The 2001 Pepsi 400 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series stock car race held on July 7, 2001, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. The race is the 17th of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. The race was the first at Daytona since the 2001 Daytona 500, in which Dale Earnhardt was killed on the final lap. Sterling Marlin of Chip Ganassi Racing won the pole position. Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. won the race, while DEI teammate Michael Waltrip and Elliott Sadler finished second and third, respectively.
Qualifying was scheduled for Thursday, July 5, but was rained out. As a result, it was held the following day, but was delayed for 3 hours, 12 minutes due to rain. On the ten-year anniversary of his first career pole position, Sterling Marlin clinched the pole with a lap speed of 183.778 miles per hour (295.762 km/h). Dodge drivers claimed the first four spots, with Ward Burton (183.597 mph (295.471 km/h)), Stacy Compton (182.678 mph (293.992 km/h)) and Casey Atwood (182.597 mph (293.861 km/h)). Chevrolet driver and Cup points leader Jeff Gordon qualified fifth at 182.312 mph (293.403 km/h). Buckshot Jones, Ron Hornaday Jr., Hut Stricklin, Mike Bliss and Andy Hillenburg failed to qualify.
Singer Britney Spears gave the command to start the engines. Ward Burton took the lead from Sterling Marlin on lap one, but relinquished it to Marlin on lap three. After Kevin Harvick, Marlin and Michael Waltrip shared the lead from laps 10 to 26, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the lead on lap 27, leading 22 laps. Matt Kenseth and Todd Bodine would lead for a combined seven laps, before Earnhardt reclaimed the lead and led 33 more laps. The first caution of the race flew on lap 89, when Andy Houston crashed in turn 4. Robert Pressley took the lead on lap 90, which Earnhardt reclaimed the following lap. With 18 laps to go, cars entered pit road for final stops, but ten cars (Mike Skinner, Pressley, Sterling Marlin, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Terry Labonte, Bobby Hamilton, Kevin Harvick, John Andretti, Mark Martin, Dave Marcis, Jason Leffler) were involved in a crash in turn 4. Earnhardt would surrender the lead again to Johnny Benson, Jr., who had made a late-race gamble to pull ahead. Dale Jr had to deal with lap traffic on the restart, but the Caution flew for the final time when Jeff Gordon's oil line cut. The race restarted with six laps to go with Johnny Benson still leading. But with five laps remaining, Earnhardt took back the lead, and with drafting assistance from Waltrip, claimed the victory. Elliott Sadler, Ward Burton and Bobby Labonte finished in the top five. Tony Stewart crossed the line in sixth, but officially classified in 26th, had his finishing spot taken by Jerry Nadeau; Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton, Brett Bodine and Mike Wallace rounded out the top ten.
To celebrate, Earnhardt climbed onto his car's roof, and shared an embrace with Waltrip before diving into his pit crew.
After the race, Tony Stewart, who ignored orders to return to pit road due to passing Dave Blaney below the track's yellow line, knocked a tape recorder away from a Winston-Salem Journal reporter and kicked it under a hauler, and attempted to confront Cup director Gary Nelson, but was restrained by owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli. Stewart argued that he had been forced below the yellow line by Johnny Benson, Bobby Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield. Stewart was later fined $10,000, had his probation (dating back to spinning out Jeff Gordon at Bristol Motor Speedway) extended and was penalized 65 points.
The race was scrutinized by theorists that it was fixed, due to the emotional and race-related circumstances surrounding Earnhardt's win, such as his ability to pass six cars within two laps; additionally, drivers Johnny Benson and Jimmy Spencer said his win seemed "too easy." When asked about the allegations, Earnhardt stated, "Other than the wins I had when my father was there, that'll be the day I always remember. And for somebody to be questioning its credibility, questioning my credibility, I feel that's a slap in my face and a slap in my father's face and a slap in [crew chief] Tony Eury's face."
The 2001 Pepsi 400 was broadcast by NBC, as the first race broadcast by the network under a new centralized NASCAR contract which gave a consortium of NBC Sports and Turner Sports rights to broadcast the second half of the season.
25 million viewers watched the race, setting a viewership record for night races.