Breaking down the numbers ahead of the season-opening race Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.-- Below is a statistical look at some of the top performers at Daytona International Speedway, including both the Daytona 500 and the annual July race. Daytona International Speedway Data Race #: 1 of 36 (2-22-15) Track Size : 2.5 miles Race Length: 500 miles (200 laps) Banking/Corners : 31 degrees Banking/Straights : 3 degrees Banking/Tri-Oval : 18 degrees Top 10 Driver Ratings at Daytona Kyle Busch 96.2 Matt Kenseth 91.6 Kurt Busch 90.5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 90.3 Tony Stewart 87.9 Jeff Gordon 87.1 Jimmie Johnson 87.0 Denny Hamlin 86.4 Clint Bowyer 83.7 Joey Logano 82.5 Note: Driver Ratings are compiled from 2005-2014 races (18 total) at Daytona (active drivers only). Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Austin Dillon (196.019 mph, 45.914 seconds) 2014 race winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr. (145.290 mph , 2-23-14) Qualifying record : Bill Elliott (210.364 mph, 42.783 secs. 2-9-87) Race record : Buddy Baker (177.602 mph, 2-17-80) Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota) · Three top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 15.9 · Driver Rating of 83.7, ninth-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.828 mph, second-fastest Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · 11 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 17.5 · Average Running Position of 15.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 90.5, third-best · 3,864 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · 2,161 Laps in the Top 15 (60.9%), fifth-most · 2,724 Quality Passes, third-most Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Crispy Toyota) · One win, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 19.1 · Series-best Average Running Position of 12.8 · Series-best Driver Rating of 96.2 · 85 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.827 mph, third-fastest · Series-high 2,488 Laps in the Top 15 (70.1%) · Series-high 2,869 Quality Passes Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.4 · Average Running Position of 14.6, third-best · Driver Rating of 90.3, fourth-best · Series-high 87 Fastest Laps Run · 4,108 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 2,279 Laps in the Top 15 (64.2%), second-most · 2,772 Quality Passes, second-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet) · Six wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.2 · Average Running Position of 14.8, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 87.1, sixth-best · 3,818 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · 2,074 Laps in the Top 15 (58.4%), sixth-most · 2,407 Quality Passes, ninth-most Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota) · Three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 19.6 · Average Running Position of 15.8, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 86.4, eighth-best · 81 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.765 mph, sixth-fastest · 1,703 Laps in the Top 15 (53.5%), 12th-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Three wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 18.0 · Average Running Position of 14.9, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 87.0, seventh-best · 2,214 Laps in the Top 15 (62.4%), fourth-most · 2,425 Quality Passes, eighth-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 19.9 · Average Running Position of 17.0, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 82.2, 12th-best · 71 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 4,093 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 1,818 Laps in the Top 15 (51.2%), 10th-most · 2,446 Quality Passes, seventh-most Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.2 · Average Running Position of 14.4, second-best · Driver Rating of 91.6, second-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 2,247 Laps in the Top 15 (63.3%), third-most · 2,473 Quality Passes, sixth-most Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Two top fives, three top 10s · Average finish of 19.8 · Average Running Position of 17.5, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 82.5, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.750 mph, seventh-fastest Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) · Four wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.8 · Average Running Position of 17.4, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 87.9, fifth-best · 76 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,917 Laps in the Top 15 (54.0%), seventh-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final 2014 Top 16 at Daytona International Speedway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 27 1 2 6 11 3 16.7 79.9 2 Ryan Newman 26 0 1 4 6 5 20.3 79.6 3 Denny Hamlin 18 0 0 3 4 1 19.6 86.4 4 Joey Logano 12 0 0 2 3 2 19.8 82.5 5 Brad Keselowski 11 0 0 2 3 3 20.0 75.4 6 Jeff Gordon 44 3 6 13 20 6 16.2 87.1 7 Matt Kenseth 30 1 2 6 14 5 17.2 91.6 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 30 1 3 11 17 3 13.4 90.3 9 Carl Edwards 20 1 0 4 8 2 19.1 79.8 10 Kyle Busch 20 1 1 5 6 5 19.1 96.2 11 Jimmie Johnson 26 2 3 9 12 6 18.0 87.0 12 Kurt Busch 28 0 0 11 14 1 17.5 90.5 13 AJ Allmendinger 11 0 0 1 2 2 26.3 61.1 14 Greg Biffle 24 1 1 3 7 3 19.6 81.3 15 Kasey Kahne 22 0 0 2 7 5 19.9 82.2 16 Aric Almirola 7 0 1 1 1 3 24.7 72.9 Note: Driver Rating from races at Daytona International Speedway from 2005-2014. Daytona 500 Tidbits · The 2015 edition will be the 57th running of the Daytona 500. · Although the first Daytona 500 was held in 1959, it has been the season-opener only since 1982. · 530 drivers have competed in at least one Daytona 500; 314 in more than one. · 35 drivers have won a Daytona 500. · Youngest Daytona 500 winner: Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 - 20 years, 0 months, 1 days) · Oldest Daytona 500 winner: Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 - 50 years, 2 months, 11 days) · 11 drivers have won more than one Daytona 500, led by Richard Petty with seven victories. · The 11 drivers who have won the Daytona 500 more than once: Richard Petty (seven), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three), Dale Jarrett (three), Jeff Gordon (three), Bill Elliott (two), Matt Kenseth (two), Jimmie Johnson (two), Sterling Marlin (two), Michael Waltrip (two) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (two). · A driver has won back-to-back Daytona 500s three times. Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95). · Seven drivers posted their career-first victory with a win in the Daytona 500: Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001) and Trevor Bayne (2011). · Three other drivers posted their career-first victory in (points-paying) qualifying races: Johnny Rutherford (1963), Bobby Isaac (1964) and Earl Balmer (1966). · Lee Petty, who won the inaugural Daytona 500, and Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500 champion, are the only two drivers to win the Daytona 500 in their first appearance. · Active Daytona 500 winners and the number of NSCS starts in their careers when they won: o Jeff Gordon won his first Daytona 500 on his 125 th career start (1997). His second Daytona 500 win was on his 190 th career start (1999) and the third Daytona 500 was on his 402 nd career start (2005). o Jimmie Johnson won his first on his 148 th (2006) start and posted his second Daytona 500 win on his 400 th career start (2013). o Matt Kenseth won his first on his 329 th start (2009) and his second Daytona 500 on his 437 th career start (2012). o Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Daytona 500 on 148 th start (2004) and his second on his 506 th (2014). o Kevin Harvick posted his Daytona 500 win on his 215 th career start (2007). o Ryan Newman posted his Daytona 500 win on his 225 th career start (2008). o Jamie McMurray posted his Daytona 500 win on his 259 th career start (2011). o Michael Waltrip won his first on his 463 rd start (2001) and posted his second Daytona 500 win on his 535 th career start (2003). · Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500 with five; Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers with four (Earnhardt Jr. is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for second all-time with four). · Dale Earnhardt had 12 top fives in his 23 Daytona 500 starts, more than any other driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers in Daytona 500 top-five finishes with seven (eighth most all-time). · Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty each posted a series leading 16 top 10s in the Daytona 500. · Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip lead all active drivers in Daytona 500 top-10 finishes with nine. · Only 10 drivers have an average finish of 10th or better in the Daytona 500, five of those competed in the Daytona 500 only once. · Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a 12.7 average finish in 15 appearances, the best of the active drivers who have competed in more than one Daytona 500. · 28 of the 35 drivers, who have won, participated in at least two Daytona 500s before visiting Victory Lane. · Six drivers made 10 or more attempts before their first Daytona 500 victory: Dale Earnhardt (19), Buddy Baker (18), Darrell Waltrip (16), Bobby Allison (14), Michael Waltrip (14) and Sterling Marlin (12). · The driver with the all-time most Daytona 500 starts without a victory is Dave Marcis with 33 races; the active drivers with the most starts without a Daytona 500 win is Joe Nemechek (19) and Tony Stewart (16). · Kevin Harvick’s 0.020-second margin of victory over Mark Martin in the 2007 Daytona 500 is the 12th-closest overall since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993, and the closest in a Daytona 500. · Nine of the 56 Daytona 500s (16.3%) have been won from the Coors Light pole. The last to do so was Dale Jarrett in 2000. Jeff Gordon is the only active driver to accomplish the feat (1999). · Cale Yarborough (1968, 1984) and Bill Elliott (1985, 1987) are the only two drivers to win the Daytona 500 from the Coors Light pole more than once. · 16 of the 56 Daytona 500s (28.5%) have been won from the front row. · 27 of the 56 Daytona 500s (48.2%) have been won from a top-five starting position. · 41 of the 56 Daytona 500s (73.2%) have been won from a top 10 starting position · Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 from the 39th starting position in 2009, the deepest a race winner has started. · Five reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions have gone on to win the Daytona 500 the following season: Lee Petty (1959), Richard Petty (1973), Cale Yarborough (1977), Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000). · Five drivers have won the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same season, Richard Petty has done it four times: Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013), Jeff Gordon (1997), Richard Petty (1964, 1971, 1974, 1979), Cale Yarborough (1977) and Lee Petty (1959). · Danica Patrick on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2013 became the first female in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history to win a Coors Light pole for the Daytona 500 posting a speed of 196.434 mph. · Janet Guthrie previously held the record for top starting position by a female NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, starting ninth twice in 1977 - at Talladega Superspeedway on Aug. 7, 1977 and at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 28, 1977. · In 2012, Danica Patrick became the third female driver to compete in a Daytona 500 joining Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson. Below are the previous female driver performances in the Daytona 500. Race Season Driver Start Finish Daytona 500 1977 Janet Guthrie 39 12 Daytona 500 1980 Janet Guthrie 18 11 Daytona 500 2002 Shawna Robinson 36 24 Daytona 500 2012 Danica Patrick 29 38 Daytona 500 2013 Danica Patrick 1 8 Daytona 500 2014 Danica Patrick 27 40 · Driver Ratings for Winners – Pre-Race Daytona 500 Driver Ratings heading into 2014 for past Daytona 500 winners (past 7 years) Driver – Year – Driver Rating o Dale Earnhardt Jr – 2014 – 89.7 o Jimmie Johnson – 2013 – 82.8 o Matt Kenseth – 2012 – 89.0 o Trevor Bayne – 2011 – 68.9 o Jamie McMurray – 2010 – 80.2 o Matt Kenseth – 2009 – 89.0 o Ryan Newman – 2008 – 82.9 o Kevin Harvick – 2007 – 86.3 o Jimmie Johnson – 2006 – 87.5 · Drivers who have won the Daytona 500 in more than one car manufacturer: Driver – Manufacturer (Number of wins in that manufacturer) o Richard Petty – Plymouth (3), Dodge (2), Oldsmobile (1) and Buick (1) o Cale Yarborough – Chevrolet (2), Mercury (1) and Pontiac (1) o Bobby Allison – Buick (2) and Ford (1) o Dale Jarrett – Ford (2) and Chevrolet (1) · Drivers who have won The Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 in the same season: Driver – (Year) o Bobby Allison (1982) o Bill Elliott (1987) o Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000) o Jeff Gordon (1997) Car Numbers that have produced three or more Daytona 500 victories: Car Number – Drivers – (Years) o No. 43 – Richard Petty (1964, ’66, ’71, ’73, ’74, ’79, ‘81) o No. 21 – Tiny Lund (1963), Cale Yarborough (1968), A.J. Foyt (1972), David Pearson (1976) and Trevor Bayne (2011) o No. 28 – Fred Lorenzen (1965), Buddy Baker (1980), Cale Yarborough (1983 and 1984) and Davey Allison (1992) o No. 4 – Ernie Irvan (1991), Sterling Marlin (1994 and 1995) o No. 15 – Bobby Allison (1978), Michael Waltrip (2001 and 2003) o No. 17 – Darrell Waltrip (1989), Matt Kenseth (2009 and 2012) o No. 88 – Bobby Allison (1982), Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014) o No. 24 – Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999 and 2005) At Daytona International Speedway History · Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for
See who our staff members pick to take the checkered flag Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their picks for the Great American Race below. Who do you have? Let us know in the comments section. Zack Albert Denny Hamlin . Joe Gibbs Racing cars have shown plenty of oomph so far in Speedweeks, making Matt Kenseth another Daytona favorite. Sunday, it should be Hamlin's turn in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr. Strong all week, and probably as pumped as he's ever been about his team and his car. Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been unstoppable thus far at Speedweeks, but he's coming off one of his worst seasons to date -- making Johnson the rare "dark horse favorite." The No. 48 Chevrolet swept both Daytona races in his 2013 championship season but hadn't finished higher than 20th in the six Daytona races prior to that. Still, I've got a feeling. Stu Hothem Dale Earnhardt Jr. After last Saturday's first practice, the defending Daytona 500 champion said he had the fastest car in the field. On the 20th anniversary of the last back-to-back winner ( Sterling Marlin ) going to Victory Lane, Earnhardt will join Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough with three or more wins in the Great American Race. RJ Kraft Carl Edwards. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable has been as strong as the Hendrick Motorsports fleet during Speedweeks, with the veteran showing plenty of speed. It will be the organization's newest driver that brings Joe Gibbs his first trip to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 since 1993. Brad Norman Tony Stewart. His car is fast, and Stewart seems more like the 'Smoke' of old than at any other point over the past two years. Plus, he's just due for a good break at Daytona. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon. The three-time Daytona 500 champion is starting from the pole position, has a dynamic duo of Hendrick Motorsports teammates helping him in the front and his No. 24 Chevrolet SS has showcased its speed the entire week. But above all, with this event marking his final Daytona 500, Gordon has plenty of motivation to take the checkered one last time in the Great American Race. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon. The four-time Cup champion is starting his final Great American Race as a full-time driver from the pole — what more motivation does he need to do well? Three previous Daytona 500 wins under his belt doesn't hurt, either. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr. He becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin in 1995. Junior's car has looked fast all week -- he won in the Daytona Duels -- and he has a strong history in this race (series-best 99.6 driver rating, two previous Daytona 500 wins). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Get caught up before the 57th running of the Great American Race Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Buy Daytona 500 gear What : 57th annual Daytona 500 Where : Daytona International Speedway, 2.5-mile tri-oval in Daytona Beach, Florida When : Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 TV/Radio: FOX Sports, MRN (1 p.m. ET) Race Length : 200 laps Pit Road Speed: 55 mph Caution Car Speed: 70 mph Fuel Window: 42 laps On The Front Row " Starting Lineup Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet (201.293 mph) Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet (201.135 mph). Notable: Kyle Busch will miss the Daytona 500 after taking a hard hit with his No. 54 Toyota in Saturday's XFINITY Series season opener He sustained a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. Busch was alert but taken to Halifax Medical Center where he underwent surgery. Matt Crafton was named as the replacement driver Notable II: Gordon's Coors Light Pole Award is his fourth for the Daytona 500, and he's one of just seven drivers to win the Great American Race from the pole. Gordon and Dale Jarrett won the race from the pole in back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000. This will be Jeff Gordon's final Daytona 500. " Gordon ready for last 500 ride To The Rear Twelve drivers will drop to the back of the field before the start of the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish Jr., Trevor Bayne and Johnny Sauter, David Ragan, Ryan Newman and Bobby Labonte (backup cars); Regan Smith and Matt Crafton (replacement drivers). Notable III: Officially, the deepest in the field a Daytona 500 winner has started is 39th (Matt Kenseth, 2009). Defending Daytona 500 Winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. Notable IV: Only three drivers, Richard Petty (1973-'74), Cale Yarborough ('83-'84) and Sterling Marlin ('94-'95) have won back-to-back Daytona 500 titles. Budweiser Duel Winners Race #1 Winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet). Who Raced Their Way In: Landon Cassill (Hillman Racing No. 40 Chevrolet), Cole Whitt (Front Row Motorsports No. 35 Ford), Michael McDowell (Leavine Family Racing no. 95 Ford, J.J. Yeley (BK Racing No. 23 Toyota), Michael Annett (HScott Motorsports No. 46 Chevrolet), Ty Dillon (Circle Sport Racing No. 33 Chevrolet). Who Failed To Transfer: Ron Hornaday Jr. (The Motorsports Group No. 30 Chevrolet), Justin Marks (No. 29 RAB Racing Chevrolet). Race #2: Winner : Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet) Who Raced Their Way In: Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford), Reed Sorenson (Team Xtreme Racing No. 44 Chevrolet), Mike Wallace (Jay Robinson Racing No. 66 Toyota), Justin Allgaier (HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet, David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford) and David Ragan (Front Row Racing No. 34 Ford). Who Failed To Transfer: Josh Wise (Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Ford), Jeb Burton (BK Racing No. 26 Toyota), Alex Bowman (Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet), Brian Scott (Premium Motorsports No. 62 Chevrolet). Fastest In Practice First Practice: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford (202.643 mph). Second Practice: Michael McDowell, Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Ford (199.322 mph). Third Practice: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota (200.776 mph). Fourth Practice: Alex Bowman, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet (200.495 mph). Fifth Practice: Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (192.699 mph). Seventh Practice: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet (194.405 mph). Eighth Practice: Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota (202.106 mph). Driver rating (Best driver rating average in the Daytona 500 based on the past nine years, minimum 5 starts): Matt Kenseth, 91.6 Dale Earnhardt Jr., 90.3 They said it I: "I don't think anybody wants to be in the scenario where you have to sub under circumstances, whatever they may be. And with that said, if it happens, you want to make the most of that opportunity. And there are some guys, I don't know how many, but we'll say 200 employees because I don't know how many Stewart-Haas has, but there are a lot of people that have had their hands on that race car and have worked hard on that race car and they deserve to still have the opportunity to go out there and win that race; and that's what we’re going to try to do for them." -- Regan Smith, on filling in for the suspended Kurt Busch in the No. 41 Chevrolet They said it II: "When someone of (Jeff Gordon's) caliber isn't on the track, it definitely is going to have a big effect. Not only in the 500 next year, but the entire season. Our sport is going to be different without him there. I feel very good about Chase Elliott going into the car. We'll all have fun watching him grow and mature as a driver, see what he's capable of, kind of fill in that Jeff space that's there. I wasn't around to watch the King (Richard Petty) step down and some of the other greats that have been in our sport, so I don't know exactly how it's going to go. If Jeff Gordon isn't on the track, for 23 years he's been such a force on the track. Our sport is not going to necessarily suffer from it, but it's just not the same. It's Jeff Gordon." -- Jimmie Johnson on Jeff Gordon's final Daytona 500 appearance They said it III: "Well, I don't think it boosts our confidence a lot. Winning the Daytona 500 is a real challenge. The challenge didn't get easier tonight. One thing I am happy about is being able to get this car through the Duels without any trouble because it's such a good racecar. We'll be very careful throughout the rest of track activities the remainder of the week. I'm just excited to be able to put this car on the grid for Sunday. I wouldn't want to be driving anything else. The car's so spectacular; it's just going to be great. A proud moment to put it on the grid because I think it's such a good racecar." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his Budweiser Duels-winning No. 88 Chevrolet Former Daytona 500 Winners In Field Jimmie Johnson (2013; '06); Matt Kenseth (2012; '09); Trevor Bayne (2011); Jamie McMurray (2010); Ryan Newman (2008); Kevin Harvick (2007); Jeff Gordon (2005, '99, '97); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014; '04); Michael Waltrip (2003; '01). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Cain: Just as Earnhardt did before him, 'Smoke' wonders if this is the year Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live During the mid-1990s, it was almost a Daytona 500 rite of passage. Long before there were formal organized Media Days, sometime between pole qualifying day and the qualifying races the great Dale Earnhardt would saunter into the cramped and dated old Daytona International Speedway media center, bust a few chops and pat a couple reporters on the back as he navigated the tight quarters to take a seat -- often in a folding metal chair in the corner, summoning reporters to come over to him instead of vice versa. Sunglasses on, he'd lean back in his chair and, depending on his mood, smile or grimace. Sometimes he waited to be asked the perennial question: "When are you going to win the Daytona 500?" Other times he just cut to the chase himself. Some years he was philosophical, other times frustrated, always he was hopeful. He'd won every single other race at NASCAR's iconic track -- most of them multiple times including a mind-boggling 10 straight qualifying races (now known as the Budweiser Duels). Although Earnhardt clearly came to both expect and dread answering questions on why he, a seven-time champion and the sport's greatest active driver, hadn't won the sport's greatest race, he always acted like each year was going to be "the" year. And finally in 1998 it was. I never saw him more genuinely happy and exuberant -- The "Intimidator" sporting a grin so wide it seemed like his mustache might touch his earlobes. Twenty years later, it's a similar scene with another beloved champion, Tony Stewart. As Earnhardt did, Stewart has taught school on the Daytona high banks, hoisting trophies from sports car races to IROC races; after Daytona 500 qualifiers and summer night 400-milers. And like Earnhardt, it's obvious that the questions of whether he will ever win NASCAR's big one have understandably gotten stale and annoying to Stewart. The two greats -- one an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame member, the other a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer -- are shining examples of one of the sport's most mystifying quagmires. It took Earnhardt, a seven-time Cup champion, 20 years of trying before he won the Daytona 500. In the meantime, Derrike Cope (1990) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) scored their first career series wins in the Great American Race. Michael Waltrip notched his first Cup trophy in the 2001 Daytona 500 after more than 460 starts. And 20-year-old Trevor Bayne scored his first and only Cup win in the 2011 500. Yet former series champions Rusty Wallace -- a NASCAR Hall of Famer -- along with champion brothers Terry Labonte and Bobby Labonte are a combined 0-for-77 in the Daytona 500. Mark Martin, one of the sport's most successful drivers, is 0-for-29 in the race. And for the most part, these greats don't even have a lot of near-misses to ponder. Wallace's best finish was third in 2001. Martin won the pole in 2010, had a dramatic runner-up showing in 2007 and a third-place finish in 1995. Terry Labonte has a pair of second-place finishes a decade apart in 1986 and 1997. Bobby Labonte had a sole runner-up in 1998, one of only three top-10 finishes in 22 starts. As he has become accustomed to in recent years, Stewart -- mostly -- patiently answered the Daytona 500 questions again this month. He joked that he was willing to sacrifice a body part to celebrate in NASCAR's most iconic Victory Lane. He's analyzed and Monday morning quarterbacked the late lap moves that shoulda-woulda landed him there. Until Stewart finally kisses that Harley J. Earl trophy, his quest to win the Daytona 500 will be one of the most interesting and compelling subplots of the sport's biggest race. But his success in the 500 is not what defines Stewart as one of NASCAR's greatest champions. Instead, it's the dogged pursuit of that dream that inspires and captivates. Every year, win or lose. And as Earnhardt did each February for two decades, Stewart has every reason to believe that this is his year. "Not until the day that I don't run here anymore,'' Stewart said of abandoning hope of a Daytona 500 win. "Everybody has got a shot here, so it's just a matter of ‑‑ we've been in that position before. … At least that gives you confidence that you've got a shot. "If anybody looks at my career and says because I haven't won a Daytona 500 that I didn't have a good career, I'd want to say they really don't know what they're talking about." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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