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Today in Sports History: 2/17 – Richard Petty Becomes First Back-to-Back Daytona 500 Winner

Today in sports history (1974), Richard Petty won the 16th running of the Daytona 500. The victory marked the fifth time that Petty won the biggest NASCAR race of the calendar year. It also saw him repeat as Daytona 500 Champion after he also won the 1973 edition of the Great American Race.

With the repeat triumph, Petty became the first driver to ever win the Daytona 500 in back-to-back years. It was just one of the many ground-breaking achievements that “The King” would conquer over the course of his legendary racing career.

Richard Petty today in sports history 1974 Daytona 500
Credit: NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Richard Petty Repeats as Daytona 500 Champion | Today in Sports History

When it comes to the biggest auto race in the world, no one has a track record quite like Richard Petty. Winning the prestigious Daytona 500 once is hard enough. Winning the Great American Race in consecutive years is damn near impossible. Of course, The King removed the “im-” from “impossible” several times over the course of his Hall of Fame NASCAR career.

Today in sports history, Petty’s victory in the 1974 Daytona 500 marked the first time ever that a driver managed to repeat as the race winner. It also marked the third Daytona 500 win for Petty in a four-year span from 1971-74. He ended his NASCAR Cup Series career with seven total triumphs in the Great American Race. To this day, that total still sits three more than Cale Yarborough’s four victories. No other driver has won the 500 more than three times.

To further put into perspective just how special Petty winning the Daytona 500 in back-to-back years was, consider that only three drivers have managed to replicate the feat in the years since. Yarborough managed to win the race in consecutive years from 1983-84. Sterling Marlin (1994-95) and Denny Hamlin (2019-20) are the only others to repeat as Daytona 500 champs.

1974 Daytona 500 Features Record-Setting 59 Lead Changes

While Richard Petty ultimately emerged victorious in the 1974 Daytona 500, the race itself set a record as well. The most competitive Daytona NASCAR race ever run at that time occurred today in sports history. The action was uber-competitive throughout with a record-setting 59 total lead changes occurring over the course of the 200-lap event. It wasn’t until the 2011 Daytona 500 that any NASCAR race at the track would surpass that total number of lead changes.

The 59 lead changes occurred between a whopping 15 drivers which also set a Daytona International Speedway record. Although that one was broken sooner in 1989, the 1974 Daytona 500 still ranks fourth in terms of the total number of drivers to lead at least one lap in the race. Eventual winner Petty combined with Donnie Allison to lead 29 separate times for a total of 120 laps.

Richard Petty Survives Cut Tire to Repeat as Daytona 500 Champion

Considering the fact that Petty had to pit under green with just 19 laps remaining, his back-to-back Daytona 500 victories are even more impressive. How was he able to run down Donnie Allison and the rest of the pack after that? Well, the blown engine of Bob Burcham proved to be just the break Petty needed.

Burcham’s engine expired while he was running right in front of Allison in the trioval. The resulting contact caused Allison to spin out and blow a tire of his own in the process. Back in the day, caution flags weren’t thrown for such minor incidents. Thus, Allison had to limp all the way back around to pit road and lost a lap in the process.

The whole ordeal enabled Petty to regain the lead and he went on to win by a massive 47-second margin. How ironic that one of the most competitive Daytona 500s ever was decided in lopsided fashion!

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