DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They say you always remember the ‘first-time’ and Daytona International Speedway has been known for making memories that last in the NASCAR Cup Series.
In total 23 different drivers have won their first race in the NASCAR Cup Series at the 2.5-mile track.
Daytona International Speedway has also seen a first-time winner in at least one of its NASCAR Cup Series races in the last five consecutive seasons (2018-2022).
The last two Daytona 500 winners were what most would consider underdogs.
Michael McDowell went from 0-for-357 to his first Cup win being the 2021 Daytona 500. Last year, rookie Austin Cindric scored the win.
With having so much randomness lately in Daytona, it’s almost made it one of the more difficult races to actually win.
As a result, Kyle Busch’s star-crossed history in the DAYTONA 500 isn’t lost on the driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
As Busch approached the dais Wednesday during DAYTONA 500 Media Day, he noticed a lottery ticket next to the microphone—a leftover item from the earlier announcement of PowerBall as an official NASCAR partner.
“Better chance of winning that than the DAYTONA 500,” Busch quipped, mindful of his 20.24 average finish in the Great American Race.
Busch got his best DAYTONA 500 result in 2019, when he finished second to former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. In 17 starts in the season-opening race, Busch has recorded just three top fives and five top 10s. Many of the remaining races have been unmitigated disasters.
Between seasons, Busch switched teams from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota to Childress and Chevrolet, and he hopes the move will bring a change of fortune where the DAYTONA 500 is concerned.
“Here, a lot of your result can be in the hands of the other drivers around you and the circumstances around you,” Busch said. “That’s just the nature of it, but we all have the same race to go out there and run in.
“As far as being positive about it, yeah, I would be positive about it. Having a new fresh look and outlook with my new team, and being with the No. 8, it’s exciting for me anyways. So, I would love nothing more than to win the DAYTONA 500 with RCR, Chevrolet, (sponsor) 3CHI and everybody to really put an exclamation point on the offseason and what this year will hopefully bring.”
Does the lottery type race dilute the Daytona 500? I mean shouldn’t the winners of stock car’s biggest race be the best ones in the sport?
It’s their biggest race of the year. It’s an event to where legends of the sport are made. You have Petty, Earnhardt, Allison, Yarborough, Jarrett, Waltrip, Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, etc all as winners. But, do fluke winners dilute this star studded list?
A Daytona 500 champion should be a special class of drivers. It’s like the Hall of Fame. You don’t just let anyone in that fraternity. Does the somewhat recent nature of what some consider fluke winners dilute this?
Out of the 64 year history of this race, we’ve had just nine drivers now earn their first career Cup win in it. Four of those nine in the last six years.
Really, this all was predicated by the restrictor plate era. There were only nine drivers combined between the ‘500 and the ‘400 to notch their first career Cup victories at the World Center of Racing prior to the restricted air on these cars. There’s been 13 in the 34 years since, with three now coming in the last four seasons.
The thing is, out of the 22 first time Cup winners to occur in Daytona, 13 of which occurred during the ‘400. For the Daytona 500, the list is just Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001), Trevor Bayne (2011), Michael McDowell (2021) and Cindric.
Lund, Andretti and Hamilton would make names for themselves. Hamilton only made 64 career Cup starts but he won four of them. Lund and Andretti don’t require further assessment.
Cope stole a win in 1990. He’d only win twice in 428 career Cup starts. Bayne, won in just his second career start in 2011 but hasn’t won in the 185 starts since. Waltrip, was 0-for-462 before his triumph.
Does this hurt the cause for the Daytona 500 winners fraternity? The races are being won by a more random nature than skill. My question is, does this dilute it?
“It’s been frustrating to not get a great finish here in the 500,” Alex Bowman said. “Obviously we’ve had some other superspeedway success, and we want to win this deal. This is the Daytona 500. Everybody wants to win this deal. We’ve just got to get through the whole race. We just haven’t been able to get through the whole race, and it hasn’t ever really been our fault. We’ve always had great driving race cars, fast race cars, led laps, but just got to get to the end. I feel like if we do that we’re going to have a shot at it.
“But yeah, it’s a really hard race to win. So many things have to go right. Your day has to go so well, and it’s hard. It’s tough to do.”
Brad Keselowski has seven points paying superspeedway wins, most among all drivers. He’s 0-for-13 in this race.
“That’s been the hardest part for me,” Keselowski said in 2019. “I feel we’ve been good enough to win it multiple times. We get caught up in somebody else’s wreck or problem. I think you see that a lot.
“Besides the luck factor, first things first, you got to be running at the end of that race. For whatever reason, I think maybe because it’s the first race of the year, maybe because it’s one of the biggest races of the year, I’m not entirely sure, but the Daytona 500 has traditionally been a race of very high attrition. Getting to the end has been very difficult for us.
“It’s probably kept us from winning it at least once or twice because, like I said earlier, I think we’ve had the car to do it. I think that’s a big part of why it’s so hard to win, the attrition factor, just surviving it to begin with.
“Again, of course, it is a difficult racetrack. This time of year, Florida is a lot hotter than most parts of North America, but this time of year it seems to be one of those racetracks that you practice and you qualify, then the race day, for whatever reason, the track temp goes way up, the cars slide around a lot more, chaos ensues. Trying to survive to the end for me is the biggest part.
“The races we have survived till the end, we have ran really well and been in a position to win. Hopefully that’s the case for us this year. I feel confident if I can be there at the end, we can win the race.”
Kyle Busch is 0-for-17. Martin Truex Jr. is 0-for-18. Kyle Larson is 0-for-9.
“We’ll just keep going down in history of figuring out new ways to lose it,” Busch said in 2020.
Four of the last seven years saw the winner lead only one lap, the final one. Five of the last seven have seen a last lap pass for the win too. As Denny Hamlin said after last year’s race, he was “too far out front.”
He had the fastest car by a mile. He has the most skill in the field. He led 98 laps. Since when in racing is being too far in the lead a bad thing?
It is in superspeedway races though. You need drafting help to win them.