1979 Firecracker 400: Bonnett Best at Daytona

Neil Bonnett

On July 4, Bonnett drove the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury to victory as the second half of the NASCAR season began to unfold in the heat of a Florida summer. (Photo: ISC Archives)

The 1979 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway presented driver Neil Bonnett with an early birthday present that year.

On July 30, he would celebrate his 33rd birthday. On July 4, Bonnett drove the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury to victory as the second half of the NASCAR season began to unfold in the heat of a Florida summer.

Bonnett deftly maneuvered through a pack of lapped cars along the backstretch on the final lap and held off a fast-closing Benny Parsons to claim the second of his three wins that season. Dale Earnhardt finished third with Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty completing the top five.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” Bonnett said of his last-lap encounter with the backstretch traffic jam. “I knew Benny was right behind me and that traffic could have played to his advantage. I saw a hole that looked big enough for half a Mercury, so I decided to go for it.”

Fortunately for Bonnett, the hole was large enough for a full-size Mercury to drive through and he motored on to the win.

“I didn’t get around those other cars as well as I would have liked,” Parsons lamented.

Bonnett started second and led a race-high 77 laps, including the final 28. His margin of victory was one second over Parsons. Pole sitter Buddy Baker retired early with ignition failure. He finished 34th in the 41-car field.

There were 28 lead changes among eight drivers, with just two cautions for 11 laps.

NASCAR returns to “The World Center of Racing” this week for Saturday’s 56th running of the Firecracker 400, known today as the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola.

Visit MRN.com on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (ET) to hear the complete broadcast of the 1979 Firecracker 400 from Daytona International Speedway, anchored by Barney Hall and Jack Arute. Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – features a classic race each week on “Throwback Thursday” only at MRN.com.

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