25 years ago, Derrike Cope pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Daytona 500 history

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source: Getty Images
It was 25 years ago today that Derrike Cope won the 1990 Daytona 500. (Getty Images)

When Derrike Cope crossed the finish line in the 1990 Daytona 500, it was one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

But rather than think about the significance of what he had just accomplished or how he beat Dale Earnhardt on the final lap in a David vs. Goliath battle, Cope’s mind went in a different direction.

“It was my dad, actually,” Cope said with emotion in his voice when he spoke of his father, Donald. “Once I kind of got whoa’d down, I just started thinking about my dad and what it had taken to get there.”

It was Donald Cope who instilled a love for racing in his sons, Derrike and Darren. A well-known national touring Top Fuel drag racer and engine builder, Donald was always there to support his sons and their racing efforts.

Even on that race day and at home in Spanaway, Wash., Donald wasn’t going to miss watching his son run in the Great American Race. When the local TV station blacked out the Daytona 500 to televise an NBA game, Donald and a number of friends drove more than an hour to a hotel that had the race on its TV system.

That was Feb. 18, 1990, one of the greatest upsets and heartbreaks in Daytona 500 history.

With less than a half a lap left, Dale Earnhardt appeared headed to victory, only to suffer a cut tire that left him with a fifth-place finish in his 12th try at winning the event.

Just over 10 years after he got into a race car for the first time,  Cope had won the Great American Race.

Cope still remembers that day with great vision and shared a number of recollections from that day and his career with NASCAR Talk:

‘IT SEEMS LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY’

Cope probably should never have been at Daytona on the day that changed his life forever. He was a gifted and talented baseball prospect from San Diego, a standout catcher who had all the ingredients to one day become a Major League Baseball star.

But when the Whitman College player suffered a career-ending knee injury, he went from running around basepaths to running around racetracks.

He started small, running dirt track races in and around his adopted hometown of Spanaway, Wash. After several years of part-time racing on the then-Winston Cup Series, he finally became a full-time driver on the circuit in 1988.

Two years later, Cope would join one of NASCAR’s most exclusive fraternities as one of just 35 drivers who have won NASCAR’s biggest race.

A FEELING THAT KEPT GETTING STRONGER

Cope came into Daytona in 1990 with the same kind of elevated optimism that his rivals had.

“[Crew chief] Buddy Parrott was one of those types of individuals that really tried to instill certain things in you with regard to patience and making sure we get to the end because we’ll have a shot to win and the car is good enough,” Cope said. “’We just have to take care of it.’ That was our mindset coming into Sunday.”

Up to that point, Parrott had played it cool, perhaps not wanting to let on that the No. 10 Purolator Chevrolet Lumina was not just race-worthy, it was perhaps the best car Parrott had ever had at Daytona.

The night before the race, Cope picked up on Parrott’s aura.

“I felt we had one of the cars to beat,” Cope said. “I remember I called my brother [Darren] the night before the race and said, ‘I know it sounds crazy, but I think I can win this thing. … If I can take care of this thing, this car is fast enough to win this race.’ ”

FROM GREEN FLAG TO CHECKERED FLAG

Heading into the 32nd Daytona 500, Cope had never finished higher than sixth in any of his previous 71 Winston Cup starts.

He had signed to drive for team owner Bob Whitcomb prior to the start of the 1989 season. One year later, Cope was about to pay incredible dividends in return.

“We ran up front pretty much all day long,” Cope said. “Late in the race, we were in a position to be upfront. The car was a little bit free, so we came in [to the pits]. We did not take on tires, just fuel. And instead of knocking the spoiler up, Buddy knocked the spoiler down, which was freeing the car up more so I could get more speed.

“When we had the last caution, Dale [Earnhardt] and a lot of others had taken on tires. Some stayed out and we stayed out too, on old tires.

“I remember those last six, seven laps. The car was extremely free and I was on used tires and Dale and those guys were on new tires. … I did not lift on the last 13 laps. I ran flat on the mat.

“It was coming down to the white flag lap. I was closing in on Dale real quick and he was backing up, so I drove to the bottom. His car wiggled, he turned to the right to catch it, and I slipped by on the bottom. After I drove by him, I looked behind me and saw a three-car gap between me and Terry [Labonte]. I knew then that if I don’t lift, Terry and Bill [Elliott] weren’t going to beat us. They really couldn’t do anything to me.

“When I came off [turn] four, I really felt we were in position to win this race. It was pure adulation there when we went underneath the checkered flag.”

A DEBRIS CAUTION THAT NASCAR DIDN’T CALL

Earnhardt had cut a tire on debris that many believed came from a broken bell housing on Geoff Bodine’s car. Cope, Elliott and Labonte all picked up some of the same debris.

Cope came over the radio on the cool down lap, saying he had a problem that he had never experienced in his career.

“He don’t know where Victory Lane is,” Parrott laughed on the live TV broadcast that day.

Moments later, it was Cope’s turn to tell the world what it felt to win Daytona. When asked if he could believe what he had just accomplished, Cope deadpanned: “Absolutely not in my wildest dreams. You always come back here with optimism. This is the one that that eludes everybody. Darrell Waltrip did it last year for the first time in his career. It’s a pleasure to win this. It’s a dream come true.”

TO THE VICTOR GOES THE SPOILS

For the rest of that afternoon and late into the evening, Cope was the toast of Daytona.

The next morning, as he prepared to fly home – on a commercial airliner – it finally sank in to Cope about what he had achieved.

“Back then, the airplanes were outside [at Daytona Beach International Airport] and you had to walk outside and up the ladder to get to the doorway,” he said. “I remember standing at the top of the stairs and looking back over towards the Speedway with some fondness of what had just happened.

“We got on, sat down and then there was an announcement: ‘We want to congratulate Derrike Cope, the Daytona 500 winner is onboard.’ And then we flew home. That’s how it went.”

He’d go on to appear on “Late Night with David Letterman,” did a whirlwind media tour around his native Pacific Northwest, and then it was back to business: Richmond was coming up the following weekend.

THE DAYTONA DOWNSIDE

Cope desperately wanted to prove he was no one-hit wonder and would do that 10 races later when he and his team won at Dover – the second and, ultimately, last win in his 409-race Cup career. He’d go on to finish 18th in the standings that season.

“The most difficult part is so many people said that we were a fluke at Daytona,” Cope said. “I felt bad for all the guys on the team. They were all young. I felt bad that nobody really gave us a great deal of respect after that.

“Fortunately, we were able to go on to win at Dover to solidify the fact we really could win and to win on another racetrack. And then years later on, we had good rides with Bobby Allison Motorsports and ran really well, had a pole at Charlotte and some other things.

“When you win something of that magnitude and to have a lot of detractors, that made it a little bit difficult for all of us, I think, for a period of time.”

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER

Cope is now 56 years old. His Daytona 500 trophy still sits high and proud as his office’s centerpiece, and he still wears his champion’s ring from time to time.

“Yes, I will wear the ring [this week in Daytona],” he said with a chuckle.

Cope is still racing, although the Xfinity Series is now his home. Last year marked the first time in several years that he attempted to run the entire season, starting 28 of 33 events.

source: Getty Images
Derrike Cope is still racing these days. He’ll compete in Saturday’s Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway. (Getty Images)

Much like last season, Cope hopes to make it through the first five to 10 races of 2015 and pick up additional funding to get through the rest of the season.

There’s a sense of irony that while Jeff Gordon will be 44 when he completes his final Sprint Cup season, Cope has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

“I just love driving a race car, just have a great deal of passion for it,” he said. “I don’t have anything else that really excites me in any way, shape or form other than this.

“I just feel like I’m going to do all I can for as long as I can, and when I’ve exhausted every avenue and we reach out and no one will let me do anything more or I don’t feel like doing it anymore, then I’ll be able to sit back and put a [fishing] pole in the water or go play a little golf or do what I need to do.”

Cope will mark the 25th anniversary of his Daytona 500 win today fairly quietly. There won’t be any major celebration or anniversary parties of sorts.

Still, unless you’re one of the few to have ever won the biggest race in NASCAR, you will never quite know what Cope feels every year around this time.

“I’m very fortunate to have been able to win the biggest thing that could happen to you in the sport,” Cope said. “You really realize it more now because a lot of your past competitors are retiring that haven’t won it or didn’t win it.”

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Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”