Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Dale Jarrett, Joe Gibbs, See Early Glory in 1993 Daytona 500

The week leading up to the Daytona 500 is the perfect blend of celebrating the past and anticipating the future. As the first official race of the NASCAR Cup Series season, Daytona International Speedway always brings the promise of excitement and energy for a new year of racing. Yet Daytona is also a monument to the heritage of American stock car racing. The speedway is the type of place where you can feel the history around you, and the power of the past makes racing at Daytona feel all the more special.

One of those legendary races occurred exactly 30 years ago today (Feb. 14): the 1993 Daytona 500. The race is best remembered for its thrilling finish where Dale Jarrett surged passed Dale Earnhardt on the last lap as Ned Jarrett, Dale Jarrett’s father, cheerfully called the victory for his son. Ned famously declared the last lap to be the “Dale and Dale show,” as his son scored the first-ever win for Joe Gibbs Racing. Despite Earnhardt suffering another difficult loss in the Great American Race, Jarrett’s victory became one of the great feel-good moments in the history of NASCAR.

What’s often overlooked today is how the win launched the careers of both the driver and the team. Jarrett and JGR may have been fast throughout Speedweeks, but neither were the force that they would grow into by the end of the decade. Jarrett had only one Cup Series win before 1993. That was at Michigan International Speedway in 1991. Driving for Wood Brothers Racing, Jarrett beat Davey Allison to the finish line by just eight inches. The following season, Jarrett joined Joe Gibbs’ brand new team. Gibbs’ cars showed flashes of speed at times, but the No. 18 team put up middling stats overall and did not score a victory in 1992. Winning the Daytona 500 in 1993 was the biggest hint that Jarrett and Gibbs would become superstars in NASCAR, albeit independently of each other.

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Before the Daytona 500 began, most of the NASCAR world’s attention was focused elsewhere. Earnhardt had won the Busch Clash, his qualifying race, and as usual looked like the driver to beat. The other qualifying race shockingly went to a 21-year-old rookie Jeff Gordon, who was preparing to make just his second Cup Series start. Jarrett qualified on the outside pole next to Kyle Petty, who was racing the No. 42 Pontiac for Felix Sabates. Noticeably absent from the starting grid was Kyle Petty’s legendary father Richard Petty, who had retired from racing at the conclusion of 1992. Rick Wilson had taken over the STP Pontiac, which now sported the No. 44 instead of Richard Petty’s famous No. 43.          

At the start of the race, Jarrett battled for the lead with Gordon, who officially led a Cup Series race for the first time. Earnhardt pushed Jarrett into the lead on lap 2, but soon after the first caution flag of the afternoon flew when Dick Trickle lost an engine. When the race resumed, Earnhardt, Geoff Bodine and Gordon all drafted past Jarrett, with Earnhardt holding the lead until the next caution on lap 12.

After that, the race stayed green for the next 115 laps. Nobody was able to secure the top spot for very long as Earnhardt, Bodine, Kyle Petty, Ken Schrader, Derrike Cope, and several others all rapidly swapped the lead. Jarrett kept the leaders in his sights, waiting for the right moment to make his move.

Contenders began to drop out more rapidly in the last third of the race. Wilson crashed out on lap 140. Ernie Irvan, the 1991 Daytona 500 winner, slammed the backstretch wall nine laps later. Kyle Petty’s day ended in a multi-car crash on lap 157 with Bobby Hillin Jr. and open wheel star Al Unser Jr., who was making the only Cup Series start of his racing career. Petty and Hillin’s cars came to a stop side-by-side on the frontstretch after Hillin’s No. 90 slid directly into Petty’s path. The two drivers repeatedly exchanged heated words as they walked across the infield to the garage area.

Yet the scariest accident of the day was still to come. On lap 169, Cope and Michael Waltrip made contact at the exit of turn two. As both drivers started to spin, Waltrip clipped Rusty Wallace, whose car got airborne as soon as it hit the backstretch grass. Wallace’s Pontiac sailed into the air and tumbled at least a half dozen times before landing right side up, thoroughly destroyed. Safety workers helped to extricate an unhurt Wallace from his car.

Jarrett had been able to complete a pass on Cope and Waltrip just before the accident – a move that may have saved his race. He retook the lead for a couple of circuits during the 27-lap run to the finish but spent most of that time following Earnhardt in the draft. With 10 laps to go, Earnhardt, Gordon, Jarrett, Bodine, and Hut Stricklin had broken away from the pack. Jarrett made an impressive high line pass on Gordon on lap 199, then set his sights on the No. 3. The decisive moment came when Earnhardt got loose in turn four, allowing Jarrett to pull alongside him as they took the white flag. Fellow broadcasters Ken Squier and Neil Bonnett fell silent on the final lap, allowing Ned Jarrett to call his son to victory.

The Daytona 500 win was the clear high point of the 1993 season for Jarrett and JGR, which together went on to score 13 top fives, 18 top 10s and finish fourth in points. However, the 1994 season brought a big drop in performance. Jarrett and Gibbs won only one more race together before parting ways at the end of the season.

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Joining forces with Robert Yates Racing in 1995, Jarrett went on to win two more Daytona 500s and the 1999 Cup Series championship. The combination of his own exceptional skill and Yates’ strong engine program often made Jarrett stand out on the high horsepower tracks. His 32nd and final career victory, at Talladega Superspeedway in 2005, would also be the last for Yates as a team owner.

Gibbs hired Bobby Labonte to take over the No. 18, and the two of them would win a championship of their own in 2000. Labonte would remain the backbone of JGR for the next decade, beginning a steady period of growth that saw Gibbs’ team become one of the top organizations in NASCAR. By the end of the 2022 season, JGR has won five Cup Series titles and exactly 200 wins, a remarkable run that all began 30 years ago in Daytona.

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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