In between the countless wins by NASCAR greats such as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart are the drivers that no one expected to win. While NASCAR’s greatest drivers typically capture the heart of NASCAR fans, everyone loves an underdog. We have seen some unexpected winners in NASCAR over the years.
Greg Sacks- 1985 Firecracker 400 at Daytona
Sacks entered the 1985 Firecracker 400 as the DiGard Racing teammate of Hall of Fame driver Bobby Allison. Sacks was expected to act as a research and development driver for the event. Instead, Sacks had a solid run going, and the team opted to complete the race. The No. 10 machine was a rocket ship despite significantly slow pit stops. Sacks eventually worked his way past Bill Elliott, who was dominant on superspeedways that season, en route to the shocking victory. Not everyone was thrilled with Sacks’ victory as DiGard Racing’s regular driver Allison bolted the team just days later. Sacks would take over that ride.
Regan Smith- 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington
Driving for the underfunded Furniture Row Racing team, no one believed that Regan Smith would even come close to contending for the Southern 500 trophy in May of 2011. The Furniture Row team is a single-car organization based out of Denver, Colorado, hundreds of miles away from the NASCAR hub, which is the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Furthermore, this team rarely spent time towards the front. On this night, Smith spent the majority of the race steadily moving through the field. After a late caution waved, Smith stayed out on the track while the leaders hit pit road. On the ensuing restart, Smith held off Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski for the win
Derrike Cope- 1990 Daytona 500
It was supposed to be Dale Earnhardt’s day. After years of frustration in the Great American race, it was clear that Earnhardt would finally etch his name into the Daytona 500 trophy. After leading 155 of 200 laps, a flat tire on the final lap quickly sent Earnhardt backwards, paving the way for one of the greatest upset victories the sport has witnessed. Typically a backmarker, it was Derrike Cope who benefited from Earnhardt’s misfortune, as he cruised to his first career victory, driving for Bob Whitcomb. Cope won at Dover three months later, but his career flamed out after what appeared to be a huge breakthrough.
Ron Bouchard- 1981 Talladega 500
While NASCAR stars Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte were batting for the victory at Talladega, a rookie raced his way out of obscurity. Heading to the checkered flag, Labonte made a move to the outside of Waltrip. Little did they know that Ron Bouchard, who dove to the low side of Waltrip, would win the drag race to the finish line. Waltrip later admitted that he was worried about Labonte, not Bouchard. This would be the lone career victory for Bouchard, who would step away from NASCAR in 1987.
Trevor Bayne- 2011 Daytona 500
The 2011 Daytona 500 appeared to be David Ragan’s to lose. Well, he lost it due to a penalty. Ragan switched from the top lane to the bottom prior to crossing the start-finish line. This allowed Trevor Bayne, not even a rookie yet, to take over the lead. With a push from veteran Bobby Labonte, Bayne held off a furious charge from the tandem of Carl Edwards and David Gilliland. The 20-year-old became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500, and he accomplished it while driving for the legendary Wood Brothers.
Jamie McMurray (2002 Charlotte)
Tiny Lund (1963 Daytona)
Ricky Craven (2003 Darlington)
Elliott Sadler (2001 Bristol)
Lake Speed (1988 Darlington)
John Andretti (1997 Talladega)
Kyle Petty (1986 Richmond)
Jody Ridley (1981 Dover)
Bobby Hillin, Jr (1986 Talladega)
Johnny Beauchamp (1953 Rapid City)
Brad Keselowski (2009 Talladega)
David Reutimann (2010 Chicagoland)
Robby Gordon (2001 New Hampshire)
Johnny Benson (2002 Rockingham)
James Hylton (1972 Talladega 500)