perhaps his cut tire that took a contending car out of contention had a lot to do with that. Then again, I say contending, I mean contending for second. Elliott himself told me at an autograph session later that week that, “we had enough for Earnhardt, but I don’t know about Marlin”. In other words, Sterling Marlin had them covered. For Earnhardt, it was just more of the same, coming up just short.

28) 1986 Geoff Bodine- The fuel mileage game is one may NASCAR fans turn their nose up, and with good reason. While the drama aspect is certainly there, there just seems to be something anti-climactic about watching a race get won on the basis of getting better gas mileage. However, when it comes to the Daytona 500, you’re there to win, any way possible. And that’s what Bodine did in handing Rick Hendrick his first of many Daytona 500 trophies. That the fuel game bit Dale Earnhardt, beginning what was an incredible streak of poor luck in the race, is about all the keeps this from being at the very bottom of the list.

27) 2006 Jimmie Johnson- My record for attending Daytona 500s is not so sterling, as yet another one was impacted by rain. While the race did see its conclusion, I suffered through a cold mist all afternoon and early evening long. Jimmie Johnson took the victory with Chad Knaus suspended, thanks in part to Casey Mears who went with his fellow Californian as opposed to his fellow Dodge driver late in the race, content to finish second rather than charge for the win. This has never sat well with me.

26) 2013 Jimmie Johnson- The Danica mania was pretty much the only enjoyable aspect of this parade fest that was won by five time champion Jimmie Johnson.

25) 2010- Jamie McMurray- Delays for track issues pushed the finish of this one well into the night. A late charge by Dale Earnhardt Jr in an effort to steal the win from McMurray was pretty much it for excitement, aside from a lap one wreck that eliminated Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick, who was making her first start. Jamie McMurray being a likable guy, and a guy in major need of a career revival helped add a feel good aspect to an otherwise un-entertaining day and evening.

24) 1994- Sterling Marlin- Though it wasn’t quite the story of Michael Waltrip, Marlin’s victory in the 1994 Daytona 500 was an extremely long time coming. A career full of close calls and second place finishes, Marlin finally broke through, and I can’t think of anyone who wasn’t happy for him.

23) 2012 Matt Kenseth- NASCAR’s first foray into “Monday Night NASCAR”. The delay from Sunday afternoon to Monday night both took away from the event, and added to it. The Juan Pablo Montoya jet dryer incident and the thought that Dave Blaney might win the thing were the only things that made watching the Roush Fenway Show bearable.

22) 1996 Dale Jarrett- It was the Dale and Dale Show Part II. Unfortunately, this one carried much less excitement, much less drama, and was just a more boring version of the original, though it did mark the third time in four years that Earnhardt came across the finish line in second place.

21) 1989 Darrell Waltrip- Before there was Dale Earnhardt, when it came to legendary drivers being able to win everything under the sun in the sport except the Daytona 500, there was Darrell Waltrip. But in his 17th try, in car 17, starting in 17th place……. But aside from that, Ken Schrader absolutely owned the event. Aside from Earnhardt in 1990, no driver dominated the 500 and came up empty in a way like Schrader did in 1989. It could’ve been a win that would’ve completely altered his career.

20) 2008 Ryan Newman- Newman, like Kenseth, isn’t much of a needle mover in my book. In fact, if anything, I have a dislike for him. That said, the racing itself was quality and the finish was exciting. Watching teammates work together, even though I disliked them both, was fun. Tony Stewart further cemented his Dale Earnhardt type legacy (more on this later this week) at Daytona by contending, and even leading late, and yet again, failing to win.

19) 2015- Joey Logano- At this point I was still very anti team Logano, and that would only continue to grow as the year went on. The unfortunate part of this particular race was the great finish we got robbed of by a late caution. While not shown in the above video, before this particular yellow flew, they were three wide at the head of the field for the win in the final ten laps. It was going to be an incredible finish, and while the actual finish proved less dramatic, the anticipation of what seemed to be coming, and the show these guys put on keeps this from tumbling too far down the list for the simple sake of who won.

18) 2000 Dale Jarrett- This was quite possibly one of the least competitive Daytona 500s I’ve ever seen. So why in the world is it this high? Because having not won a race since 1994, Bill Elliott had won the Gatorade 125 the previous Thursday, the first time he’d won anything in 5 1/2 years. So my anticipation entering Sunday was the highest it had been in a long while. While Elliott failed to win, he finished 3rd, in what would be the last great run and finish by Elliott in his homegrown team from Dawsonville. Had Elliott, or even Johnny Benson, which would’ve gone down as an upset on the levels of Derrike Cope in 1990, been able to win, this snooze fest suddenly becomes one of the most memorable Daytona 500s I’ve ever seen. Of coruse, it ended with Jarrett snatching his third Harley J. Earl trophy.

17) 2002 Ward Burton- The Sterling Marlin tire tug will go down in infamy, though I’m not really sure why. Marlin knew he was going to have to pit to fix it regardless, so he didn’t really lose all that much. But the drama in the final few laps, and Ward Burton breaking through with a career making victory were also key elements to the first Daytona 500 ever held that didn’t include Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt.

16) 1991 Ernie Irvan- As mentioned, my disdain for Ernie Irvan didn’t begin in 1992, it began in 1990, so by the time the 1991 Daytona 500 rolled around, I didn’t care for the guy. So while many ate up the underdog, rags to riches, just a year ago was wondering if his career was over, story, I didn’t. That said, the race had compelling story lines. Wallace and Waltrip involved in a late crash, setting the stage where Dale Earnhardt (shocker) had a chance to win the Daytona 500, and for what wouldn’t be the last time in his career, crashed in the final laps off of turn two while battling for 2nd place with guys named Allison and Petty.

15) 1990 Derrike Cope- Quite possibly, as it pertains to the on track racing and entertainment value, this one ranks at the absolute bottom. To say Dale Earnhardt had them absolutely covered is one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever made. And I’m not using hyperbole. He spent the entire weekend proving time and time again that his car was the baddest around, and nobody was in his zip code. But a late caution and ensuing pit stop by Earnhardt gave the field a chance, and while the first 199 miles were absolutely dreadful, what happened in the final mile facilitated one of the greatest upsets that we’ve ever seen…in any sport.

 

14) 2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr- So I’m one for three on the weather when it comes to attending the Daytona 500, and even this one started out cold and rainy. But the skies cleared, just enough so Dale Earnhardt could smile down on his son as he scored his first career Daytona 500 victory. I wonder if part of Earnhardt also smiled at the man who his son passed for the win, Tony Stewart, as Stewart saw the first of what has become multiple late race opportunities for victory slip away. The race itself however saw the field incredibly spread out with limited action. But the Earnhardt/Stewart story line playing out helped atone for that. So did being there for my very first Daytona 500.

13) 1987 Bill Elliott- While not as dominant as he was in 1985, in 1987 Elliott set the qualifying record at Daytona, traveling around at over 210 mph and led over half the race en route to his second Daytona triumph in three years. The show itself was nothing special, Elliott just outran everyone, as he was apt to do in those days. But to hear Elliott tell it later, the excitement was completely inside the car. At the speeds they were traveling, Elliott would later tell people that he was out of control all race long. That sounds fun, between 200 and 210 mph and completely out of control. But you’d never know it watching him run.

12) 2014 Dale Earnhardt Jr- The race itself was delayed it seemed, forever, but once it got going, racing against the threat of rain, the drivers put on a whale of a show. The pure elation in Junior following his victory was alone enough to make anyone smile.

11) 1988 Bobby Allison- Perhaps this was what Dale Earnhardt envisioned would one day happen with him and Dale Jr…father against son for the Daytona 500, and the father still showing that even over the age of 50, he’s still got it. Had we known then, what we know now, about the absolute tragedy this family would go on to endure (Bobby suffering a life threatening, brain damaging accident just months later at Pocono, Davey’s younger brother Clifford dying in a crash at Michigan 4 years after that, and Davey dying in a helicopter crash just a year later) this moment would have been treasured even more. As it stands, it’s one of the greatest stories in Daytona 500 history, and the lore was only enhanced with the tragedies that befell the famed “Alabama Gang”. This race is actually the first racing memory I have, but not for the father/son finish, but the horrific accident that Richard Petty endured that had many fearing the sport had lost its greatest driver ever in its greatest race. Unfortunately, that fear would of course come true 13 years later.

10) 2007 Kevin Harvick- Had Mark Martin held on, this would move up the list. It’s not that I’m bothered that Harvick won, I love it, but this was one Mark wanted, needed even. The disappointment at losing by a few feet couldn’t have been more evident for a guy who was such the sentimental pick in seeking his first Daytona 500 victory. After watching Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch stink up the show before the two tangled and changed the outcome of the race, this was a snoozer. But once those two tangled, business picked up, in a big way. It was a mixed emotions kinda household, my cousin was a die-hard Harvick fan, so we were happy for Harvick, and for him. But we wanted the old guy to finally win one. But there was no denying how spectacular the finish was.

9) 1998 Dale Earnhardt- The 1998 Daytona 500 itself was not a good race. I know NASCAR fans will hate me for this, but it wasn’t. Dale Earnhardt flat dominated it, which, also made it similar to many previous 500s, though, Earnhardt dominated this one even more than most before. He equaled his 1993 laps led total for the second most laps led in a Daytona 500 in his career. What keeps this race from the bottom is the obvious. Unlike those others he dominated, this time, in his 20th try, having led in 17 of his previous 19, he actually won the thing. That’s what keeps this otherwise relatively boring show from bringing up the rear. The receiving-line on pit road is still one of the greatest moments in sports history.

8) 2011 Trevor Bayne- The tandem racing was a polarizing aspect of the racing on the track, but there was no question the entertainment value it provided with the intensity in the final twenty laps. Unfortunately it created a lot of accidents. It also created one of the more memorable Daytona 500 losses by anyone in history, with David Ragan’s untimely error (that ultimately completely rerouted his career) paving the way for the most unlikely of winners in Trevor Bayne, making just his second career start. Seeing the famous Wood Brothers back in victory lane was pretty cool too. And oh yeah, Tony Stewart, another opportunity just missed.

7) 2016 Denny Hamlin- The thoughts of this one are all over the map. From Chase Elliott being on the pole and leading those first laps making this a Daytona 500 I’ll never forget to Elliott wrecking within 20 laps turning it one I don’t want to recall, this race ran the gauntlet of emotions. The Gibbs Toyotas stunk up the show most of the day, which worked out okay as I hosted a party at my house that day and most of the crowd was not NASCAR fans. The goal was to win a few over of course, but I figured the dull race hurt that. Fortunately, the amount of people there kept everyone entertained until the end. And then the race took over. One lap does not a race make, but in trying to get new fans, having the sport’s biggest event end like that, it didn’t help get a few more eyeballs and create a little bit more bar talk.

6) 1993 Dale Jarrett- Here you had it again, Dale Earnhardt in position to win the Daytona 500, a handful of laps to go, and then….. oh, you’ve heard this story before? The 1993 tale though added a little something extra with second generation driver Dale Jarrett marking his arrival on the scene, while his legendary father memorably called him home from the CBS booth.

5) 1997 Jeff Gordon- If I ever wish to be reminded why I didn’t like Jeff Gordon during his prime, I simply watch this race. This race was a simple incident in turn two away from probably being the easy choice for number one on this list. Instead it falls. I still claim that without that wreck giving Gordon his teammates, Elliott wins his third Daytona 500. The hurt from this one getting away will never go away. But neither will the memory of watching Elliott mix it up again with the big dogs after the worst year of his career in 1996. Elliott leading that race, in control, with ten laps left….. was something I hadn’t experienced in years. For Earnhardt, winding up wrecked while battling for second place in the closing laps? Well, it was the second time in six he had experienced that.

4) 2001 Michael Waltrip- This was easily the hardest to rank, because in light of the tragic events in turn four, it’s hard to call this entertaining. But it’s easily the most memorable ever, and we can’t forget, the racing throughout was top notch. Michael Waltrip, he of over 400 starts without a win, breaking through to the delight of his brother and proving Dale Earnhardt right while watching Earnhardt choose not to be the aggressor for the first time in his career was something else. Personally, watching Bill Elliott begin his career revival by leading the field to the green from the pole in and of itself catapulted this event into the upper half. Throw in everything else surrounding this race, and it’s place among the top tier is understandable.

3) 2005 Jeff Gordon- You want to see the biggest stars in the sport do battle for the biggest prize? Just watch the final few laps of this Daytona 500, and watch as the man who was the best of the bunch at the time found a way to get it done. As mentioned earlier, Tony Stewart had begun to cement a Dale Earnhardt type legacy at Daytona, and the 2005 version helped contribute to that. Stewart again found himself in position to win, and again, failed to do so. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

2) 1999 Jeff Gordon- The only way to top 2005 was to do the same thing, with the biggest names in the business, but this time, add some sort of mythological symbolism to the story. I give you 1999. Earnhardt vs Gordon. Just like Magic to Michael in the 1991 NBA Finals, this was Gordon seizing the throne. While the on track show was perhaps better in 2005, this transcending moment elevates this a wee bit higher.

1) 1985 Bill Elliott- Remember when I mentioned this was about my personal enjoyment and memory of the race, and personal feelings about its significance? Well this is where it gets personal. The whipping Elliott put on the field in 1985 is only joined in its own special zip code outside of this world by what Earnhardt did in 1990, though the superiority of Elliott’s car was greater than that of Earnhardt’s. The difference of course was Elliott held on to win. A restart with a lap to go seemed to give hope to the other drivers, though I think they all knew better. The quickness with which Elliott raced away to the lead was evidence of how dominant this car was in 1985. Truth be told, when it came to superspeedways, the Elliotts dominated them in a way few teams have ever dominated American sports.

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The Daytona 500, A Half Century of Heartbreak

They say that nobody remembers who finishes in second place. Whoever says that clearly doesn’t understand the history of the Daytona 500.

Not only do we often remember the drivers who lost the Daytona 500 in heartbreaking fashion, sometimes we remember these victims of soul crushing defeats more than the winner themselves. Take 1979, do you remember who won? I bet you recall who wrecked in turn three on the last lap though. Quick, who led them across the line in 1990? Need a second? Ok, who cut a tire while leading a mere mile from victory? Do you remember the man who won in 2007, or the man he beat to the stripe by agonizing inches?

While we celebrate and memorialize the triumphs, we also vividly recall devastating and gut wrenching shortcomings just as much, if not more.

What is considered by many to be one of the greatest triumphs in Daytona 500 history is not remembered for the race itself, which was rather pedestrian, but for the immense heartbreak the winner had endured in prior Daytona 500s.

So while many will spend the week lauding the victors in Daytona 500s past, let’s not forget the most agonizing defeats.

Beginning tomorrow I’ll count down the 10 who have suffered the biggest heartbreak at the hands of The Great American Race during the past 50 years. But to get things started, I’ll list some that just missed the list, including a look at a Daytona 500 that took the wind right out of the sails of not a driver, but rather we the fans. And no, not 2001, that one is discussed enough, besides, its tragedy wasn’t yet known at the time of the conclusion of the event.

Honorable Mentions

The Fans, 1992

Weather had never postponed the Daytona 500 until 2012, but that doesn’t mean it never left the fans holding the bag by denying the fans a true finish.

The 1965, 2003 and 2009 versions were cut short due to rain, and each left fans feeling short changed with an incomplete, less than “true” finish. However, neither of those runnings featured the emptiness the ultimate fan heartbreak version contained.

The 1992 Daytona 500 promised to be one of the best in recent memory. Story lines flew in from everywhere. Bill Elliott, synonymous with Daytona success in the 80’s, was driving for the legendary Junior Johnson, his first foray out of the family shop in Dawsonville, Georgia. Second generation driver Davey Allison ended the previous season as one of the hottest drivers on the circuit and was poised to have the Allison name back at the top of the sport. Darrell Waltrip was returning to Daytona, site of two horrific accidents in the last year and a half. Then you had Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs making his debut in NASCAR with another second generation driver carrying a legendary name, Dale Jarrett. Dale Earnhardt, fresh off three straight narrow losses was STILL trying to win the Daytona 500, and there was the small matter of this being the final Daytona 500 start in the storied career of “The King” Richard Petty, he the winner of seven Daytona 500’s.

Unfortunately, all but one of these story lines was deemed irrelevant before halfway.

On lap 92, Elliott, having established himself as perhaps the strongest car in the field, was battling teammate and pole sitter Sterling Marlin for the lead in turns one and two when defending race champion Ernie Irvan dove beneath the two of them exiting turn two. The ill fated move only needed seconds to turn into a disaster. The three tangled and before the smoke cleared, just about anybody and everybody wound up with a wrecked racecar. Elliott, Irvan, Marlin, Waltrip, Jarrett, Petty, and Earnhardt were all among those involved. Additionally notable names like Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader and Mark Martin also found their days ruined. Only a small handful of cars that had proven to be of any consequence survived the incident unscathed, and only two of them (Michael Waltrip and Morgan Sheppard) had any hope of being able to match up with the strongest survivor, Davey Allison.

Sheppard and Waltrip (who saw his chance at victory evaporate due to late engine failure) combined to lead 10 of the final 109 laps. Allison easily led the other 99 and had no trouble keeping Sheppard at bay down the stretch and across the line.

What promised to be one of the best Daytona 500’s, perhaps ever, quickly became a snooze fest with all the on track competition of a Formula 1 race for the final 250 miles.

Darrell Waltrip 1984

Much was made of it taking Waltrip 17 years to win the Daytona 500, and while the number of failed attempts for one of the ten greatest drivers ever was frustrating, the manner in which he lost pales in comparison to the nature of losses suffered by a couple of other multi-time series champions.

However, in 1984 Waltrip held the lead on the final lap, unfortunately the man who’d been trailing him for 38 laps was doing so according to plan. And that man was the guy who’d been fastest all week. Cale Yarborough executed the sling shot perfectly and before it was over Waltrip was relegated to third. Of all of his failed attempts to win, this was easily the closest he’d been to victory, more so than the bizarre 1979 runner-up performance.

David Pearson, 1975

With ten laps left, Pearson held a seemingly insurmountable lead of 5.2 seconds over Benny Parsons. When it was over Pearson found himself two laps down in fourth place.

With drafting assistance from Richard Petty, eight laps in arrears himself and eager to assist in the defeat of his arch rival, Parsons began cutting into the lead, and had it down to two seconds with three laps left.

Pearson, now under far more pressure than he expected was trying to navigate lap traffic, and doing so with much more urgency. The urgency resulted in Pearson tangling with Cale Yarborough sending the Wood Brothers owned Mercury sliding into the grass and Parsons into victory lane.

What would’ve happened had Petty pulled Parsons all the way to Pearson? We’ll never know. What we do know is Pearson never got the chance to fend off Parsons charge, only made possible itself thanks to a driver multiple laps behind.

Ken Schrader, 1989

All he did was win the pole, dominate the Busch Clash en route to victory, do the same thing in the Gatorade 125 Mile Qualifier on Thursday, and then lead 114 of the first 189 laps in the Daytona 500. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough. The aforementioned Waltrip, in his 17th try to win the 500, managed to stretch his fuel considerably longer than anyone else and “stole” the Daytona 500 from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Buddy Baker, 1973

Richard Petty may have won the race, but there was no doubt who had the best car.

Despite a faster late race pit stop that appeared to have won the race for Petty, Baker showed the superiority in his Dodge while chasing Petty down at a rate that ensured he’d get to Petty’s back bumper before the end of the race.

Unfortunately his engine expired six laps from the finish, and despite leading a whopping 157 laps, Baker finished sixth.

Bobby Allison, 1981

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, as Petty found out in 1973 and 1974. And sometimes its better to be smart than fast.

Bobby Allison led for 117 laps from the pole, this after also winning his qualifier on Thursday. But when he made his final pit stop on lap 173 he took on right side tires, requiring a 17.4 second pit stop.

When Petty made his stop two laps later crew chief Dale Inman decided to forego fresh tires, opting only for gas only, resulting in a stop that was seven seconds quicker than his rival’s, creating a lead that Allison could never overcome.

Sterling Marlin, 2002

Short is the list of drivers who won the Daytona 500 more than twice, but if not for one of the most memorable boneheaded moves in sports history, it might be one longer.

While attempting to get underneath race leader Jeff Gordon on a late restart, Marlin came into contact with the four time champion, resulting in Gordon sliding thru the grass sideways and Marlin edging Ward Burton back to the line to get the caution, and presumably (pre GWC days) the win.

But instead of finishing under yellow, NASCAR opted to red flag the field to ensure a race to the checkered flag (a few losers of previous 500s wonder where this was in 1991 and 1997) under green flag conditions. Under the red flag, during which no work may be done on the racecar, Marlin became worried about the right front fender rubbing, and potentially cutting, the right front tire as a result of the contact with Gordon.

Marlin hopped out of his car on the back stretch and to the dismay of everyone, began tugging on the fender. Per NASCAR rules, Marlin was ordered to the rear of the field for the day’s final restart, ending his quest for a third Daytona 500 victory.

Would Marlin have pitted and lost track position regardless? Would the tire have held up for five miles? We don’t know the answer to either question.

And truthfully, most of us don’t even know that Ward Burton won the Daytona 500 that day, but we all know Sterling Marlin didn’t.

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25 Sports Moments That Would’ve Broken Twitter

There are those moments when your suddenly fast and efficient Twitter timeline starts acting sluggish, even failing to refresh, or allow you to post. Usually it’s because something so big happened that everyone had to tweet about it at once, and we, “break Twitter”. There are those moments where suddenly 98% of the tweets on our timeline suddenly all become about the very same thing. In fact, many of the tweets are identical. And sometimes, these moments happen and the conversation continues to dominate hours, and days, after the initial event. Richard Sherman’s interview is the latest example of this phenomenon that was spawned by the sudden growth of social media. But what about those monumental events that were pre twitter? Which ones would we have loved, or hated, to have seen our timelines blow up over?

Every sports moment in history, while technically eligible, really isn’t. More recent events are at the forefront, as the popularity of sports has boomed thanks to TV, in particular, cable TV. Before the last quarter of the 20th century, I would argue few sports stories really and truly gripped a nation. So instead, I’m looking at the ones that did have everyone’s eye, or at least a glance, and the absolute madness with which twitter would have exploded were it around then. As such, the perceived popularity of the sport at the time goes a long way in dictating the inclusion and location of an event on this list.

Additionally, events that transpired beyond just sports rank higher thanks to the manner in which even the non sports fan finds themselves part of the discussion. And while perhaps a particular event itself may not have had the same power in terms of the ramifications regarding it’s sport as others, if it spawned debate, or even had people drawing battle lines, it crawls up the list as well. A moment where the “WOW” factor is such that upon reading the exclamations and adjectives used to describe what just took place leaves even the non fan reaching for the remote to tune in just to see what’s going on. A lot goes into making something memorable, and even more goes into giving it the ability to have everyone talking. That said though, we’re not all going to agree, but here are the 25 moments with the most ability to “break twitter”.

25. Colorado 5th Down vs Missouri- Could you imagine if a national championship contender was allowed a fifth down to pull out a late victory and stay in the title hunt? Bad calls become news very quickly, and one has to wonder if the Big Eight would’ve handled things differently had they come under intense fire, immediately.

24. SMU Death Penalty Handed Out- This would be higher if we had perhaps known just how deep college football, and of course SMU, would feel its impact years later. I tell you though, the pay for play debate would have never been more front and center.

23. Eric Gregg’s Game Five Strike Zone- As mentioned, few things get the masses stirring like questionable officiating, but let it happen in the postseason and involve one of sports most polarizing teams of its generation. Marlins fans would’ve been ashamed to claim victory.

22. U.S. Robbed vs Soviets in 76 Olympics- I can’t really speak too well on the popularity of Olympic basketball, but I do know we were not exactly sending Christmas cards to the soviets then, and Americans excel at feigning patriotism. So if we feel we’ve been screwed, by our biggest international enemy, see how fast we unite…. For a day or two.

21. Pass Interference on Miami vs Ohio State Fiesta Bowl- Few programs elicit the type of reaction from fans that Miami did when Miami was being Miami. If you didn’t jump on the bandwagon, you probably hated them. But even if you did, even you would’ve been a bit dismayed at a pass interference flag being thrown so absurdly late that the Miami celebration was well in full effect before the ref threw his flag. Correct call or not, the late nature of it would’ve been met with tremendous uproar.

20. Jordan Championship Clincher vs Utah- We assumed this was Jordan’s final career shot, and it should’ve been. It was the perfect singular moment to wrap up one of the most incredible careers of all-time. Or so it should’ve been.

19. Jimmy V’s Cancer Speech at ESPYs- This is one of those moments where the tweets would read, “Doesn’t matter if you like sports or not, turn it to the Espys to hear this incredible speech”. The only reason its not higher is that this likely became a much bigger story the next day.

18. Nancy vs Tonya- Oh, we love some drama and violence in our society, and while figure skating only partially grabs any of our attention just once every four years, this story would’ve been impossible to ignore. Mainly because I can’t imagine what all the meme and gif artists would do with Nancy and her, “why me?” crys of anguish.

17. Buster Douglass Knocks Out Tyson- The indestructible had been destroyed. Tyson going down forever changed him, and forever changed boxing. It was one of the most monumental upsets in sports history, and the shock would’ve been felt everywhere.

16. Blown Call 1985 World Series- Have you noticed the controversial call theme? Of course this wasn’t controversial, this was just wrong. And who knows, maybe the Royals come back and win game six anyway. But let’s be real, every last one of us would’ve felt like the Cardinals had a World Series stolen from them. We get it MLB, you’ve spent the next thirty years trying to make up for it.

15. Pete Rose’s Lifetime Ban- Alex Rodriguez still is a topic of conversation, and we hate, and are tired if him, and just want him to go away. That wasn’t the case with Pete Rose, and there were multiple camps people found themselves in, depending on their view, and just how extreme they went with it. But announcing the all time hit king was banned, for life…

14. Jeffrey Maier- More postseason baseball controversy, aided by involving the biggest professional sports team in the world. The play gave Jeter a home run and the Yankees a win, that unfairly changed the direction of the ALCS. And without this, Jim Leyritz may never happen. Just throwing that out there.

13. Webber’s Timeout- There’s little society seems to enjoy more than shredding celebrities for making mistakes, especially athletes, and especially really dumb mistakes. The polarizing nature of the Fab Five and the status of North Carolina basketball, along with one of the dumbest blunders ever, and Twitter would’ve erupted. Of course, had he not taken the timeout and had Michigan won, we’d been talking about the egregious missed travel call that immediately preceded the ill fated timeout.

12. Scott Norwood Miss- In all fairness, Norwood has been unfairly vilified for missing the field goal that would’ve given the Bills a Super Bowl, and potentially prevented the Patriots dynasty. But that wouldn’t have mattered then. The reaction to the missed kick would have sent Twitter into a tizzy. Though, with real football fans, that would’ve begun earlier, as the questioning of Buffalo suddenly getting conservative once across the 40 would’ve made Marv Levy far more culpable in the defeat.

11. Buckner’s Blunder- One of the most famous sports curses to ever exist was on the verge of being exorcised, in a matchup involving two gigantic fan bases. And then the routine of the routine suddenly became not so routine. Bill Buckner got it bad enough as it was, could you imagine if this happened today?

10. Mike Tyson Ear Bite- To quote Al Michaels, “He did what?” Because for those not watching the fight live, this would’ve been the reply from just about everyone upon reading of what Mike Tyson did to Evander Holyfield in the ring that night. We thought the Douglass fight sent shockwaves, no, not even close.

9. Steve Bartman- This was similar to the Jeffery Maier debacle, except, this wasn’t an illegal play, and, oh, right, this did not help the home team. Instead, it only substantiated a belief in curses. Oh, sure, there was the Alex Gonzalez error, and the fact that the Cubs didn’t get out of that 8th inning anyway, but who cares? This moment encapsulated a century of failure.

8. 1979 Daytona 500 Ending- People are going to question this, but there’s a very good argument for this being so high. This was in the days before cable TV was a thing, you watched what the broadcast networks had, and that was it. It was the dead period of the sports year, and a massive winter storm pretty much snowed the entire east coast in. In other words, most of the country was tuned into the first ever live, flag to flag televised Nascar race ever. And what they saw would have had anyone and everyone talking.
7. Do You Believe in Miracles- As mentioned earlier, we Americans love displaying that contrived patriotism, and the Olympics are our favorite stage. Amazing how many people are huge hockey fans every four years, myself included. But this one was a little different. For starters, it was our good friends the soviets on the other side, and even better, we played the role of the one thing America loves the most, the underdog. And were we ever an underdog.

6. Mark McGwire 62- Baseball was undone by the strike and was in desperate need of something to help it recapture its place in our hearts. While at the time we were naive to the long term ramifications, or perhaps just turning a blind eye, we got it with Mark McGwire and the great home run race of 1998. The night McGwire hit 62, every last one of us was glued to the TV, and if we could’ve been, glued to Twitter.

5. Dale Earnhardt’s Death- Earnhardt’s death remains as large as any death in American sports history. From the sheer magnitude thanks to his mega superstar status, to the safety reform all throughout motorsports, all the way to being on the cover of Time Magazine, this was big. Adding to it was that never before had such a superstar in any sport been killed while in competition. Throw in the fact that any time Nascar comes up the absurd discussion (and I purposefully don’t use the word debate, because its not one) as to whether its a sport or not takes hold, and you have the epitome of a Twitter takeover.

4. Brawl at the Palace- It will always go down as one of the darkest days in American sports, and it seemed to personify everything that was perceived to be wrong about the NBA. To say it was ugly barely scratches the surface. And of course, this story put the race card in the center of the table where it couldn’t be ignored.

3. Baseball Cancels End of 1994 Season- Albeit for entirely different reasons, the day they announced there would be no World Series in 1994 was equally as dark. And while of a different nature, battle lines were drawn. Were you a fan of billionaire owners or millionaire players? Or did you hate them both? We think we suffer through no baseball from November to March, imagine being told in August there’d be no baseball until….. Until who knows when.

2. Magic AIDS Announcement- The religious moral police? The acceptance of homosexuality? Race? Yeah, let’s roll them all into one and see how many of us don’t lose about twenty followers a day. The Macklemore performance had people typically friendly involved on heated discussions where animosity was clear. Just imagine this. This was the day AIDS became real. This went beyond the arguably greatest basketball player of a generation retiring early. Transcendent was made part of the dictionary just for stories like this.

1. The O.J. Trial Verdict- As big as the Magic story was, the verdict coming down on the biggest trial in American history trumps it. From a pure historical and societal context this story alone contends for the top spot. Think about the Casey Anthony and George Zimmermann verdicts and recall how huge those stories were. Recall the debates, arguments, and vitriol spawned from them. Now make it O.J. Simpson, no regular Joe who is only famous because of his trial, and you have, pre 9/11, the biggest news story, period, of our generation.

There were also stories that lacked a defining moment, but were themselves large enough, and captivating enough, that I’d be remiss to ignore them.

Ray Lewis Atlanta Murders Saga

Tiger Woods First Masters Win

Latrell Spreewell Choking Incident

Mike Tyson Rape Case

John Elway vs Baltimore Colts Standoff

And strictly for my own Atlanta people, there’s a few that for could vie for a top five overall spot. So here are the twenty-five moments that would’ve broken Atlanta twitter

25. Jamal Tears ACL 1999
24. Otis Nixon, The Catch
23. Bobby Hebert to Terrance Mathis and Into the Playoffs
22. Calvin Johnson vs Clemson
21. Signed Greg Maddux
20. Greene to Michael Johnson vs Auburn
19. Colorado 5th Down
18. Lindsey Scott
17. Marvin Williams Over Chris Paul
16. Otis Nixon Bunts to Finish 1992 World Series
15. Hideo Nomo Named Rookie of the Year
14. John Rocker
13. Reggie Ball on Fourth Down
12. We’ll See You Tomorrow Night, Kirby Puckett
11. Acquired pick to draft Michael Vick
10. Jasper Sanks “Fumble”
9. Eric Gregg’s Strike Zone
8. Bobby Petrino Quits
7. Vick Breaks Leg
6. Clinch 1991 National League Pennant
5. Jim Leyritz
4. Gary Andersen’s Miss
3. Morten Andersen’s Make
2. Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win!
1. World Champs

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The Ultimate Hate List

So which athletes did, and do, I openly root against? Who makes me cringe at their mere presence? Who gives me nightmares? Who am I sick of hearing about? With no further explanation, my twenty most reviled sports stars.

20. Ernie Irvan- He wasn’t a bad guy, but he wrecked a lot of racecars, and not just his. Accidents he directly caused ended Neil Bonnett’s career, broke Kyle Petty’s leg, and Dale Earnhardt’s clavicle. He also cost Bill Elliott a potential third Daytona 500 and second championship.

19. Jerry Rice- Without the Falcons, Jerry Rice goes down as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. The Atlanta Falcons made him arguably the greatest football player of all-time.

18. Kirby Puckett- Game six. That’s all.

17. Bryce Harper- He’s the face of the baseball team I hate the most, idolized by the most moronic and delusional fan base in sports. That alone is enough. The cocky arrogance he plays with that goes above and beyond what’s called for, cement his place.

16. Carmelo Anthony- I don’t know exactly why, but I just do not like him. He’s overrated, if you ask me. Sure, he’s a great scorer, but what else? A great teammate? A leader? A defender? These ideas make me laugh. Yet he fancies himself on the same elite platform as Lebron or Durant.

15. Dale Earnhardt- As a person off the track, there are few better. I have my own personal story from Dixie Speedway in the fall of 1990 to attest to that. But I can’t ignore what happened on the track. He wrecked people, constantly, and intentionally. Some loved the hard charging, rough driving style. I didn’t. To me, he took good hard racing to unacceptable levels of just plain dirty driving. And anybody who was ever anybody during his prime, can cite plenty of examples. Waltrip, Wallace, Elliott, Bodine, Marlin, Labonte, etc…, you name ’em.

14. Eli Manning- I can’t put him here simply because he’s the most overrated quarterback since another SEC quarterback in New York was a part of a monumental Super Bowl upset. No, that alone isn’t enough. But much like John Elway years before, I absolutely loathe the manner he dictated which team he would go to upon being drafted by threatening not to even play if the Chargers drafted him. Who do you think you are? Seriously. What you are is the second coming of Joe Namath. Hype and great moments overshadow what a mediocre quarterback he is.

13. Terrell Owens- Does this really require explanation? Arrogant? Jerk? Locker room cancer? Everything you could possibly not want in a teammate. So much of it that the fact he was a great football player hardly even mattered.

12. Roger Clemens- He’s kind of like an Alex Rodriguez light. And not THAT light a version. He’s delusional, arrogant, self centered, and a liar. The stunt with Piazza and his incredulous explanation sums this asshole up perfectly.

11. Kyle Busch- I don’t mind cockiness and arrogance, “I like that in a pilot”. But you can go too far. I’m sorry, what Daytona 500, or Brickyard 400, or Coke 600 have you won? Have you even contended for a championship? Oh, you manage to regularly beat up on guys at the AA and AAA levels? Good for you. And this, “I’ve never wrecked someone on purpose”, bit. I really don’t know why he isn’t higher. Maybe the cease and desist letter from him endeared me to him a bit.

10. Drew Brees- Someone from the Saints has to be on this list, and Brees is as good a choice as anyone. He’s a guy who strikes me as less than genuine, and much more about self promotion than people think. To me, he’s done a fabulous job convincing people he’s this selfless, great team guy. I think he loves the attention all that brings on him. And he regularly kicks our ass.

9. Michael Vick- The despicable dog fighting aside, how many times can a player “rededicate” himself? Vick was given the keys to the franchise, and then spit on the face of everyone associated with it. His admittance that he put in minimal effort? Yeah, I’ll never root for his success on the football field.

8. Reggie Ball- If I didn’t actually number each person on this list, Reggie would have no idea where he ranks.

7. Richard Sherman- I think rule number one in sports and in competition is to respect your opponent. If you two want to talk trash on the field between the two if you, that’s fine. But I take issue when you publicly disrespect your peers. And if you’re going to talk a lot, and talk even more when you back it up, then face the music when you fail to back it up. Richard Sherman ducked the media last year after losing to a team he assured us they’d beat, and being burned by an overrated, sorry, “system wide receiver”.

6. Deangelo Hall- The only reason Sherman isn’t 6th. Hall is everything Sherman is, except a great player.

5. Kevin Garnet- Garnett defines bully. He rarely runs his mouth to people his own size or bigger, but he has no reservations about mixing it up with someone smaller than him. He’s a great player, but he’s an instigative bully that walks around like he’s never done anything wrong.

4. Kurt Busch- He and his brother are similar. The difference is, Kyle pretty much owns his black hat. Kurt pretends it’s everyone’s fault but his. Everything he says that tries to dispel that comes across as fake and contrived.

3. Alex Rodriguez- His own players union wants to expel him. Does anything more really need to be said? He’s the biggest fraud since that guy who nearly bought the Islanders. He’s the most disingenuous public figure I can think of. And to think, he was almost a Brave. Yikes.

2. Ray Lewis- I don’t care what he plead to. Ray Lewis was either partially (to what extent, we’ll never know) responsible for the death of another human being, or in the very least, responsible for the fact the killers never received justice. What makes it worse is how Lewis used this to make himself a victim, and talk about how Good was testing him, and citing this incident as his path to faith. Are you kidding me? People may hate the way Tim Tebow invokes God at every turn, but it doesn’t even compare to Ray Lewis. So spare me the “leadership”, and the theatrics, and dramatic speeches. Ray Lewis knows why a man was killed, but chose rather to cover up what happened to protect his friends, and then call himself a victim. Ok.

1. Jim Leyritz- I’m not even going here

15 most disliked media members

15. Matt Millen
14. Joe Simpson
13. Shannon Sharpe
12. Charles Davis
11. Joe Buck
10. Harold Reynolds
9. Phil Simms
8. Tim McCarver
7. Mitch Williams
6. Mark May
5. Skip Bayless
4. Donovan McNabb
3. Pam Ward
2. Chip Caray
1. Joe Morgan

10 most disliked coaches

10.Buddy Ryan
9. John Calipari
8. Tony Larussa
7. Barry Switzer
6. Lane Kiffin
5. Nick Saban
4. Bill Belichek
3. Urban Meyer
2. Sean Payton
1. Bobby Petrino

Dishonorable mentions- Yasiel Puig, Danny White, Manny Ramirez, Jeff George, Albert Belle, Jay Cutler, Matt Barnes, Dwyane Wade, Robert Smith, Kent Hrbek, Armando Benitez, Dwight Howard, Milton Bradley, Donovan McNabb, Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle, Ben Roethlisberger, Randy Moss, Latrell Spreewell

*There are obviously a slew of criminal athletes, even murderers, but some were before my time, and others were too inconsequential as an athlete to be considered*

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Ranking the Daytona 500s of the Last Thirty 30 Years; 21-25

25. 2003 Daytona 500

About the only thing anyone remembers from 2003 besides the rain.

About the only thing anyone remembers from 2003 besides the rain.

The 2003 Daytona 500 may go down as one of the strangest Daytona 500s ever. This was during the period of DEI dominance at the restrictor plates, and the 2003 Daytona 500 was no exception. Just the previous Thursday, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Michael Waltrip had started, and finished, first and second in their Gatorade 125 Mile Qualifier. And on an overcast Sunday at the beach, it appeared a similar story was being written.

Earnhardt however would suffer from electrical problems and would fall multiple laps in arrears, effectively taking him out of contention for his first Daytona 500 victory. Waltrip however was still around, and it appeared his stiffest competition would be from either Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson. While Earnhardt may have no longer been in contention for the victory himself, he still was in position to play a huge role in deciding just who would go to victory lane.

A caution flew on lap 96, and following the pit stops by the leaders, Jimmie Johnson emerged as the leader for the first time. Waltrip (64) and Earnhardt (22) had led 86 of the first 95 laps of the event and it would appear to only be a matter of time before Waltrip would make his way back to the front. Earnhardt was at this point still battling to make up the multiple laps he’d lost while suffering through his ailments earlier in the day. Time, however, was not on anyone’s side this day. Well, perhaps it was on one man’s side.

The race restarted and only three green flag laps were run, as another caution flew, this one for debris. Johnson still maintained the lead, but lining up to his inside on the restart would be the car of Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was two laps down. This was before the days of the double file restart with only lead-lap cars, and wave arounds, and lucky dogs. This was when the lead lap cars restarted on the outside, and the cars one or more laps in arrears restarted on the bottom. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. It made all the difference in the world on this day.

Immediately after the green dropped on lap 106 Waltrip dropped from his spot on Johnson’s bumper to the bottom line behind teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt raced past Johnson to bring himself back to just one lap down, but more importantly, he pulled Waltrip with him. Everyone knew that the two DEI cars hooked up together were next to unbeatable. So the circumstances surrounding what turned out to be the final restart did not at all make Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus very happy.

While the leaders were coming off of turn four, defending Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton crashed, bringing out the race’s third caution in the last twelve laps. It would be the final caution. The skies completely opened up while the field was pacing around the track, and it did not take long for NASCAR to call the race after just 109 laps, or 272.5 miles.

The irony in it all was that once again, Waltrip was denied a true victory lane celebration of a Daytona 500 victory. Amazing, for a man who won two Daytona 500s (though many hesitate to say that, considering this one wasn’t even the distance of the Nationwide race that precedes it on Saturday), he’s yet to truly experience victory lane in The Great American Race.

Kurt Busch would wind up second, and it would not be the last time he would be the bridesmaid, while Johnson took third. Earnhardt would never get the chance to make up his other lost lap, but of course, if you’ve been reading you know, he would take the checkered flag the very next February.

The race itself saw just 11 lead changes during its 109 laps, and only Waltrips pass of Johnson on the restart took place under green. Coupled with the weather, and the shortened distance, there really wasn’t much to enjoy about this Daytona 500. Ryan Newman’s accident, and the subplots of Waltrip winning another Daytona 500 that seemed to be marred and overshadowed by a bigger story are the only things that made this race remotely memorable.

24. 1985 Daytona 500

A portrait of dominance

A portrait of dominance

When it comes down to it, there may not have been a less competitive Daytona 500 in the past 30 years than the 1985 edition. And it’s for that reason, actually, that it doesn’t rank as the least enjoyable of the past thirty years.

The 1985 Daytona 500 should in fact be appreciated for what it was. And what it was was a domination of unheard of proportions, and of proportions that will never be seen again at the famed 2.5 mile track. What Bill Elliott managed to do to the field at Daytona in the February of 1985 bordered on criminal.

Elliott had already won the pole with a track record lap that bettered 205 mph, and was over a full mph faster than outside pole sitter Cale Yarborough. On Thursday, Elliott went out and proceeded to absolutely crush what fleeting hope anyone had of catching the red Ford by leading all 50 laps of his Twin 125 Qualifier…..and lapping all but five cars. That’s right, in a 50 lap sprint at Daytona, Elliott left a mere five cars on the lead lap and won by 37 seconds. Yes, 37 seconds. If Elliott didn’t break, nobody had a chance on Sunday.

And as it would happen, Elliott did not break. But just about everybody else did in their attempts, futile at that, to try and keep up the pace. By days end, only 18 of the 40 starters were still running at the finish, and only Lake Speed finished on the same lap as Elliott. The list of names who succumbed to Elliott’s prowess was long and distinguished. Nobody had anything for the youngster from Georgia, and anyone who tried to keep the pace found themselves in the garage.

At one point in the race Elliott built up a 44 second lead. Again, you’re reading this right, a 44 second lead. Apparently NASCAR didn’t like the way Elliott was stinking up their show however and had him come to pit road to repair a hole over the headlight cover. Elliott made his stop, lost the lead as the crew made the repairs, rejoined the fray and he was back in the lead again in 10 laps.

The 1985 Daytona 500 was not particularly enjoyable to watch, and it certainly was not competitive as Elliott led for 136 laps. However, what it was, was something we won’t ever witness again. What it was was a case of man and machine completely dominating every other combination of man and machine to levels that were just unfathomable. People talk about how dominant the Morgan-McClure car was at the plate tracks for a stretch in the mid 90s, or the DEI dominance of the early 2000s, or even of Jimmie Johnson’s success at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. None of those compare to how dominant Bill Elliott was at Daytona during Speed Weeks in 1985. Never since has one man been such a heavy favorite entering a NASCAR race, and for good reason. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

23. 2012 Daytona 500

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Daytona 500 history

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Daytona 500 history

The most recent edition of the Daytona 500 is remembered much more for things that happened while the green flag was NOT out, than what took place at speed on the racetrack.

For starters, for the first time ever, the Daytona 500 was pushed to Monday. The race had been shortened in the past, and it had been delayed. But it had never been postponed. As they say, there’s a first time for everything. Not that FOX, or NASCAR really seemed to mind. With inclement weather still lingering around on Monday, NASCAR was able to get a prime time Monday night showcase slot for it’s premier event, which so happened to also be the debut of one, Danica Patrick.

The race itself, to long-time NASCAR fans, wasn’t exactly a lot to write home about. The two Jack Roush cars of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle were clearly the class of the field, with seemingly the only driver with any possibility of besting the two blue ovals being Denny Hamlin. A first lap crash had already taken out Jimmie Johnson, as well as Danica Patrick. Hamlin seemed early on to be the class of the field, but anyone who’d seen the Roush cars all week long knew how stout they were. And in the second half of the race the two flexed their muscle.

The end was fairly anti-climatic. Kenseth led the final 38 laps, an unheard of number in today’s day and age of plate racing, and was never seriously challenged at the end. Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed to get around Kenseth’s teammate Greg Biffle for 2nd, but Earnhardt had no chance of passing Kenseth without any drafting help, and obviously, Biffle wasn’t going to be helping a Chevrolet beat his teammate.

However, it almost came to be that Kenseth never got to lead those last 38 laps. And had that stayed true, this Daytona 500 would have gone down as one of the most memorable ever.

NASCAR has a way of having big moments happen when the national television spotlight is brightest. In 1979 when they televised the race flag to flag live for the first time, there was the fight. In 2001, when FOX televised its first race, there was Dale Earnhardt’s death. And, then in 2012 when NASCAR got its first Monday Night race, there was Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet-dryer. Darrell Waltrip likes to say in the booth, “have you ever?” The answer in this case, from anyone who saw this, was, “No”.

Montoya’s escapade into the jet dryer left jet fuel spilling all over the race track in turn three, and the possibility of damage to the track’s surface made it very possible the race would not be restarted. Had that happened, Dave Blaney would be your defending Daytona 500 champion.

Of course, after a lengthy clean-up, and lots of Tide, and Brad Keselowski tweeting pictures from inside his car, the race did re-start. So, as it stands, the Montoya/jet-dryer explosion makes this race memorable. But had it allowed Dave Blaney to be a Daytona 500 winner, it would have been one of the most memorable of all-time.

22. 2006 Daytona 500

With his victory in 2006, Jimmie Johnson has avoided the question that dogged Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, and now haunts Tony Stewart; Will you ever win the big one?

With his victory in 2006, Jimmie Johnson has avoided the question that dogged Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, and now haunts Tony Stewart; Will you ever win the big one?

It wasn’t that the 2006 Daytona 500 wasn’t competitive, there were 32 lead changes among 18 different drivers. It was just that it was…….well, what was it? And there in lies the problem. There is no identity to this edition of the Daytona 500, nothing memorable to stand out. Well, I guess you could count Tony Stewart body slamming Matt Kenseth into the grass down the backstretch, only days after Stewart himself claimed, “We’re going to kill somebody driving like this”. But aside from that?

Perhaps it’s more memorable for Ryan Newman, Dodge, and Chip Ganassi. It was on this night that they realized Casey Mears would opt to help someone from his home state win, and driving a rival team’s car, in a rival manufacturer, as opposed to helping a fellow Dodge. Newman made a move on race leader Jimmie Johnson on the back stretch of the final lap, expecting help from a fellow Dodge lined up behind him. Instead, the Dodge driver decided his allegiances to California were deeper than those to the manufacturer of his race cars, and he Mears stuck with Johnson, handing Johnson the win.

For Johnson it was particularly sweet, as early during Speed Weeks NASCAR had kindly, or maybe not so kindly, escorted Chad Knaus out of the race track, and told him he was not welcome back to the track for six weeks after they found some creative workings of his on the race car to be a little too blatant a smudging of the rules. Interesting enough, the man filling in on the top of the pit box for Knaus was none other than Darian Grubb, he off the 2012 Sprint Cup championship with Tony Stewart.

I feel like there should be more to say here, but, really, there just isn’t. The race was competitive, so it wasn’t boring, and there was drama at the conclusion. There was just something missing…….

21. 1986 Daytona 500

Quite possibly the finest looking race car to ever win a Daytona 500

Quite possibly the finest looking race car to ever win a Daytona 500

The 1986 Daytona 500, despite NASCAR’s efforts to slow down the Fords, particularly one built in a tiny shop in Dawsonville, Ga, seemed very similar to its predecessor. Bill Elliott was on the pole, qualifying at over 205 mph….again.

But Elliott’s ’86 Ford wasn’t as dominant as his 1985 model had been. Partly due to NASCAR rules aimed to slow him down, and partly due to the diligence and work of the other teams in the garage, particularly the Chevrolets owned by Richard Childress and upstart owner Rick Hendrick, the elite competition seemed on an even playing field with Elliott.

Setting the stage was the budding rivalry that Richard Childress and his driver Dale Earnhardt had already established with Rick Hendrick and Geoff Bodine. On track skirmishes were frequent between the two, and even after this Daytona 500, would remain so. So much so, the feud between Rowdy Burns and Cole Trickle, and the meeting with NASCAR at the hospital was modeled after the rivalry between these two Chevy drivers.

For Sunday, Bodine had qualified on the outside pole along side Elliott and finished 2nd in his Twin 125 Mile Qualifer…..second to Earnhardt.

The race saw 19 lead changes in the first 113 laps, as the Fords, particularly Elliott, were not able to run away and hide. Elliott was in contention of course, but the race changed dramatically on the 117th lap. Neil Bonnett, who had led 32 laps earlier in the race, had suffered mechanical problems and found himself 18 laps off the pace. Yet, for some reason, he was still up at the front of the pack mixing it up with the leaders. This proved to be fatal to the hopes of many contenders. Bonnett broke a wheel on lap 117, and by the time he had collected all he was going to eliminate, he’d ended the hopes of Elliott, Cale Yarborough, Joe Ruttman, Buddy Baker and Tommy Ellis among others. At this point, it was pretty much down to Earnhardt and Bodine.

Bodine would dominate the second half of the race, but many, Bodine included, will tell you it was only because Earnhardt let him. Bodine would later say that as the race wound down, that Earnhardt’s Wrangler Monte Carlo was the faster of the two Chevrolets, even though Bodine led over half of the event. Bodine held the lead late, but Earnhardt was in the cat bird seat, exactly where he wanted, and needed to be, to win the Daytona 500. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.

Aided by pitting one lap after Earnhardt came to pit road, and by superior gas mileage, Bodine was able to stretch his fuel to the end, while Earnhardt could not. Earnhardt, likely from frustration and anger at losing the Daytona 500 in heartbreaking fashion (and it would not be the last) slid through his pit, and then when taking off from pit-road, tore something up in the motor, relegating him to a 14th place finish.

For Bodine and Hendrick, it was a sign that the used car salesman from Charlotte was serious about this stock car racing thing. It was the first big win for Hendrick, and as we all know, it would not be his last. For Bodine, this win would easily mark the highlight of his career. It also wouldn’t be the last time a Hendrick car won the Daytona 500 thanks to some impressive fuel mileage.

The budding rivalry between Bodine and Earnhardt had a few more coals added to the fire with this outcome. And for Earnhardt, little did he know how many more tries it would take to get a Daytona 500. It was already the second time he’d lost one in the closing laps, and as mentioned, it would not be the last.

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