“There’s a fight! Between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison. The tempers overflowing, they’re angry, they know they have lost.” – Ken Squire, Feb. 18, 1979.
One of the most famous moments in NASCAR history is a fight.
It was the Daytona 500. There was a last lap wreck. Two drivers came up short. A guy named Petty won.
Keep in mind a few things.
This was in February.
The Daytona 500, the Super Bowl of NASAR, wasn’t even the first race on the schedule yet. That honor fell to Riverside a month prior.
There were still 29 races left for the Winston Cup Series. The champion (Petty, again) wouldn’t be decided until November.
It’s now 2014. We’re two races from crowning a champion.
Everything old is new again. Sort of.
The Sprint Cup now has a playoff format. It’s making drivers do things they wouldn’t have in previous formats. We’re also seeing sides of drivers we haven’t seen in a long time.
Does this mean the format is a success?
In the immediate aftermath of the fall Charlotte race four weeks ago, I asked a fellow reporter if I could claim the post-race circus as my “personal 1979 Daytona 500.”
The question was sort of laughed off in “there’s no way this equals the moment that defined the sport for a generation” kind of way.
Well, what about now?
Three weeks later: Different set of drivers, similar circumstances.
NASCAR needed drama. When one driver wins six championships in eight years, there’s not a lot of room to debate this.
They’ve gotten it and then some.
For the second time in four it weeks, the next 24 hours will not be filled with talk about championship chances and race winners. The talk will revolve around what happened between two (or three) drivers and a horde of crew members on pit road after everything that actually counts.
While the events of the 1979 Daytona 500 are memorable, there were other circumstances that influenced its positive impact on the sport. A blizzard kept most of the east coast indoors that weekend watching TV.
Also, the NFL season was over.
Now, in the early days of November, with the NFL season in full swing and no snow apocalypse in sight, NASCAR’s championship needs to stay in the spotlight.
Luckily it’s doing it with on-and-off the track events.
With the fights at Charlotte and Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s aggressively earned win at Martinsville and the conclusion of the Talladega race, we’re getting everything the sport has to offer.