Classic Motorsport: The 2002 Daytona 500 - Two Veterans Outrun By The Underdog #BlogPost

The 44th annual Daytona 500 was an absolute thriller, and I’ve chosen to dive into the race in detail. The 2002 edition of the race was one of the wildest Daytona 500’s in the race’s 58 Year History. A new aerodynamic package encouraged drivers to be much more aggressive when overtaking and also in their blocking, the race being after NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt passed away in the 2001 edition of the race. The 2002 Daytona 500 had a reputation to live up to before the race even started, and it delivered that afternoon.

The Begining

500 miles of racing began under a clear sky and warm weather, with Rookie Jimmie Johnson leading Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon to the green flag. The pack of 43 cars lined up in a two-by-two formation for the first 2 Laps until the race eliminated its first contender. Tony Stewart, who would go on to win the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship, lost power in his motor and coasted quietly around the apron of the race track, ending his race only 5 miles into the 500 mile event.

Soon after, 2001 Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip took the lead from Kevin Harvick, with help from Dale Earnhardt Jr. After 20 laps of constant battling, the pack formed into a single file draft. However, on Lap 25, Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was running in 2nd at the time, lost a right front tire. The tire came apart and destroyed the right front fender apart, bringing out the first caution flag of the race, and sending Earnhardt to Pit Road.

The race restarted with Matt Kenseth leading the pack to the green flag, however Ken Schrader took the lead on the backstretch, with help from John Andretti. Through this run, however, eyes were not focused on Schrader, but rather on Dale Earnhardt Jr. In the 44 laps run before green flag pit stops, Earnhardt Jr., with a duck-tape patch where his right front fender should have been, drove from 42nd position all the way up to 11th. Schrader held the lead over Sterling Marlin and Jerry Nadeau until lap 74, when a cycle of pit stops started.

On lap 79, Dave Marcus lost an engine, bringing out the 2nd caution flag of the race. On the restart, Brett Bodine was tagged by Kenny Wallace, sending him spinning and bringing out yet another caution. Soon after, another long green flag stretch started, with Sterling Marlin making a daring 3-wide pass for the lead on Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte. Dale Jarrett overtook for 2nd position and rode in that place until disaster struck for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

At the halfway point in the race, Dale Jr. lost a right rear tire at 190mph (306kph), sending him flying sideways through the infield grass. Earnhardt held onto the car, but his brake line had been punctured by the tire. Earnhardt would struggle on, eventually finishing in 29th position.

Once past halfway, the racing became frantic and fast, and the rules package became the big story of the day. Blocking became aggressive, and the distance between driver’s front and rear bumpers became a matter of millimeters. The battle for the lead between Sterling Marlin, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon became chaotic, and on Lap 148 of 200, Turn 1 became a junkyard.

Going into Turn 1 on Lap 148, Jeff Gordon made a move on Kevin Harvick, Harvick attempted to block Gordon, however Gordon was already below him. Harvick and Gordon made contact, sending Harvick through the infield grass and back up onto the racing surface. 18 cars were collected, and Harvick, who seemingly had a winning car, was eliminated from contention.

The minimized field followed Sterling Marlin to the green flag. Jeff Gordon retook the lead soon after, and Sterling settled in behind. A little-known Virginian driver racing in the now defunct Bill Davis Racing #22 Car, was making his way up through the pack, however. His name was Ward Burton, he drove his way from 6th to 3rd in only a few laps, before settling behind Marlin and Gordon. Another driver was barging his way through the pack, Rookie Kurt Busch took the lead of the race with 39 laps remaining, shuffling Gordon, Burton and Marlin out of the front. Busch led Elliott Sadler and Michael Waltrip until Jimmie Johnson lost a tire going into Turn 1, taking the same route Harvick did earlier in the race. Johnson collected Jeff Green but both carried on with only a few bent fenders.

Under that caution, Waltrip and Sadler pitted, putting Gordon and Marlin behind Busch. On the restart with 24 Laps remaining, Gordon used the lap down car of Ricky Craven as a pick, and made a daring pass on Kurt Busch for the lead in Turn 4. With 15 Laps remaining, Ward Burton made a pass for 3rd on Ryan Newman. The Top 3 looked similar to earlier, with Gordon leading Marlin with Burton. Then, everything hit the fan.

With 10 Laps left, Robby Gordon and Rusty Wallace made contact in Turn 2, sending Gordon into the wall. The 5 car breakaway with Jeff Gordon, Sterling Marlin, Ward Burton, Elliott Sadler and Geoffrey Bodine’s advantage was erased. The restart became vital in determining the race.

Gordon’s car had been tough to pass all race, and Sterling Marlin knew he had to get by Gordon on the restart. The green flag came back out with 5 laps left. Further back in the pack, Michael Waltrip missed a shift, Waltrip was tagged and an 8 car wreck occurred. In 2002, the running order at the Start/Finish line determined the order of the field under caution, so when the yellow came out for this accident, the leaders would race back to the line. Marlin, sensing his chance, drove below Gordon out of the Tri-Oval, Gordon attempted to block, but Marlin didn’t lift off the gas, tagging the left rear of Gordon’s car and sending him spinning through the infield grass.

The battle continued into Turn 1 however as Ward Burton sensed his chance to take the lead. Burton made a charge on the outside of Marlin, Elliott Sadler hopped up to the outside of Marlin, while Geoffrey Bodine decided to draft with Marlin. The Top 6 cars raced off Turn 4 two-by-two, Marlin and Burton were almost dead even at the finish line, with Marlin beating Burton by less than a foot. However, the race was not over, with NASCAR throwing the red flag to prevent any more caution laps to be run than needed. Marlin, who’s damaged right front fender was rubbing against his right front tire. Marlin would then make the biggest mistake of his career.

To the dismay of everyone, Marlin hopped out of his car to go check the right front fender. When he saw it was bent in on his right front tire, he started to try to pull it off the tire. Working on the car under red flag conditions is illegal in NASCAR, and Marlin had just done his in front of millions of people, and more importantly, NASCAR officials, who sent Marlin to the rear of the field, taking him from 1st place, all the way back to outside the Top 10.

Ward Burton inherited the lead, with Geoff Bodine behind him. The race restarted with 3 Laps to go. Burton blocked Bodine all the way down to the grass and Elliott Sadler was able to get by Bodine on the outside, putting Sadler behind Burton for the last 2 1/2 laps. Sadler weaved and dived, trying everything to get by Burton as they came to the last lap. Burton led at the White Flag and as they headed for Turn 1, Dale Jarrett was tagged by Mark Martin, sending Jarrett spinning through the infield and depriving Sadler of drafting help. Sadler laid back to get a run on Burton, Bodine pushed Sadler as hard as he could and as they came off Turn 4, Sadler made his move by trying to go high, then low on Burton. Burton was able to block Sadler and became the winner of the 2002 Daytona 500.

Ward Burton got his 4th career win in the Daytona 500, Sterling Marlin finished 8th and Jeff Gordon 9th. The race ended with 20 Lead Changes, 8 Cautions and was run at an average speed of 130.810mph (210.518kph).

Watch the full race here:

Did you enjoy this article? Should write more about Classic Motorsport Races? Comment below!



Nice post dude, a post about the last tace of lauda would be great
Good job man

12/21/2016 - 19:48 |
0 | 0
.... 3

The real question here is whether I should continue to help Jack Leslie 🏁 not go insane during the racing offseason.

12/21/2016 - 19:48 |
1 | 0
Jack Leslie

In reply to by .... 3

Yes please 😂😂😂

12/21/2016 - 20:38 |
0 | 0

Well, damn! Nice job at writing this. Had me engaged. You should do more!

Also, all those crashes remind me of Forza lobbies lol

12/21/2016 - 19:52 |
3 | 0

I remember this well

12/21/2016 - 22:40 |
1 | 0

Sponsored Posts