2004 Daytona 500
|Race 1 of 36 in the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season|
Daytona International Speedway
|Date||February 15, 2004|
|Location||Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida|
|Course|| Permanent racing facility |
2.5 mi (4.02336 km)
|Distance||200 laps, 500 mi (804.672 km)|
|Weather||Temperatures reaching up to 73 °F (23 °C); wind speeds approaching 20 miles per hour (32 km/h)|
|Average speed||156.341 miles per hour (251.606 km/h)|
|Driver||Greg Biffle||Roush Racing|
|Qualifying race winners|
|Duel 1 Winner||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|Duel 2 Winner||Elliott Sadler||Robert Yates Racing|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Tony Stewart||Joe Gibbs Racing|
| No. 8
|| Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|Television in the United States|
|Announcers||Allen Bestwick, Benny Parsons, and Wally Dallenbach Jr.|
|Nielsen Ratings|| 10.6/24 |
(17.8 million viewers)
The 2004 Daytona 500, the 46th running of the event, was a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race held on February 15 at Daytona International Speedway. The race was televised by NBC, with Allen Bestwick, 1975 winner Benny Parsons, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. calling the action for the second time, following their 2002 commentary. It was the first NASCAR Nextel Cup race to air in high definition.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the race, 6 years to the day after his father, Dale Earnhardt, won his first and only Daytona 500, while 2002 Cup champion Tony Stewart finished second and rookie Scott Wimmer finished third.
Greg Biffle won his first career Nextel Cup Series pole, but an engine change during Speedweeks sent him to the rear of the field. The inside column of cars all moved forward one row, promoting Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who had won the Gatorade Duel, to the number one starting spot. Elliott Sadler won the second of Thursday's Gatorade 125s, after holding off two-time 500 winner Sterling Marlin. Of the 45 cars entered, the two who failed to qualify were Kirk Shelmerdine, driving his own #72 Ford Taurus, and ARCA veteran Andy Hillenburg in the #90 Ford Taurus, one of Junie Donlavey's final attempts at entering a Cup car.
Top finishers, Gatorade 125s
Before the start of the race, several cars had to move to the rear of the field: engine changes for polesitter Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Ricky Craven, and 1990 winner Derrike Cope. Rookie and Sprint Cup debutant Scott Riggs started from the rear in a backup car.
This meant that Gatorade Duel #1 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. became the polesitter and led the opening laps. Championship hopeful Mark Martin, coming off a disappointing 2003 season, exited the race with a blown engine on Lap 8, causing the first yellow of the day. On Lap 26 his Roush Racing teammate Jeff Burton joined him in the garage, likewise with an engine failure. Kevin Harvick produced the first lead change of the season on Lap 30. 4 laps later, Derrike Cope spun the Arnold Motorsports Dodge in Turn 4, collecting Scott Riggs and causing another caution. After the first round of pit stops, Tony Stewart became the leader. He and Jimmie Johnson swapped the lead a few times while navigating lapped cars (most of whom were on the "tail-end" of the lead lap, given that the Cope/Riggs accident happened during pit stops) before Earnhardt, Jr. reclaimed the lead.
On Lap 60 the third caution flag was displayed when Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader, and Jeff Green crashed their Dodge Intrepids on the backstretch. After the restart, Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr. dueled for the lead until a large crash occurred on lap 71, when rookies Brian Vickers and Johnny Sauter got together on the back straightaway, also collecting Michael Waltrip, John Andretti, Kevin Lepage, Terry Labonte, Johnny Benson, Scott Riggs, Ryan Newman, Robby Gordon, Sterling Marlin, and Jamie McMurray. Waltrip took the worst ride, as his car was sent into the infield grass. The friction, combined with the fact that the rains that had washed out the Busch race the day before, caused the tire rim to dig into the infield grass, and Waltrip's car flipped over three full times, kicking up a lot of dirt, before coming to a rest on its roof. A temporary delay under a long caution (although the race was not red-flagged) ensued as emergency crews debated whether or not to upright Waltrip's car before extricating him. The problem was exacerbated by Waltrip's size.
Jeff Gordon led the field at the Lap 81 restart. The last half of the race (laps 81-200) were run caution free. The main competitors during the second half of the race were still Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who combined led 101 of the final 120 laps (Earnhardt, Jr. and Stewart were the two strongest cars of the race, leading for more than 75% of the race, or 156 laps - 98 by Stewart, 56 by Earnhardt, Jr.). When the leaders pitted at Lap 137, rookie Johnny Sauter (5 laps down after accident damage) tried to pit with them, but had evident braking issues. He had to swerve to miss Kurt Busch (one lap down, after contact with Earnhardt, Jr. earlier in the race punctured a tire) and flew through the pitlane at over 100 mph. Wisely, he did not try to stop in his stall, and came around the track to try again. His speeding penalty dropped him further back. During the final round of pit stops, with approximately 30 laps remaining, Bud Shootout pole winner Greg Biffle tried to gain ground on the leaders at the pit entry, but was quite evidently faster than the pack of cars running at pit lane speed. He dropped behind them prior to pitting, but his speeding penalty dropped him out of the Top 10 and from contention for the win.
After the final pit stops, rookie Scott Wimmer of Bill Davis Racing was leading. The crew had only changed right-side tires, elevating him from a likely 7th or 8th place finish to a chance to win. Unfortunately, he had no drafting partner and was caught up by the faster Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr. with 25 laps to go. Earnhardt Jr. passed Tony Stewart on Lap 181 and held him off in the remaining laps to win his first Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. won the race exactly three years after his father's fatal crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, where Waltrip had won his first race, which itself came three years after Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500 win.
This pattern of a driver with some connection to Earnhardt winning the Daytona 500 every three years (since Earnhardt's win in 1998) has continued, with Kevin Harvick, who took over Earnhardt's ride after his death, winning in 2007 and Earnhardt Ganassi driver Jamie McMurray winning in 2010.
- Time of the Race: 3 hours, 11 minutes, 53 seconds (22 minutes, 58 seconds longer than Buddy Baker's 1980 record)
- Average Speed: 172.284 mph (Baker's record: 177.602 mph)
- Cautions: 4 for 23 laps
- Laps 8-11 (oil from Martin's blown engine)
- Laps 34-38 (Cope, Riggs Turn 4 accident)
- Laps 60-64 (Green, Schrader, Wallace backstretch accident)
- Laps 72-80 (Andretti, Benson, R.Gordon, T.Labonte, Lepage, Marlin, McMurray, Newman, Riggs, Sauter, Vickers, Waltrip backstretch accident).
- Lead Changes: 26 among 10 drivers;
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (1-29)
- Kevin Harvick (30-35)
- Tony Stewart (36-39)
- Jimmie Johnson (40-41)
- Tony Stewart (42-43)
- Jimmie Johnson (44-52)
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (53-58)
- Tony Stewart (59)
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (60)
- Tony Stewart (61-71)
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (72)
- Kyle Petty (73-77)
- Jeff Gordon (78-84)
- Tony Stewart (85-104)
- Jimmie Johnson (105-107)
- Matt Kenseth (108)
- John Andretti (109)
- Tony Stewart (110-136)
- Jeff Gordon (137)
- Matt Kenseth (138)
- Jimmie Johnson (139)
- Terry Labonte (140)
- Tony Stewart (141-168)
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (169)
- Jimmie Johnson (170)
- Scott Wimmer* (171-175)
- Tony Stewart (176-180)
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (181-200).
- Led the Most Laps: Tony Stewart, 97 of 200 laps
- Cars running at the finish: 31
- Rookie of the race: Scott Wimmer
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s win was the 3rd Daytona 500 win for DEI, after Michael Waltrip's wins in 2001 and 2003. Overall, it was DEI's fifth Daytona race victory, counting Waltrip's and Earnhardt, Jr.'s Pepsi 400 victories.
- For the third year in a row, the Pole winner (Greg Biffle) did not lead a lap
- Nextel Cup debut for Brendan Gaughan, Kasey Kahne, and Scott Riggs.
- Only Daytona 500 for Larry Foyt.
- Final Daytona 500 for Johnny Benson, Derrike Cope, 2002 winner Ward Burton, Ricky Craven, and Jimmy Spencer.
- Detailed Results