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November 17, 2018

The Greatest Finish in the History of NASCAR: The Final-Lap Battle Between David Pearson and Richard Petty at Daytona, 1976

The 1976 Daytona 500, the 18th running of the event, happened on February 15th, 1976 at Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida. It is remembered for the late-race duel and accident between David Pearson and Richard Petty. Pearson got his car re-fired and limped across the line for the win while Petty’s car sat inches short of the finish line, where his crew came and pushed him across.

Many fans consider this finish to be the greatest in the history of NASCAR. The end of the race was televised live on American network ABC.

“Yet for all the races I won,” said Petty, “the race I’ll be remembered most for--and the one I remember most myself--was one I lost.”

“I wanted to move up in front of him to keep him from coming back around me. I thought I’d cleared him. I lacked about six inches,” Petty said later about the crash.

In the 1976 Daytona 500, Petty took the white flag in the lead, his No. 43 Petty Blue and Day-Glo Red Dodge ahead of the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury.

On the backstretch, Pearson went low, pushing hard for the win. Pearson took the lead going into Turn 3, with Petty moving to the bottom line to try and re-pass Pearson as the two entered Turn 4.

As they exited Turn 4, Petty was ahead of Pearson, but he got loose, drifted up the track and made contact with Pearson, sending the Wood Brothers Mercury nose first into the frontstretch wall.

Petty hit the wall a split second later, when he was well ahead of Pearson. But just as it appeared Petty would take the checkered flag and win another 500, his car spun into the infield and stalled, just yards short of the start-finish line.

Pearson, meanwhile, was able to re-fire his heavily damaged Mercury and limped to the checkered flag, taking the victory.

“He went around me … and I dove on under him and when I did, the front end broke loose and got him sideways,” said Petty.

“I drafted by him going down the backstretch and naturally, I guess, his car got to pushing or something and he just pushed right on up into me and spun me around and I got into the wall,” said Pearson in Victory Lane.

Petty’s crew attempted to push his car across the line, but that isn’t allowed under NASCAR rules. He still was credited with second place.

There were no hard feelings, just two warriors who had given their all, producing a finish that will be remembered for the ages.



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