1994 Daytona 500
The 1994 Daytona 500, the 36th running of the event, was held February 20 at Daytona International Speedway, in Daytona Beach, Florida. Loy Allen Jr., ARCA graduate and Winston Cup rookie, driving the No. 19 for Tri-Star Motorsports, won the pole. Speedweeks 1994 was marked by tragedy when two drivers, Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr, were killed in separate practice accidents for this race. Sterling Marlin in the Morgan-McClure Motorsports No. 4 won the race, the first career win of his NASCAR career.
|Race 1 of 31 in the 1994 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
Track map of Daytona International Speedway showing mainly the speedway.
|Date||February 20, 1994|
|Location||Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida|
Permanent racing facility|
2.5 mi (4.02336 km)
|Distance||200 laps, 500 mi (804.672 km)|
|Weather||Mild with temperatures reaching up to 77 °F (25 °C); wind speeds approaching 14 miles per hour (23 km/h)|
|Average speed||156.931 miles per hour (252.556 km/h)|
|Qualifying race winners|
|Duel 1 Winner||Ernie Irvan||Robert Yates Racing|
|Duel 2 Winner||Dale Earnhardt||Richard Childress Racing|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Ernie Irvan||Robert Yates Racing|
|No. 4||Sterling Marlin||Morgan-McClure Motorsports|
|Television in the United States|
|Announcers||Ken Squier, Chris Economaki and Ned Jarrett|
(13.6 million viewers)
During Speedweeks, on the first day of practice for the Daytona 500, legendary driver Neil Bonnett crashed in turn four. Bonnett died at Halifax Hospital from massive head injuries. Three days later, reigning Goody's Dash Series (NASCAR's four-cylinder class) champion, Rodney Orr, making his Cup debut, lost control and spun in turn two. His car flipped and hit the catch fence with the roof above the driver's seat. Orr was killed instantly. Following these tragedies, a worried Rusty Wallace gave a lecture calling out the drivers for over-aggression on the track, during the pre-race Drivers Meeting. He was given a round of applause from the drivers and teams after his lecture.
In the middle of the Goodyear-Hoosier tire war, Hoosier released teams from their contracts three days following Orr's death. Hoosier received blame from some observers as the tires were the only linking factor between the two deaths. However, the criticism was purely speculative and NASCAR never blamed the tires for the deaths and never offered an official cause of the accident for either fatality.
An investigation done by the Orlando Sentinel blamed Orr's crash on a broken right-rear shock absorber mounting bracket. That same part was reportedly broken on Bonnett's car. NASCAR refused to comment on the outside investigation.
Loy Allen, Jr. failed to lead a lap. Ernie Irvan and Dale Earnhardt swapped the lead several times in the first 60 laps (which turned out to be a preview of the Championship battle), with Jeff Gordon leading briefly. The Big One happened on lap 62 when Chuck Bown and Kyle Petty touched in Turn 4. Petty, Robert Pressley, John Andretti and Rusty Wallace were done for the day. Hut Stricklin, Harry Gant, Bobby Hillin Jr., and rookie Jeff Burton, among others, were also involved. The race restarted with Daytona 500 rookie Todd Bodine in the lead. He was soon passed by Earnhardt and was then tagged by Gordon whom Todd thought he was clear of. Jimmy Spencer, Ted Musgrave, Brett Bodine and Michael Waltrip were caught up in a chain reaction to Bodine's spin; Brett and Waltrip would continue.
The yellow flag was displayed with 60 laps to go when Morgan Shepherd spun, which made for interesting fuel mileage strategy. Earnhardt, Irvan, and Mark Martin came into the pits again for extra fuel. 1990 winner Derrike Cope led the field at the restart, only to be passed by Marlin and Irvan a couple of laps later. Irvan took the lead with 43 laps to go, but on Lap 180 he suddenly got loose in Turn 4. He recovered the car, but Marlin retook the lead as Irvan fell back to 7th. With 12 laps to go, Irvan was repassed by Martin, whom he had passed a few laps before, but with eight laps to go the Ford duo tag-teamed Jeff Gordon for 3rd and 4th. The two Fords swapped positions with five laps to go, and Irvan passed Terry Labonte (who was hung up behind Jimmy Hensley) in the tri-oval with three laps to go. But Sterling Marlin's Morgan-McClure Chevrolet was untouchable, and he finally won a Winston Cup race in his 279th start after eight second-place finishes. He broke Dave Marcis' previous record for most starts before his first Cup win (227th start, at Martinsville in 1975). Martin ran out of fuel with two to go, but he managed to take the white flag to complete 199 laps.