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Memorable Daytonas: No. 2 – Almost perfect

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

Editors note: Yahoo! Sports asked for your opinion, and more than 37,000 of you gave it. From 10 of the most memorable Daytona 500s, you selected the top five. We'll count them down, continuing with No. 2.

In the 2000 Daytona 500, there were only nine lead changes. Prior to the 2001 edition, NASCAR implemented a change in the aerodynamic package of the cars, which most thought would result in much tighter racing and more wrecks.

It did result in tighter racing – there were 50 lead changes amongst 14 drivers that year – but not any more wrecks, at least not until the end.

With 25 laps to go, Robby Gordon got into Ward Burton, setting off a Big One that collected 19 cars. Included in the melee was Tony Stewart, who wound up in the hospital.

The race was red flagged.

Shortly after it resumed, Michael Waltrip, who hadn't won a race in 462 career Cup starts, took the lead in a car owned by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

As the train of cars entered Turn 3 on the final lap of the race, it was Waltrip in front, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt Sr. We all know what happened next: Waltrip crossed the finish line first, just ahead of Earnhardt Jr. Behind them, Earnhardt Sr. had crashed nose first into the wall.

On the sport's biggest stage, the sport's biggest star died in a race no one who watched it will ever forget.

"I've got a lot of memories, but I keep those personal," said Richard Childress, Earnhardt's long-time car owner and friend. "It's a black day. I won't forget it, but I don't want to talk about it."

Here is how Michael Waltrip remembers the 2001 Daytona 500 – the fans selection as the No. 2 most memorable Daytona 500 of all time:

"My mentality was, at the start of the 2001 season, the pressure was off of me. I knew that I had a first-class ride. And everybody was saying, 'You know, the pressure's on.' And I was like, 'You know, you don't get it. I got the car. I'm going to go do the job.' That's how confident I was.

"I remember Sunday morning before the race, sitting on the front of the hauler. We didn't have any points, so we were over in the corner of the garage. I just remember sitting on the hauler saying, 'Okay, you know everything that it takes to win this race. You know, you've talked about it.'

"Dale and I had conversations about what had to happen in order for one of us three – or one of us four I guess: (Steve) Park, me, Dale Jr. and Dale – to win. We had a plan.

"And then, to have a plan quit a quarter of a mile or a half mile from the greatest day ever, certainly, ummm, was really just a sad turn of events.

"But I know Dale knows what happened. I know that he was proud to see what we were pulling off, and, umm, and so, you know, while I don't like to talk about that race, and I probably won't want to talk anymore than I'm just now telling you, I was happy that he saw what happened and that, he was probably saying, 'I told ya so. I told ya this was how it was going to work.' "

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Draft time:
Aug 30 9:00 am