15 Feb 1996: Dale Earnhardt celebrates his seventh Gatorade125 Qualifying race as he chases the remarkable 500th win, at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mandatory Credit: David Taylor/Allsport

Countdown to the Daytona 500: A look back on the darkest day in NASCAR history


The Daytona 500 is only four days away, and we're counting down the days until the NASCAR season begins at Daytona International Speedway with memorable moments at the most prestigious race in the sport.

During our countdown over the last two weeks, we've looked back at several thrilling races and historic events that happened over the last 59 Daytona 500s. Remembering the 2001 Daytona 500 doesn't exactly fill racing fans with fond memories, but it is still probably the most memorable race in the history of the sport.

On the final lap of the race, Dale Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin on Turn 4 and lost control of his iconic No. 3 car. As he attempted to regain control, he collided with Ken Schrader and crashed into the wall. Michael Waltrip won the race and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, but everyone's attention was directed at Earnhardt's damaged car.

Earnhardt suffered from blunt force trauma and sustained a fatal basilar skull fracture, and he was pronounced dead at 5:16 p.m.


Related: Countdown to the Daytona 500: Remembering the 1993 "Dale and Dale show"

Earnhardt was 49 when he died, and he left behind perhaps the greatest legacy in NASCAR history. The Intimidator won seven Cup Series championships, and despite being nearly 50, he was still competing for titles.

In 2000, Earnhardt finished second and nearly won his eighth title. In fact, from 1983 through 2000, Earnhardt only finished outside of the top 8 once.


Earnhardt was a transcendent figure in NASCAR. His name was and still is synonymous with the sport. During the 2001 season, fans were silent on Lap 3 of each race as a way to honor Earnhardt, and they were also silent in 2011 during the 10-year anniversary of the tragic accident.

Earnhardt left behind a tremendous legacy, and he helped the sport grow and become more popular during his career. Richard Petty helped get things started, but it was Earnhardt who helped the sport take the next step into becoming a nationwide phenomenon.