If you've been following NASCAR for even just a little while, you probably already know the origins of the natural disaster-sounding occurrence known as the "Big One," or you're at least familiar with the phrase.
If not, here's a super quick timeline: the introduction of restrictor plates to stock cars in the late '80s brought on the unintended consequence of pack racing, which led to the massive chain-reaction crashes, a.k.a. the "Big One," that make it on every post-race highlight reel whenever they go down. While Talladega Superspeedway shouldn't be discounted for the massive wrecks that have occurred there over the years, there's something about Daytona International Speedway and the "Big One." They're almost inexorably tied together. When it comes to the "Big One" at Daytona, it seems like it's not a matter of if, but when there will be yet another catastrophic collision.
With that in mind, there have been countless "Big Ones" at Daytona over the years, but here we'll just focus on four particularly significant ones.
1990 Pepsi 400
The 1990 Pepsi 400 holds a prominent spot in NASCAR history, but not for a good reason: it's when the first "Big One" took place.
Greg Sacks, Derrike Cope, and Richard Petty were three-wide in the tri-oval to start the second lap of the NASCAR Cup Series race when Sacks and Cope collided. The resulting contact started a chain reaction that involved about half of the field. The wreck involved 24 cars and immediately took out 11 from the race. Interestingly enough, some of the cars involved in the accident had onboard cameras, so ESPN viewers were able to see the incident from Chad Little, Buddy Baker, and Dick Trickle's perspectives, though none of the three were near the start of the accident when it happened.
While it was seven years later at the Pepsi 400 when Dale Earnhardt coined the term "Big Wreck" (which later morphed into the the "Big One" in 1998), the 1990 Daytona race is when NASCAR fans really saw a wreck of that chaotic magnitude.
1992 Daytona 500
The 1992 Daytona 500 holds another notorious place in motorsports history, as it was first Daytona 500 that was affected by the "Big One."
As the pack came into Turn 2 on lap 92, Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott battled for the lead. Marlin's No. 22 Ford pushed up the track one groove, allowing Ernie Irvan to go underneath for the lead. Irvan tried to clear himself in front of Marlin, but Marlin did not back off. As a result, all three cars at the front of the pack made contact and started sliding towards the bottom of the track.
Then, Marlin spun back to the right and collected Darrell Waltrip before spinning like a pinwheel in the middle of the track with many in the midfield having nowhere to go. The ensuing multi-car crash collected a number of NASCAR drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, and Ken Schrader. With their cars being significantly damaged, Marlin, Jarrett, Schrader, Chad Little, and Bobby Hillin Jr. had to call it a day.
Davey Allison was able to survive the chaos and win his first, and only, Daytona 500. In an interview ahead of the 2022 Daytona 500, Allison's crew chief Joey Knuckles recalled what it was like for the late Allison to avoid the seemingly unavoidable.
"The biggest thing I remember was when Davey missed the big wreck on the backstretch," Knuckles said. "There was just a big pile-up back there and from there on, we were pretty much on cruise control. We had the competition covered from there on. I remember he said on the radio, 'I can't believe I was able to get through that.' He flat-spotted all four tires and was able to work his way through the smoke and came out of it."
2000 Daytona 250
The NASCAR Truck Series made its debut at Daytona in 2000 without restrictor plates, as the sanctioning body deemed that the trucks were slow enough with bad enough aerodynamics to race without them. What happened next was one of the worst wrecks in Truck Series history.
As the pack of trucks approached the tri-oval on Lap 57, Rob Morgan and Kurt Busch made contact, sending Morgan into Geoff Bodine.
Bodine's truck got airborne from the contact with Morgan's truck and hit the catch fencing, disintegrating with such force that the engine tore away from the chassis. The roll cage tumbled down the track with Bodine still strapped in as a couple of other trucks hit the crumpled mess of steel, by this point now leaking fuel and trailing fire.
The race was red flagged for nearly 55 minutes while the track had to be cleaned up, and a good portion of the catch fencing had to be replaced or repaired. Given the horrifying footage, NASCAR fans feared the worst: that Geoff Bodine had died in the wreck. Miraculously, Bodine survived with a concussion, a broken wrist, and fractured vertebrae and only missed the first 10 races of that year's Cup season.
2012 DRIVE4COPD 300
While this wreck did not affect well over half of the field like some "Big Ones" do, it did directly determine the winner of the 2012 NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener.
On the last lap of the 120-lap race, Kurt Busch led a two-car tandem with his brother Kyle pushing. The tandem of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne went on the high side of the Busch brothers, separating the pair as all four drivers entered Turn 3. Shortly after entering Turn 3, the tandem of Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler went on the high side of Logano and Bayne. As Stewart went outside of Logano and Bayne, Kurt Busch went high to crowd all four drivers to his outside. All five drivers collided and stayed near the high side of the track.
With Kyle Busch being a sitting duck on the bottom groove of the track, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the No. 54 Toyota, while Cole Whitt and a few other cars collided in the accident. James Buescher was in 11th place entering the fourth turn, but won the Xfinity race. Brad Keselowski got loose and his car slid from side to side after the final turn, allowing Buescher to get by for the win. Sadler managed to get his race car unstuck from the melee to finish third behind Keselowski.
In his post-race interview from Victory Lane, the 21-year-old Buescher expressed just how wild it was to get his big win by surviving the "Big One."
"They all piled up in front of me and we made it through," Buescher said. "It's hard to describe the feeling when you make it through the wreck and you're the only guy. You don't see anybody in front of you coming to the checkered flag. It's pretty incredible."
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