by: Liz Allison
For any stock car driver, winning the Daytona 500 sits at the top of their wish-list. This is a dream most professional drivers have possessed since childhood. For some, it may be the only win that could bring them to tears.
Why is it so special to win the Daytona 500? One might argue that it’s the birthplace of NASCAR, dating back to the 1940’s when racing took place on the sands of Daytona Beach. Others would contend that it’s just that difficult to win NASCAR’s top billed event. It doesn’t help that the finest stock car drivers in the world are competing for the coveted trophy. Bottom line: It’s a tough victory to mark off any driver’s bucket list.
The prestigious list of past winners of the Daytona 500 reads like a “who’s who” of NASCAR. Most notably, seven-time champ Richard Petty possesses a record seven victories. Cale Yarborough has won four, while Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon have each won three times. Two-time Daytona 500 champs include Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth. Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and 2017 Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch have all won the Great American Race.
Quite surprising is the absence of some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers from the roster as past winners of NASCAR’s most prestigious race. NASCAR Hall-of-Famers Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, and Terry Labonte have never won a Daytona 500, nor has future Hall-of-Famer Tony Stewart. Past Champions Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have never taken the checkers in the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt, a seven-time champion of the sport, only managed one Daytona 500 win in his illustrious career.
Personally speaking, I was fortunate to stand in Victory Lane as a driver’s wife in 1992 when my late husband, Davey, lifted the Harley J Earl trophy above his head. I had never seen Davey so overwhelmed with emotions like I did that day. Davey wanted desperately to win the Daytona 500, a dream that seemed farfetched as Daytona 500 victories would slip away, year after year. One of which was the 1988 Daytona 500 when Davey finished second to his Dad, for Bobby’s final Daytona 500. Oddly enough, Bobby has no memory of this race due to memory loss stemming from his career-ending accident at Pocono in June of that same year.
A Daytona 500 win solidifies a NASCAR driver as one of the best. Let there be no doubt that a racing resume is boosted by a Daytona 500 victory, but winning at Daytona is much more than that… winning a Daytona 500 has often been referred to as a spiritual experience….Winning the Daytona 500 is A Win Like No Other.