The 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup season was one of record speeds and legendary brawls. At the Daytona 500 alone, thanks to a newly-resurfaced track, Buddy Baker reached a record qualifying speed of 196.049 mph to top Cale Yarborough's nine-year-old record of 194.015. The race itself didn't disappoint, either.
The 21st annual Daytona 500 was spectacular from start to finish, with thrilling action and many lead changes. During the final lap, leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison (who had been jostling for the lead) slid together into the concrete wall, clearing the way for Richard Petty to take the win. Immediately, Yarborough and Allison began to fight on the field, and the whole fracas was televised live on CBS, which only served to increase ticket sales.
In the following article, you'll find these events and other season highlights from 1979, along with the year's final standings, and plenty of action-packed photos.
The CBS Sports television network prepares for its live, flag-to-flag telecast of the Daytona 500. It marks the first time in history that a 500-mile NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National event will be televised by a major network in its entirety.
Richard Petty flashes across the finish line just in front of Donnie Allison to win the CRC Chemicals 500 at Dover Downs. The victory, the 189th of Petty's career, marked the beginning of a late-season rally by Petty to catch Darrell Waltrip in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship battle. Waltrip had a commanding lead at midseason, but the win vaulted Petty to within 83 points of his rival. See more pictures of NASCAR.
Richard Petty hustles past the crashed cars of Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison to win the Daytona 500, snapping his 45-race winless drought. Yarborough and Allison crash, then fight in the infield following a last-lap incident. The Nielsen ratings for the CBS live telecast are a remarkable 10.5, with the final half hour drawing an amazing 13.5 rating.
March 18, 1979: Atlanta 500
Buddy Baker tames a 40-car field in the Atlanta 500 to notch his first NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National win in nearly three years.
Donnie Allison pushes his #1 Oldsmobile ahead of pole-sitter #28 Buddy Baker at the drop of the green flag on the 16th lap of the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. A wet track surface following an all-night rain forced the first 15 laps to be run under caution. Baker had swept all Speedweeks events he competed in, but the car misfired at the start of the main event. He only managed to run 38 laps before retiring from the race.
Outstanding rookie driver Dale Earnhardt scoots around Darrell Waltrip with 27 laps to go and grabs his first career NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National victory in Bristol's Southeastern 500.
April 8, 1979: Rebel 500
Darrell Waltrip prevails in a last-lap battle with Richard Petty to win the Rebel 500 at Darlington. The two drivers swap the lead four times on the final lap. After the race, legendary David Pearson is released as driver of the Wood Brothers Mercury. A pit mishap is cited as the reason for Pearson's release.
After the final-lap crash in the Daytona 500, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and Bobby Allison engaged in fisticuffs. Bobby had stopped on the track to check on his brother's condition. Cale approached Bobby and punched him as he sat in the car. Bobby dismounted and wrestled with Cale in the infield as Donnie came over to join the free-for-all. Later, Bobby described the incident with Cale: "For some reason, Cale kept hitting my fist repeatedly with his nose."
Neil Bonnett, making his third start for the Wood Brothers, drives around Cale Yarborough with three laps remaining to win the Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway.
July 30, 1979: Coca-Cola 500
Cale Yarborough prevails in a frantic, crash-marred Coca-Cola 500 at Pocono International Raceway for his third win of the year. Rookie driver Dale Earnhardt fractures both collar bones in a hard crash on the 99th lap. The race features 56 lead changes among eight drivers.
Lennie Pond crashes his #54 Oldsmobile into the wall as Geoff Bodine skids into the infield grass during the second Twin 125-mile qualifier at Daytona on Feb. 15. Number 02 Dave Marcis and #05 Dick Brooks scoot through the melee. All four drivers made the Daytona 500 field. Pond was in a one-shot deal with the team owned by Al Rudd, the father of Ricky Rudd. Ricky had taken a ride with the Junie Donlavey Ford team in 1979.
Darrell Waltrip finishes comfortably ahead of runner-up David Pearson to win the Talladega 500. Young Kyle Petty makes his NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National debut, finishing an impressive ninth.
September 3, 1979: Southern 500
David Pearson, substituting for the injured Dale Earnhardt, leads the final 70 laps to win his third Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Upstart third-year driver Bill Elliott finishes second.
Darrell Waltrip, driving the #88 Chevy, manages to keep #11 Cale Yarborough and #43 Richard Petty at bay during the early laps of the April 22 Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Waltrip, known as "DW," started on the pole, led the opening 49 laps, and eventually finished third behind Petty and Buddy Baker. An extended pit stop for overheating problems knocked Yarborough down to an 11th-place finish. For Petty, it was his first short-track win since 1975.
Neil Bonnett edges Dale Earnhardt by about three feet to win the Dixie 500 at Atlanta. Darrell Waltrip carries a narrow two-point lead over Richard Petty into the season finale at Ontario.
November 18, 1979: Los Angeles Times 500
Benny Parsons takes the lead with five laps to go and wins the Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway. Fifth-place finisher Richard Petty takes his seventh NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National championship by 11 points over Darrell Waltrip, who finishes eighth.For the final standings of the 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup season, see the next page.
For more information on all things NASCAR, see:
- NASCAR Home Page
- NASCAR Season Recaps
- NASCAR Tracks
- NASCAR Results
- NASCAR Drivers
- How NASCAR Race Cars Work
- How the Daytona 500 Works