February 22, 1959
Cotton Owens had the fastest qualifying lap, at 143.198 miles per hour. The race had one qualifying race for Convertibles and one for the hardtop Grand National cars. Bob Welborn, winner of the 100-mile Grand National qualifying race earlier in the week, started on the pole position. Shorty Rollins won the Convertible qualifying race and started second. Twenty of the 59 cars in the Daytona 500 were convertibles.
There were no caution periods in the race. Welborn led the early laps in the race but his race ended after 75 laps with engine problems. Other leaders in the first 22 laps of the race were "Tiger" Tom Pistone and Joe Weatherly. Fireball Roberts took over the lead in lap 23, leading the next 20 laps before dropping out of the race on lap 57 due to a broken fuel pump. Johnny Beauchamp led several laps before Pistone and Jack Smith battled for the lead during the next 100 miles. Richard Petty also had to retire from the race with an engine problem and earned $100 for his 57th-place performance.
Lee Petty battled with Beauchamp during the final 30 laps of the race, and they were the only two drivers to finish on the lead lap. Petty took the lead with 3 laps left, and led at the start of the final lap. Petty and Beauchamp drove side by side across the finish line at the end final lap for a photo finish. Beauchamp was declared the unofficial winner by NASCAR officials, and he drove to victory lane. Petty protested the results, saying "I had Beauchamp by a good two feet. In my own mind, I know I won." Beauchamp replied "I had him by two feet. I glanced over to Lee Petty's car as I crossed the finish line and I could see his headlight slightly back of my car. It was so close I didn't know how they would call it, but I thought I won." Early leader Fireball Roberts, who was standing by the finish line, said "There's no doubt about it, Petty won." It took NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. three days to decide the winner the following Wednesday. In the end, with the help of photographs and newsreel footage, Petty was officially declared the winner.
The controversial finish helped the sport. The delayed results to determine the official winner kept NASCAR and the Daytona 500 on the front page of newspapers.