The 1974 NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National season faced the threat of a shut-down when, in late 1973, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced a general boycott on oil exports to Europe, Japan, and the United States. Faced with an oil crisis, NASCAR took immediate steps to conserve fuel. Among other changes, the length of all races was cut by 10 percent, which went a long way toward the goal of reducing fuel use by 25 percent.
Meanwhile, NASCAR continued to move toward the use of smaller engines, and made several rule changes. Despite the rule changes, the overwhelming majority of races were won by Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, and David Pearson. For a recap of the 1974 NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National season, this article gives highlights, photos, and the year's full standings.
January 3, 1974
In the wake of the crippling energy shortage, NASCAR announces all races will be reduced 10 percent in length to conserve fuel. In addition, NASCAR plans for smaller starting fields and limited practice sessions.
David Pearson's Wood Brothers Mercury leads Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, and Bobby Allison at Michigan International Speedway in the Aug. 25 Yankee 400. The race featured 45 lead changes and Pearson was at the front of the pack when the checkered flag fell. Petty finished second, with Baker fourth and Allison fifth. See more pictures of NASCAR.
February 17, 1974: Daytona 500
Richard Petty rallies from a flat tire, takes the lead with 11 laps remaining, and drives to victory in the 450-mile Daytona 500. Speedway officials decide to drop the first 20 laps from the race, and count the first lap as lap 21 to maintain the "500" in the name of NASCAR's most prestigious event.
April 21, 1974: Gwyn Staley Memorial 400
Richard Petty wins the Gwyn Staley Memorial 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway using a small engine in his Dodge. Under NASCAR rules, the small engines can compete without restrictor plates, while the large 426-429-cid engines must run with carburetor-restrictive devices.
Canadian rookie #52 Earl Ross and #28 Bobby Isaac were two strong contenders in the Talladega 500. Isaac, who had suddenly quit in the middle of the Talladega 500 a year earlier, returned in 1974. He drove his Hoss Ellington Chevy to an eighth-place finish. Ross, who joined the Junior Johnson team when the Carling sponsorship materialized, ran 10th at Talladega. Later in the year, he won the Martinsville event. Ross was named Rookie of the Year.
May 26, 1974: World 600
David Pearson racks up his 80th career Winston Cup victory in a thrilling World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Pearson takes the lead with nine laps remaining and beats Richard Petty by a car length.
July 4, 1974: Firecracker 400
Cagey David Pearson outfoxes Richard Petty to win the Firecracker 400 in a puzzling finish. Pearson leads entering the final lap, but pulls to the low groove to allow Petty to pass. Pearson regains stride, runs Petty down, and makes the decisive pass just before the finish line. Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough finish in a dead heat for third place.
Number 95 Darrell Waltrip leads #31 Jim Vandiver and #90 Bill Dennis on the short chute during the Daytona 500. Waltrip finished seventh. Vandiver, who excelled on NASCAR's ultrafast speedways, finished second in the Twin 125-miler, but radiator troubles put him out of the 450-miler, which had been shortened 50 miles due to the energy crisis. Dennis, NASCAR's 1970 Rookie of the Year, was felled by engine problems in the final 100 miles.
July 14, 1974: Volunteer 500
Cale Yarborough muscles his way around Buddy Baker on the final lap and squeezes out a narrow win in Bristol's Volunteer 500. It is the seventh win of the season for Yarborough.
August 4, 1974: Purolator 500
NASCAR makes its first appearance at Pocono International Raceway and Richard Petty prevails in the Purolator 500, which is shortened to 480 miles due to rain. Sprint Car icon Jan Opperman finishes eighth in a Chevrolet.
Gary Bettenhausen's #16 Penske AMC Matador runs just ahead of #83 Ramo Stott and #2 Dick Brooks in the Feb. 17 Daytona 500. Bettenhausen, driving for Roger Penske's USAC Indy Car team, got the assignment in the redesigned Matador and maintained a pace that kept him in sight of the leaders. Stott had one of his finest runs, finishing third in Norris Reed's Smithville Farms Chevrolet. Brooks finished ninth. Bettenhausen finished 12th.
August 11, 1974: Talladega 500
Richard Petty edges David Pearson to win the Talladega 500, an event marred by a mass sabotage in the garage the night before the race. More than two dozen of the top contending cars are tampered with by an unknown assailant during the nighttime hours.
September 29, 1974: Old Dominion 500
Canadian rookie Earl Ross outlasts Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough and outruns Buddy Baker in the final laps to win the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville. Ross becomes the first Canadian driver to win a NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National race.
Bobby Allison drove the Roger Penske AMC Matador to a surprising victory in the Nov. 24 season finale at Ontario Motor Speedway. It was only the third race all season won by a driver other than Richard Petty, David Pearson, or Cale Yarborough. After the race, NASCAR technical inspectors discovered illegal roller tappets on the Matador. The victory was upheld, but the Penske team was fined $9,100 -- at the time the largest fine in NASCAR history.
November 24, 1974
Bobby Allison drives a Matador to a surprise victory in the 500-miler at Ontario Motor Speedway. During the customary postrace inspection, NASCAR officials discover the Roger Penske-owned Matador is equipped with illegal roller tappets. The team keeps the win but is fined a record $9,100. Richard Petty wins his fifth championship by 567.45 points in a complicated points system used for just one year.
For the complete standings for the 1974 NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National season, see the next page.
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