Ten memorable moments from the Sprint Unlimited

BY foxsports • February 7, 2015

In one week, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will unofficially get underway when the green flag drops on the Sprint Unlimited field on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

Started as a race for the pole winners in 1979, the Sprint Unlimited has undergone a number of name changes and format changes over the years, kicking off the start of each season with some intense high-speed action.

Here are 10 of the most memorable moments from the previous 36 races:

Buddy Baker wins first Busch Clash:

The inaugural Busch Clash was run on Feb. 11, 1979 with Benny Parsons starting on the pole and Darrell Waltrip taking the lead on Lap 1. Buddy Baker was able to take the top spot on Lap 2, gave up the lead to Waltrip on Lap 15, but took it back one lap later and won the $50,000 prize.

Dale Earnhardt's first Daytona win:

The second running of the Busch Clash was held on Feb. 20, 1980 and featured a fierce battle between Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett and Bobby Allison.

In just his second full-time season, Earnhardt impressively pressured the leaders throughout the 20-lap event and made a dramatic last-lap pass on Waltrip to score his first win at Daytona International Speedway.

After a terrifying spill during the 1984 Busch Clash at Daytona, forcing Ricky Rudd to compete in the 500 with his swollen eyes literally taped open, Rudd went on to not only compete in the Miller High Life 400 at Richmond two weeks later, he won the race by a margin of 3.2 seconds over Darrell Waltrip.

Ricky Rudd's wild ride:

The 1984 running of the Busch Clash saw one of the race's most violent and dramatic wrecks when Ricky Rudd's No. 15 Bud Moore Ford was turned exiting Turn 4 on Lap 15 of the 20-lap race.

Sliding down the track, Rudd's car lifted in the air and tumbled violently across pit road and through the frontstretch grass multiple times. Rudd's eyes were so swollen from the incident they had to be taped open during the following week's Daytona 500.

Record-breaking speed:

In the pre-restrictor plate age of NASCAR, the 1987 Busch Clash and race winner Bill Elliott set a blistering speed throughout the 20-lap race. The race, which featured one caution for three laps, had an average speed of 197.802 mph and is the fastest NASCAR race ever run.

Rusty's lone restrictor plate victory:

In 1998, the annual NASCAR season-opener undertook a name change to become the Bud Shootout.

As the race came to a finish, a string of cautions staked the field up for a restart with one lap to go. After dominating the race and leading 15 of the 25 laps, Jeff Gordon had transmission issues leading the field to the restart and fell through the field at the start-finish line.

Rusty Wallace was able to take advantage of Gordon's issue, used a push from his brother Kenny to clear Jimmy Spencer and led only one lap to score his only victory on a restrictor plate track.

Denny Hamlin's surprise victory:

With only seven Sprint Cup Series starts under his belt, Denny Hamlin shocked many as he took the Budweiser Shootout victory in his rookie season of 2006.

Earning his spot in the starting field thanks to a pole at Phoenix International Raceway in 2005, Hamlin used a huge push from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart to get ahead of the competition and take the checkered flag in his first Sprint Cup start at Daytona International Raceway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Mountian Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet, burns out after winning the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 9, 2008 in Daytona, Florida.

Dale Jr.'s successful start at HMS:

The 2008 season was one of major change for Dale Earnhardt Jr. The perennial fan favorite made the move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to join Hendrick Motorsports and drive the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Facing a host of unknowns, Earnhardt Jr. kicked off his relationship with team owner Rick Hendrick by taking a trip to Victory Lane in the Budweiser Shootout, leading 47 of the 70 laps and edging Tony Stewart by 0.136-seconds.

Hamlin's illegal last-lap pass:

With no points on the line, you would think the Sprint Unlimited would be an anything-goes type of event, but Denny Hamlin knows otherwise.

During the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, Hamlin was hooked up with Ryan Newman in a two-car tandem draft on the white flag lap. Coming to the checkered flag, Hamlin dove to the bottom of the tri-oval to take the lead from Newman as Kurt Busch jumped to the outside.

Hamlin was the first to the flag, but Busch was awarded the victory as NASCAR officials penalized the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for going below the yellow line.

Jeff Gordon's first flip:

For someone who has accomplished nearly everything in NASCAR, it took Jeff Gordon until the 2012 Budweiser Shootout for him to flip a car.

The incident took place on Lap 73 of 82 when Gordon made contact with Kyle Busch as they battled for second exiting Turn 4. The contact sent Busch sliding in a shower of sparks as Gordon slid up the track and into a pack of cars.

Gordon's car flipped on the driver side, slid further down the track and tumbled multiple times on the apron. Fortunately, Gordon was able to climb from the car.

Kyle Busch's epic saves:

In the same race in which Gordon was sent tumbling down the apron, Kyle Busch was able to survive two near wrecks to come back and earn his first Budweiser Shootout victory.

Busch's first scare came with 28 laps to go in the race when Busch made contact with Jimmie Johnson in Turn 2. The No. 18 Toyota slid down the track and sent a shower of sparks flying from the car, but Busch was able to hang on and only lose three spots.

The second incident occurred when contact with Gordon sent the No. 18 sliding back down the track. Looping the car, Busch was able to continue on with no damage.

Restarting the race mid-pack with two laps to go, Busch hooked up with Tony Stewart, drove to the front of the field, made the pass coming to the checkered flag, and won by only 0.013-seconds.

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