By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
Michael McDowell earned his first career victory in last year’s Daytona 500. The victory came in his tenth attempt at winning the “Great American Race” and gave Front Row Motorsports their first Daytona 500 victory. McDowell’s ten attempts though don’t meet the likes of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 20 but in many ways found their own special feeling. At one time, making the Daytona 500 was a huge deal to McDowell and to earn his first victory in that race had a special mixture of specialness added to the spectacle of winning the Daytona 500.
Many drivers have added their names to the list of Daytona 500 champions including Lee Petty, Mario Andretti, Richard Petty, Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, and many other historic names. On Sunday, 36 drivers will look to add their names to the list of Daytona 500 champions. Five drivers will seek to join the elite company with six other drivers as two-time Daytona 500 champions. One driver in the field seeks to earn his fourth and join Yarborough in a very elite company with Daytona 500 trophy number four.
Martin Truex Jr. – 17 Attempts – Best Finish of 2nd in 2016
Martin Truex Jr. enters his 18th Daytona 500 on Sunday, most of any other drivers entered in this year’s running. Truex has also come the closest to the victory of any other driver entered, by just .010-seconds in 2016. The second-place finish in 2016 is the closest that Truex has come from victory in the Daytona 500. Truex made his Daytona 500 debut in 2005, his third career start in the series. Truex lost an engine in that race finishing 34th but wouldn’t be his worst finish in the season opener. In 2014 Truex’s engine would expire on just lap 30 handing him a 43rd place finish, the fourth of his career, and the only with Furniture Row Racing.
Kyle Busch – 16 Attempts – Best Finish of 2nd in 2019
Kyle Busch would be at 17 starts in the Daytona 500, had he not broken his legs in an Xfinity Series crash prior to the 2015 running of the Daytona 500. Kyle has nearly done everything there is to do in the NASCAR Cup Series. He’s earned two championships, 2015 and 2019. He’s tallied nearly 60 career victories in the NASCAR Cup Series including one victory at Daytona in July 2008. Busch has won nearly everything at Daytona including three Duel victories, two Busch Clash victories, one Xfinity Series victory, and one Truck Series victory… just not the Daytona 500.
His career-best finish came in 2019 when he finished second to Denny Hamlin. He has had five DNF’s in the Daytona 500. In those DNF races, he’s led a combined 120 laps in the Daytona 500 including in 2009 where he led 88. The most he’s led in a single Daytona 500.
David Ragan – 15 Attempts – Best Finish of 4th in 2020
It’s weird to think that David Ragan is considered a Daytona 500 veteran with 15 attempts under his belt. One Daytona 500 has continued to haunt Ragan and it wasn’t his best finish in the 500. The 2011 Daytona 500 was one where Ragan made one mistake that cost him the Daytona 500 victory he seemed close to, leading 7 laps but finishing 14th. During the race, one of the final restarts, Ragan jumped down from the lead to the bottom line which pushed him out of contention.
Ragan came back to earn the victory in the 2011 July race but ever since that race has to have haunted Ragan. He’s led a combined 10 laps in the Daytona 500 but in his career-best but he has been able to earn slight redemption from the 2011 heartbreak. In 2020, Ragan was in the running for the victory behind the chaos that ensued with Ryan Newman.
Greg Biffle – 14 Attempts – Best Finish of 3rd in 2012 and 2010
Greg Biffle will return to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022. It will be his first start in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2016 and would be his first Daytona 500 since 2016 where he finished 34th. Biffle’s big Daytona 500’s came at the peak of Roush Fenway Racing’s years. He came in second behind his Roush teammate Matt Kenseth in both 2010 and 2012, finishing runner-up in both of those races.
Biffle led 44 laps in 2012, the most of his 500 career. He’s led a combined 89 laps in his 500 career and has always been known as someone to contend with. He earned his first career victory at Daytona in 2003 in the Cup Series and finished second in the 2013 Busch Clash.
Brad Keselowski – 12 Attempts – Best Finish of 3rd in 2014
2021 will be a Daytona 500 that Keselowski will always be in the back of his mind. When the white flag was displayed, Keselowski had passed by Harvick and moved into the second position behind his teammate Joey Logano. He was in the right place at the right time in an effort to possibly take the Daytona 500, a victory that has eluded him in his career. Keselowski got turned and turned his teammate Logano resulting in both drivers losing the victory. Keselowski was clearly frustrated by throwing his gloves in the window and his helmet at the car. You could clearly see that was one of the best chances that Keselowski had to win the 500.
Keselowski’s career-best finish came in 2014 as Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his second victory. He edged Jeff Gordon for third as the caution was coming out and again did everything he needed to do, just didn’t have enough. Keselowski has earned victories in almost all “Crown Jewel” races in his career winning the Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400, and Southern 500. The Daytona 500 is the only crown jewel race he’s missing and he’s come close.
Aric Almirola – 11 Attempts – Best Finish of 4th in 2017
In what could be his final start in the Daytona 500, Aric Almirola has one Daytona 500 that still has to hurt. In the 2018 Daytona 500, Almirola was leading coming into turn four before being turned by Austin Dillon. It was Almirola’s debut with Stewart Haas Racing and he almost landed in victory lane. It was the chance that he lost and all he could mutter on the radio was – “I’m okay… devastated.”.
The previous year, 2017, Almirola finished fourth. It is his best career Daytona 500 finish. That year a multitude of drivers ran out of fuel late in the race and Almirola had enough to move into fourth. He’s earned the victory in the July race in 2014 and has earned an Xfinity victory in the July race in 2016.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 10 Attempts – Best Finish of 7th in 2014
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made his second NASCAR Cup Series start in the 2012 Daytona 500. The Daytona 500 that season was the first of four starts in 2012 before he made the move to full-time in Roush Fenway Racing in 2013. He had major shoes to fill moving into the No. 17. Matt Kenseth drove the No. 17 to two Daytona 500 victories in 2008 and 2012.
He had a solid debut in the No. 17 finishing 12th in 2013. The following year though, Stenhouse with new sponsor Nationwide Insurance earned his 500-best finish of 7th. Stenhouse contended for the victory at the end of that race running fifth coming to the checker before he lost his drafting partner in the big one behind him. His best Daytona 500 with his current team came in 2020 when he led 24 laps, the most in a 500 for Stenhouse Jr. but after being involved in a few incidents, he finished 20th.
The Remainder of the Field Under 10 Career Starts in the Daytona 500
- Kyle Larson – Eight Attempts – Best Finish of 7th in 2017 and 2020
- Ryan Blaney – Seven Attempts – Best Finish of 2nd in 2017 and 2020
- Chase Elliott – Six Attempts – Best Finish of 2nd in 2021
- Chris Buescher – Six Attempts – Best Finish of 3rd in 2020
- J.J. Yeley – Six Attempts – Best Finish of 10th in 2013
- Landon Cassill – Six Attempts – Best Finish of 12th in 2014
- Ty Dillon – Six Attempts – Best Finish of 6th in 2019
- Corey LaJoie – Five Attempts – Best Finish of 8th in 2020
- Erik Jones – Five Attempts – Best Finish of 3rd in 2019
- Alex Bowman – Five Attempts – Best Finish of 11th in 2019
- Darrell Wallace Jr. – Four Attempts – Best Finish of 2nd in 2018
- Daniel Suarez – Four Attempts – Best Finish of 29th in 2017
- William Byron – Four Attempts – Best Finish of 21st in 2019
- BJ McLeod – Three Attempts – Best Finish of 19th in 2019
- Ross Chastain – Three Attempts – Best Finish of 7th in 2021
- Tyler Reddick – Three Attempts – Best Finish of 27th in 2019 and 2021
- Christopher Bell – Two Attempts – Best Finish of 16th in 2021
- Cody Ware – Two Attempts – Best Finish of 21st in 2021
- Cole Custer – Two Attempts – Best Finish of 11th in 2021
- Austin Cindric – One Attempt – Best Finish of 15th in 2021
- Chase Briscoe – One Attempt – Best Finish of 19th in 2021
- Daniel Hemric – One Attempt – Best Finish of 34th in 2019
- Justin Haley – One Attempt – Best Finish of 13th in 2020
- Kaz Grala – One Attempt – Best Finish of 28th in 2021
- Timmy Hill – One Attempt – Best Finish of 27th in 2020
There are four drivers who will make their Daytona 500 debut, or at least hope to. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland will for sure make their Daytona 500 debut while Noah Gragson and Jacques Villeneuve will have to either qualify or race their way in.
Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography