VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — The Daytona 500 has been NASCAR’s blue-chip event since its first running at Daytona Int’l Speedway in 1959.
Despite this, the 500 has hardly been a barometer for racing greatness likes its open-wheel counterpart — the Indianapolis 500.
The winner’s list for the February race is somewhat baffling. Some of the sport’s best drivers, including Harry Gant, Neil Bonnett, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Alan Kulwicki, Bobby and Terry Labonte and Mark Martin are among those who haven’t won it. Today’s drivers like Tony Stewart, the Busch Brothers, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne have tried many times, but have yet to claim Daytona gold.
Three of the all-time greatest NASCAR stars — Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt won the 500 only once each. Yet Derrike Cope, who never ran in the top five in any previous NASCAR race, won the 500. Michael Waltrip, winless in more than 450 NASCAR starts to start his career, won it twice.
It mostly boils down to restrictor-plate racing in which virtually anyone can win. This certainly makes an odd situation for a sport’s premier event.
Richard Petty raised eyebrows when he said Danica Patrick could only win if “everybody else went home.” Almost immediately, the NASCAR TV media went to Danica’s defense based on her winning the pole at Daytona last year and her top-10 finish.
Well, a fellow named Loy Allen once won the pole matching that with Derrike Cope’s win means success at Daytona doesn’t grant you racing immortality.
It all boils down to NASCAR media. If Danica Patrick was a guy named “Danny,” “his” rookie season would have been ignored.
Do you think Josh Wise and Michael Annett will draw the attention in their rookie year that Danica did last year?