Remembering the 1981 Daytona 500: Richard Petty’s last hurrah
Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher have both won 7 Solution 1 world champions, however just one guy has actually dominated NASCAR’s Daytona 500 7 times – Richard Petty. 4 years on, TOM HOWARD reviews The King’s last, record-setting, 1981 Daytona 500 accomplishment
The 2021 NASCAR Cup season gets underway this weekend, with Joe Gibbs Racing motorist Denny Hamlin wishing to protect a historical 3rd successive success in the jewel-in-the-crown Daytona 500.
A 4th win would put Hamlin, who won the 2016 occasion prior to doubling up in 2019 and 2020, level on wins with three-time Cup champ Cale Yarborough and 2nd in the all-time stakes.
However Hamlin would still need to go a long method to match the unmatched 7 wins attained by Petty, who took the last of those 40 years ago this weekend.
PLUS: The NASCAR subplots to watch on in 2021
Heading into the 1981 Daytona 500, Petty had rather of a dry spell by his high requirements at NASCAR’s masterpiece. The victor in 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973 and 1974 had actually just handled another win in the stepping in years when, in 1979, he’d snapped a 45-race winless dry spell after Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the last lap, then took part in a popular battle on the infield.
In 1980, he’d broken his neck in a crash at Pocono. Hiding the injury from NASCAR, Petty completed the following week at Talladega prior to being relieved – which ended up being a typical pattern for the rest of the season as he held on to end up 4th in the standings.
The 1981 race was the very first to follow NASCAR tossing a curveball to groups with policy modifications that needed them to run ‘scaled down’ cars and trucks including 110-inch (280cm) wheelbases (from the previous 115 inches), to fall under line with the pattern in the vehicle market. This modification provided considerable obstacles for groups and motorists to get on top of managing and set-up.
In addition, there was lots of modification going on at Petty Enterprises as the well-known #43 was changed to Buick – Minor having actually driven Oldsmobiles on the superspeedways and Chevrolets all over else in 1980.
Hopes that the brand-new policies would develop an air of unpredictability appeared temporary when Bobby Allison became the clear favourite. His Harry Ranier-run Pontiac – run by the Ranier-Lundy group that had actually fielded Friend Baker’s winning entry in 1980 – was the only cars and truck in the field with a sloped back window, which was considered to significantly enhance the aerodynamics compared to its competitors.
Allison properly controlled Speedweek, leading to a lead after success in his certifying race.
The twin 125-mile certifying races that saw more than 60 cars and trucks complete for the 42 put on the grid were not without event, as motorists grappled with their brand-new makers.
John Anderson suffered the very first significant crash when his cars and truck turned coming onto the straightaway out of Turn 2, prior to going into a series of violent rolls.
In the very same race, Connie Saylor came down with a gust of wind which raised his Oldsmobile up and over onto its roofing system on the track, prior to skidding to a stop down the back straight.
Both motorists luckily left unhurt.
Minor ran highly inside the leading 10 in his certifying race, however he was not amongst the favourites for the huge dance, as Allison and the Junior Johnson-run Buick of Darrell Waltrip shared the spoils in the 2 certifying races. The latter summarized what it requires to win succinctly.
“It’s a combination of brains and balls. You got to know when to stand on the gas and when to back off,” he stated.
A bumper 200,000 crowd filled the grandstands on raceday, excitedly expecting another timeless fight. Minor begun with 8th, along with 1980 NASCAR champ Dale Earnhardt.
Measuring Up To the forecasts, Allison stormed off into the lead and controlled much of the race, leading 117 of 200 laps. Nevertheless, he definitely wasn’t able to unwind with Waltrip, Baker, Don Whittington, Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd all challenging.
While Baker, Earnhardt and Rudd would lead laps, pre-race preferred Waltrip retired after 55 laps with an engine concern. Even more back, Petty was waiting to see how occasions would play out. He would stay in contention throughout a series of warns.
Among the most magnificent caution-causing events saw Geoff Bodine’s Pontiac speared into the infield at Turn 2, requiring professional photographers to spread. The cars and truck would concern a rest beside a tv broadcast truck.
While Minor invested much of the race in the background, he could not be eliminated and he struck as the race entered its lasts with an inspired technique tactic.
After Allison lacked fuel and cruised into the pit lane for a top-up, he was followed by Rudd and Earnhardt. Nevertheless, Petty chose to avoid and took the lead for the very first time in the race. There he would remain, thanks to the canny decision not to take tyres at his final fuel stop.
Despite much fresher rubber that allowed him to close the gap, Allison couldn’t catch Petty – who took the chequered flag by 3.5s and in the process scored a very first NASCAR win for Buick given that 1956. Allison would wind up 2nd while Rudd saw off Baker and Earnhardt for 3rd.
Petty objected to the occasion every year till his retirement in 1992, however would never ever much better a 3rd location in 1987. The 1981 win was particularly poignant as team chief Dale Inman gave up 2 days later on to sign up with Earnhart’s team.
“I felt with 20 laps to go and if we didn’t have a caution we would be in good shape,” stated Petty.
“I think for the crew it was probably the most emotional race that we have run down here because we have blown a couple of engines this week and we had no test time on the Buick before we got here.
“They are a heck of a team as they took a seat and attempted to find out what we require to do and they done it, they were extremely. The engine we began with had actually never ever been on a race course, we didn’t get an opportunity to attempt it so we headed out cold turkey once again, which we have actually done in the past, however we actually didn’t understand what to anticipate.
“Everything worked good all day, we couldn’t lead but we could keep up no problems. We were there with the crowd and then when we made the final pit stop the race fell apart and we were in front.”
Asked how it felt to win the occasion for a seventh time, Petty used a simple action: “It never get old you know to win, he added. It feels super to win any kind of race, especially the Daytona 500.”
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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.