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Best Daytona 500 Finish Ever? 1976

Submitted by on February 15, 2009

Being Australian, I have to confess that up until this point, I have struggled to understand NASCAR. But I get it now!

Until recently we didn’t get it on TV and of course we didn’t know who the drivers were. Sure we had heard of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and more recently Jeff Gordon, but it was completely foreign to all but the motor racing die hards. We sure didn’t talk about it in the pub, like we do about Bathurst and Formula 1.

Perhaps that is all about to change with Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose lining up tonight as the first ever Australian to compete in the Daytona 500.

Marcos will start from 23rd place after finishing a credible 13th in the Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

I like Marcos, and I know him a little bit having competed against him in the Australian Formula Ford Championship in 1996 and 1997. In fact to save costs we shared a Transporter for the Perth and Adelaide rounds in ’96, back in the days when he was backed by his families Leisure Inns Hotels company.

I always found Marcos to be fair and sporting, but who would have thought he would have the balls and determination to reach the top in Australian V8 supercars and then start all over again and have a crack at NASCAR in the USA.

Let’s be clear about just what an achievement just making the grid is. Consider that no fewer than 60 foreign drivers (and more since this article was written in 2006) have attempted to crack NASCAR and the best finish between them is a 5th place in 1965 for Pedro Rodriguez.

Marcos has his work cut out for him, but I actually think the record books should show Marcos is already the best of all the internationals with a best finish of 3rd place at Watkins Glen in 2008. Let me know if I’m wrong!

There have been seven Australians who have previously started a NASCAR race, but none who have been employed for a full season at the top level like Marcos. They are Frank Gardner, 1968, Tony Spanos, 1987, Allan Grice, 1987, Dick Johnson, 1989, Terry Byres, 1989, Geoff Brabham, 1994 and Adam Clarke in 2002.

Oh and in regards to the video above. It shows the last lap duel between Richard Petty and David Pearson at Daytona in 1976. Regarded by many as the best ever Daytona 500 finish. The drivers collided, but Pearson managed to limp home and take his only Daytona 500 win!

To this day, Petty still laments the outcome in the ’76 Daytona 500, saying, “The race I’ll be remembered most for, and the one I’ll remember most, is the one I lost.”

The full story of the Petty -Pearson rivalry and the classic 1976 finish can be found here.

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