By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
With an aggressive on-track persona, Jimmy Spencer was given the nickname of “Mr. Excitement” early in his racing career, but it wasn’t until the 1994 Pepsi 400 at Daytona that he really lived up to it.
Entering the Independence Day classic, four drivers had been the class of the field all season long, with Ernie Irvan leading the way ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin, but by the time the checkered flag flew, it was Spencer who stole the show.
Earnhardt and Loy Allen, Jr. led the field to green, with Allen getting the early jump before Earnhardt took his familiar spot at the front of the field. Through the first 55 laps, Earnhardt and Irvan would each lead 23 laps, a signal that they would be the cars to beat as the race played out.
The caution flag would fly four times on the day, with the final caution at lap 120, a multi-car crash involving five cars, setting up the thrilling finish to come.
As Irvan, Ken Schrader, Earnhardt, and others jockeyed for position with the laps winding down, Spencer, who had been among the frontrunners all day, made his move and cleared Schrader to take over the runner-up spot. From that point on, his sole focus was on the rear bumper of Irvan’s car ahead in the lead.
Stalking his prey as the finish drew nearer, Spencer darted to the inside and outside of Irvan, trying to size up his competition and discover the perfect opportunity to strike.
That opportunity came on the last lap as Spencer drifted high through Turn 2 and then cut hard to the bottom of the track as they entered the backstretch, giving him enough momentum to pull alongside Irvan as they charged toward the final set of turns.
The two Fords remained side-by-side through Turns 3 and 4 and bounced off of each other a few times as they powered through the tri-oval toward the checkered flag. As they neared the finish line, Spencer edged ahead just enough and crossed the line first, taking the win by 0.008 seconds.
“We touched good,” Spencer said of the battle with Irvan. “Heck, we’re racing to win. Ernie gave me enough room, I’ve got to thank him for that. My car was really free on the top of the race track and his car got loose on the bottom. He gave me enough room. I got a shot at him down the back straightaway, we touched and I came out on top. Thank you for a clean race.”
The win was the first for Spencer in Cup Series career that dated back to 1989 and was also the first win for his car owner, NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, since the 1992 season finale at Atlanta.
“Junior, he never gave up,” Spencer added. “I said I’d never give up on him. I never gave up driving. Ernie Irvan drove a hell of a race. My guys never gave up and neither did I. I’ve got to thank the McDonalds crew, all of the McDonalds owner/operators, and everybody that helped me in my career, everybody. Thank you.”
Spencer would follow up his Daytona triumph with a win at Talladega later in 1994, but that would be the last time Mr. Excitement would visit Victory Lane before hanging up his helmet for good in 2006.