The flurries of constant pitting, bunching and regrouping that occurred under the caution periods also brought on a record number of lead changes—fully 59 during the three hours and 11 minutes of the race. Chains of more than a dozen cars drafted together, flat-out, nose-to-tail, like some monstrous subsonic form of mass transit.
The first of the hot dogs to fail was David Pearson, last year's high-money man in NASCAR and the pole sitter for this race. He ran over a stray tailpipe that had clanked onto the track during one of the early crashes, and an incurable vibration forced him to retire on the 38th lap. After that, the race belonged, at various times, to Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Foyt, the splendidly named Clifton (Coo-Coo) Marlin, and that bustling brother team from Hueytown, Ala., Donny and Bobby Allison. It was magnificent racing and high-speed geometry, just the sort of showmanship that makes the Grand National game America's most exciting. Then, just before the halfway mark, Bobby Allison's engine exploded on the back straight.
When the green flag came out again, a new pattern emerged. Petty and Donny Allison, in a Dodge and a Chevy, pulled away from the pack in a 180-mph double-draft, swapping the lead back and forth for nearly 100 miles. Petty finally broke the ballet by pitting under the green flag for tires and gas. Donny pulled in a few laps later, but in the duel of pit crews Petty emerged with a six-second advantage. That could have been enough to ensure victory, but then—on the 168th lap—rookie Follmer blew his engine and spun up into the wall on Turn 2.
Pitting again under the caution, Allison and Petty emerged almost side by side and staged their own Winternationals Drag meet down the pit road. Again the lead swapping went on until—with less than 50 miles to go—Petty's left front tire blew. The Allison partisans went berserk as Petty limped in for a quick change, but a few laps later it was their turn to groan. Suddenly, Allison shredded a rear tire at high speed right in front of the main grandstand—it sounded like a small bomb—and slewed wildly into the first turn, holding the car off the wall only by the most skillful wheel-handling.
That was it. Petty breezed home the rest of the way to capture his fifth Daytona victory and his second in a row—both unprecedented in the Speedway's history. He also picked up $36,650 for the afternoon's drive. What does one do after five Daytona wins? "Go after No. 6," said King Richard.
Among the fans, ironically enough, were ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan. One could only hope—vainly, no doubt—that the excitement of American auto racing might somehow communicate itself through some diplomatic pouch back to their homelands and cause their oil-pinching bosses to relent.