For three decades, since the first Daytona 500 in 1959, NASCAR'S top series had been obsessed with speed. But after Bobby Allison flipped his car into Talladega's grandstand fence in 1987, a wreck that injured several spectators, the sport decided enough was enough. Racing at the superspeedways, with cars lapping at more than 200 mph, had gotten too dangerous. Thus the '88 Daytona 500 was the first race of a new era, when superspeedway events would be run with carburetor restrictor plates. With his power limited, Bobby Allison's average winning speed of 137.531 mph that year was nearly 40 mph slower than that of the previous year's winner, Bill Elliott.
But speed was the only thing reined in during the go-go '80s, a time of exponential growth for NASCAR. The Winston Cup entered the decade with just one televised race per season but would end it with a full schedule of 29. More people than ever were tuning in to a new generation of stars, including Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip. As much as anybody, the brash Waltrip defined the decade, winning three titles and drawing millions in sponsorship money to the sport. His style had irked fans early in his career, but by the time he won his first 500, in '89, he was the circuit's most popular driver.