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5 Things you Probably Never Knew About the 2001 Pepsi 400

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Joshua Lipowski

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One of NASCAR most iconic and important races now happened 22 years ago. However, a few details of this race may have slipped from your memory, or maybe some just never knew about. Here are five forgotten facts about the 2001 Pepsi 400.

1. The race Was the First Race at Daytona with the “Yellow Line Rule.”

Following Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR’s safety push was kicked into overdrive. One of the things they implemented relatively quickly was the “Yellow line” rule. The modern rule is as simple as this, if you advance your position below the yellow line at tracks like Daytona and Talladega, you will be penalized, unless you are forced below the yellow line.

This was the first race at Daytona under the new rule, and it came into play late in the race. Tony Stewart was squeezed below the line with five laps to go while trying to pass Johnny Benson for second. Stewart was black flagged, but he simply ignored it.

Even though he finished in the top-10 on the race track, NASCAR dropped Stewart to the last car one lap down in the official results in 26th position. According to Autoweek, Stewart tried to confront Winston Cup Series director Gary Nelson after the race before being restrained by crew chief Greg Zipadelli and team owner Joe Gibbs. Stewart was fined $10,000 for his actions.

2. From Lap 27 onwards, no one Passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. For the Lead On-Track

On lap 27, Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Kevin Harvick for the lead, and from then on out, Earnhardt Jr. never lost the lead on the race track. The only laps Earnhardt Jr. did not lead were because of a pit sequence between laps 50 and 56, Robert Pressley staying out under caution an extra lap on lap 90, and Johnny Benson staying out under caution to lead laps 146 through 155.

Never once was Earnhardt Jr. passed for the lead that night after he took it on lap 27. One of the most dominant cars on a superspeedway since restrictor plates were implemented in the 1988 season. Why was Earnhardt Jr. able to pass cars so easily in the final laps? He simply had the best car on track that day, and no one could touch him.

3. Only One top-10 Starter Finished in the Top-10

The finishing order of the race was jumbled up thanks to a big crash inside of the final 20 laps. As drivers tried to get to pit road for their final pit stop, Skinner was turned in front of the field, taking out a bunch of good cars in the process. The caution also came out in the middle of that pit sequence, meaning that a few drivers who short pitted ended up towards the front.

Of the official top-10 for the race, only Ward Burton started the night up there in second place. Of the nine who started outside of the top-10 who finished inside the top-10, five of them started outside of the top-30.

The top-10 at the end of the race was filled with surprise names. Elliott Sadler finished third, Jerry Nadeau finished sixth, Brett Bodine finished ninth, and Mike Wallace finished in 10th. Truly one of the most interesting top-10s in a NASCAR race.

4. This was NBC’s First Race of Their Original TV Deal

In 1999, NASCAR announced a massive media rights deal was signed to have FOX broadcast the first half of the season and NBC/TNT to broadcast the second half of the season with the Daytona 500 alternating. The deal started in 2001 and ran through 2006, with NBC starting their schedule in 2001 at the Pepsi 400.

It was not the first NASCAR race on NBC ever, however. They broadcasted the 1999 and 2000 Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That being said, this is the first race on NBC as we knew it.

It was the first race with the old NBC graphics package, and the combination of Alan Bestwick, Benny Parsons, and Wally Dallenbach in the booth. One of the most iconic and well-liked broadcast partnerships in NASCAR TV history.

5. It Is the Highest Rated Primetime NASCAR Race ever

Speaking of NBC, this race was the highest rated NASCAR race broadcasted in prime time ever according to Sports Business Journal. SBJ also reports that the race delivered a 6.1 Nielsen rating. Viewership numbers differ depending on the source, but some have given estimates as high as 25 million viewers.

John Maynard of The Washington Post in July of 2001 gave a much smaller estimate stating that the race garnered 10.2 million viewers, which is still massive. For some perspective, the most viewers for a NASCAR race this season is a little bit over 8 million at the Daytona 500. Just imagine if FOX or NBC could pull that kind of viewership nowadays.


The 2001 Pepsi 400 is rightfully remembered as one of the most important and emotional races in NASCAR history. It helped NASCAR and its’ fans heal from the death of Dale Earnhardt, and it launched the original NASCAR on NBC. Some of these little-known facts played into that.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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