Richard Petty versus David Pearson was the greatest NASCAR rivalry of all time: it's an opinion that borderlines on factuality. There are other top contenders, no question about it. But, I just don't see too many fans out there who could look at the countless epic battles between "The King" and "The Silver Fox" in the '60s and '70s and argue that there were two more worthy rivals in NASCAR's history.
What makes their rivalry even better is the mutual respect that they had for each other. Petty once said of Pearson, "He could beat you on a short track, he could beat you on a superspeedway, he could beat you on a road course, he could beat you on a dirt track. It didn't hurt as bad to lose to Pearson as it did to some of the others, because I knew how good he was." Pearson returned the high praise, once saying, "I always felt that if I beat him I beat the best, and I heard he said the same thing about me."
Despite their high regard for one another, when Pearson and Petty faced off down the stretch, you knew you were going to get a knock-down, drag-out show, and there is no better example of that than the intense late-race showdown at the 1976 Daytona 500.
WATCH: Race Recap of the 1976 Daytona 500
It was a wreck involving Johnny Ray and Skip Manning on lap 112 (which unfortunately ended Ray's racing career) that would serve as the precursor to the final-lap drama that was to follow at Daytona International Speedway. As soon as that green flag was back out, history was soon to be in the making.
While A.J. Foyt held the distinction for most laps led at 66, Pearson and Petty were two laps ahead of anyone else when they came down the stretch. With Petty ahead of Pearson by a nose, the Silver Fox pulled some last-lap trickery by passing the King on the backstretch. Petty tried to return the favor, but instead of completely clearing Pearson's car, the two made contact, and eventually ended up on the infield grass.
They were only yards aways from the finish line.
Pearson was somehow able to get his car to restart and slug across the finish line at only 30 MPH, while his ride was hardly in racing condition.
"For a minute, I thought I was going to become the first driver to win the Daytona 500 backwards," said Pearson immediately following the race.
Not surprisingly, Pearson's Hollywood-esque victory at the '76 Daytona 500 is considered to be the best finish in NASCAR history.
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