2001 Daytona 500
|Race 1 of 36 in the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
The layout of Daytona International Speedway, where the race was held.
|Date||February 18, 2001|
|Location||Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida, US
|Course||Permanent racing facility
2.5 mi (4.02336 km)
|Distance||200 laps, 500 mi (804.672 km)|
|Weather||Temperatures reading up to 79.0°F (26.1°C); wind speeds up to 29.92 miles per hour (48.15 km/h)|
|Average speed||161.783 miles per hour (260.365 km/h)|
|Driver||Bill Elliott||Evernham Motorsports|
|Qualifying race winners|
|Duel 1 Winner||Sterling Marlin||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|Duel 2 Winner||Mike Skinner||Richard Childress Racing|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Ward Burton||Bill Davis Racing|
||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|Television in the United States|
|Announcers||Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds|
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was the first race of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. It was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile (4 km) asphalt tri-oval. The race was the first ever Winston Cup telecast shown by the Fox network, which had received broadcasting rights along with NBC at the end of the previous season, replacing the two former NASCAR broadcasters CBS and ESPN. Bill Elliott won the pole and Michael Waltrip, in his first race in the #15 NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored car for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., won the race. This was the 1st Winston Cup victory of his career, coming in his 463rd start after 462 races without a win. His teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 2nd and Rusty Wallace finished 3rd.
In the race's final lap, a major accident was triggered by 1998 Daytona 500 winner and 7-time series champion Dale Earnhardt losing control of his car and collecting Ken Schrader in a head-on collision with the outside retaining wall. 3 cars were involved in the crash, which resulted in Earnhardt's death. The race was also marred by an 18-car pileup on lap 173 that began when Robby Gordon made contact with Ward Burton, sending Tony Stewart flipping twice down the backstretch. After Earnhardt's death (as well as other notable deaths of other drivers in other NASCAR national touring series in the previous season), NASCAR implemented rigorous safety improvements in later seasons.
Polesitter Bill Elliott led the field to the green flag, but he only led 1 lap before Sterling Marlin (one of the qualifying race winners) passed him for the lead. On lap 49, Jeff Purvis hit the wall between turns 3 & 4, bringing out the 1st caution. The race restarted and stayed under a long green-flag run that lasted 105 laps, in which Ward Burton led the most. On lap 85, Dale Earnhardt and rookie Kurt Busch made door-to-door contact coming out of turn 4 while battling for 5th place. Earnhardt promptly flipped Busch the bird at 185 mph or as described by lap-by-lap commentator Mike Joy, he simply was saying "Kurt, you're number 1".
The 2nd caution came on lap 157 when Busch, trying to pass Joe Nemechek, hit the wall in turn 3 and then slid across the track right through the infield and onto pit road. On lap 167, Steve Park took the lead, only to be passed by his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip on the next lap.
On lap 173, a huge multi-car pileup eliminated 18 cars in such a spectacular fashion. This began when Robby Gordon, coming onto the back straightaway, turned W. Burton in the outside lane. W. Burton then hit Tony Stewart, who turned back across the middle of the racetrack, collecting most of the field behind him. Only a few drivers, including Earnhardt; Ron Hornaday, Jr.; Elliott; and Ken Schrader, were able to avoid the wreck with intact cars. Stewart took the worst ride of every driver as his car, after being hit by Burton, then turned against the wall, caught a pocket of air, got pushed airborne over R. Gordon and then rolled off of his, flipped over twice, and then landed on top of Jason Leffler before coasting to a stop in the infield. Stewart's ride was instantly described as something similar to Richard Petty's rollover crash in the 1988 race. Bobby Labonte's hood broke off and got attached to Stewart's car before his engine caught fire. Mark Martin collided first with the outside wall, and then he was hit by at least 2 other cars, destroying the rear end of his. Martin managed to limp his car back to pit road and abandon it. The race was red-flagged for extensive cleanup. Also involved in this crash were Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Andy Houston, Buckshot Jones, Dale Jarrett (the defending Daytona 500 winner), Kenny Wallace, John Andretti, and Jerry Nadeau. When the red flag was over, the race restarted on lap 180, with Waltrip still out in front. Marlin led the next 3 laps before Waltrip took the lead again.
As the white flag waved for the final lap, both Earnhardt and his son Dale, Jr. were right behind Waltrip. Earnhardt, Jr. was in 2nd place in front of his dad. With less than 2 laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip in the Fox Sports booth commented that "Sterling [Marlin had] beat the front end off of that...that ole Dodge just trying to get around Dale [Earnhardt]." Heading into turn 3, Earnhardt, holding 3rd place, ran in the middle lane of the pack. Marlin, who was behind him on his left, ran in the inside one. Rusty Wallace drove his navy blue #2 Penske Racing Miller Lite-sponsored Ford directly behind Earnhardt and Schrader ran in the outside lane driving his yellow #36 M&M's-sponsored Pontiac. But then there came trouble—just as the field headed into into turn 4, Marlin came into contact with the left rear on Earnhardt's car, causing the fame #3 to slide off the track's steep banking onto the flat apron. Trying to correct at speed, Earnhardt sharply turned it up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as if he was going to avoid hitting the wall, Earnhardt went straight into Schrader's path. Schrader rammed into him behind the passenger door and Earnhardt's car snapped, rapidly changing its angle of toward the retaining wall. As Schrader came into contact, Earnhardt crashed into the wall nose-first at an estimated speed of 155-160 mph. Both cars slid down the steep banking off the track and into the infield grass.
Seconds later, Waltrip (after 462 races without a win) raced to the checkered flag to claim his first Winston Cup victory, with his teammate Earnhardt, Jr. finishing 2nd. R. Wallace finished 3rd, Ricky Rudd finished 4th, Elliott (the polesitter) finished 5th, R. Wallace's brother Mike finished 6th, Marlin (who got loose after making contact with Earnhardt) finished 7th, Bobby Hamilton finished 8th, Jeremy Mayfield finished 9th, and outside polesitter Stacy Compton came across the line 10th, finishing out the Top 10. Earnhardt and Schrader were credited with 12th and 13th places despite not finishing the race. Just after Waltrip won the race, the caution came out; this shielded Earnhardt and Schrader in their finishing spots. After crossing the finish line behind his teammate, Earnhardt, Jr. got out of his car and rushed over to his dad's situation. Earnhardt was extricated from his car and was transported by ambulance to the nearby Halifax Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 5:16 PM EST, reportedly surrounded by his wife Teresa, his team owner and closest friend Richard Childress, and his son Earnhardt, Jr. The official announcement of Earnhardt's death was made at about 7:00 PM by NASCAR president Mike Helton. The death of this 7-time Winston Cup Champion largely overshadowed Waltrip's first Winston Cup victory, as well as Stewart's flip in the lap 173 18-car crash.
- For the remainder of the season, the first two points races of the following season and the 2011 Daytona 500, racing fans, television and radio broadcasters would fall silent during lap 3 of every Winston Cup race in Earnhardt's honor. The 2002 Daytona 500, however, had its lap 3's silence broken when Tony Stewart's engine failed.
- "Sprint Cup Series Schedule". ESPN. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
- "Weather Information for the 2001 Daytona 500". The Old Farmer's Almanac. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- CNNSI.com: Earnhardt autopsy report answers, leaves questions
- Official results of 2001 Daytona 500 on Racing-Reference.info