Feb 21, 2014, 7:20 PM EST
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What should potentially be one of the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500 hasn’t even registered a blip on the NASCAR media radar this year.
With so much attention focused on Austin Dillon bringing the legendary No. 3 back to the Sprint Cup Series after a 13-year absence and then putting it on the pole for Sunday’s race, the media seem to have forgotten an almost equally important story.
Tony Stewart will make his 16th consecutive career start in the Daytona 500 this Sunday, making him third among active drivers with the most starts without a win in the field for the Great American Race.
Terry Labonte, who has announced that Sunday will be his final career start at Daytona, tops the list with 32 starts in the 500 without a win. Brother Bobby will make his 22nd start on Sunday without a win in the big race.
Over the last four or five 500s, Stewart has come into Speedweeks as arguably one of the key focal points of media attention not because of what he’s done, but what he’s not done.
But no one is talking about Stewart’s 0-for-15 record in this year’s edition of Speedweeks.
Stewart comes into Sunday as essentially the Dale Earnhardt of his generation when it comes to Daytona 500 success. After years of frustration, Earnhardt finally won his first – and ultimately only – Daytona 500 in his 20th try in 1998.
At the same time, Stewart, a winner of 48 career races in 521 starts on the Cup circuit, is somewhat of a paradox.
It’s not that he’s a bad driver at Daytona. In 30 career Cup starts there, he has four wins, but all have come in summer’s Coca Zero 400. Stewart also has nine top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
He also has seven Nationwide Series wins there.
After four top-five and three other top-10 finishes in an eight-year stretch of the 500 from 2002 through 2009 (he also finished a career-worse 43rd in 2007), Stewart has struggled in the last four editions of the Great American Race: 22nd (2010), 13th (2011), 16th (2012) and his second-worst finish in the race, 41st, last season.
“You look at marquee events around the world, and not only NASCAR but in all of motorsports – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours At Daytona, the Indy 500, the Knoxville Nationals – and to be a driver that can cross off one of those marquee events as a winner, that cements your legacy in motorsports,” Stewart said. “To be able to win the Daytona 500 is the ultimate dream of a racecar driver.”
A Daytona 500 win is unquestionably “No. 1″ on his bucket list, Stewart said.
“I may never get a chance to run in those other marquee events, so that’s why it puts the Daytona 500 at the top, because it’s something that we actually have a shot at,” Stewart said, referring again to Le Mans, the Indy 500, etc. “But it is hard. It’s a hard race, and it’s not like you get to come back next week and try it again if you don’t accomplish it. You get one shot a year to accomplish this goal.”
With Sunday being Stewart’s first official points-paying Cup race since last summer’s wreck in a sprint car race that resulted in a severely broken leg and caused him to miss the final 15 races of the season, a win Sunday would be all the more sweeter.
That’s not to say Stewart hasn’t come close to winning NASCAR’s biggest race. He was runner-up in the 2004 race and third in 2002 and 2008.
“I’ve run that race over in my mind a million times on what I thought I could’ve done differently,” Stewart said. “If it would’ve been the Daytona 498, I had it won. I was forced to make a decision of whether I was going to put my whole race in jeopardy to win it, or know that I was getting passed but I may have a shot to get it back in the end.
“I took the safer route, and I wish I would’ve thrown caution to the wind. I think I would’ve rather crashed out of it knowing that I did everything I could, but I wasn’t sure that if I made the move to block Ryan to get in front of him – they were coming at such a high rate of speed – I was probably going to crash half the field if I moved.
“That decision to play it safe has haunted me ever since. So, if that situation happens again, I may come back on a hook, but at least I can say I know I did everything I could do to give myself that shot.”
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Jan 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Sunday has dawned at the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:10 AM EST
An early mistake from Ken Roczen shuffled him to the back of the field and resulted in him giving up the points lead.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:55 AM EST
Cooper Webb retained the points lead in the 250 Class but had some pointed words for Tyler Bowers after the race.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
The 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona is now underway.
Jan 24, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
UPDATED: A pair of disqualifications involving two of Abreu’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East teammates elevate the Chili Bowl champion to a 13th place finish.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:06 PM EST
Coon will work on MRN Radio’s live qualifying and race broadcasts in 2015.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:23 PM EST
Since resigning from Ferrari last fall, Montezemolo has taken over as CEO of an Italian airline and joined the board of directors for F1’s controlling shareholder.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Vets-Help hopes to not only host disabled veterans’ races at the track, but also build a residential complex and rehab center for vets and soldiers returning from war.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:37 PM EST
Former team competition director alleges that KBM owes him bonus money and commissions from a pair of sponsorships he says he helped get for the team.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:39 PM EST
The reigning World Champ and aspiring R&B singer aligns with London PR firm that’s home to some of the world’s most popular musicians.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray loves everything about racing sports cars, especially in this week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, except for one thing — the noise.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Against the odds, the key storyline heading into today’s Rolex 24 at Daytona is a P2 convert going up against DP teams for the overall win.
Jan 23, 2015, 8:16 PM EST
At 707 horsepower, the last thing anyone would likely think is that a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat would lose a drag race to … an all-electric Tesla. But it’s true, sadly for Mopar fans.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
The NASCAR team owner talks about his initial reaction to Gordon’s retirement decision, Gordon’s impact on the sport, and what his team’s plans are for after 2015.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:13 PM EST
On Friday, the NASCAR America crew discussed potential candidates to inherit the No. 24 car with 2015 being Jeff Gordon’s final season. One interesting name came up, that of Kyle Larson.
Jan 23, 2015, 6:34 PM EST
Victory Motorcycles will compete for the first time in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2015, with husband and wife team Matt and Angie Smith heading up the effort.
Jan 23, 2015, 6:22 PM EST
Rex White, to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday, wasn’t just a great driver, he’s also a great storyteller. We share some of his best tales with MST readers.
Jan 23, 2015, 5:48 PM EST
Gordon has left the door open to competing in other series when his full-time Sprint Cup career ends this fall.
Jan 23, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
The four-time Sprint Cup champion isn’t the only NASCAR driver that’s gotten rich in the last two decades or so.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA, 5 p.m. ET – More on Jeff Gordon’s decision; interviews with Hendrick, Hornish
Jan 23, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Also coming up today: Breaking down offseason moves from Petty, Stewart-Haas teams; looking back on an ‘Awesome’ 1985 Daytona 500; the Top-5 moments from the 2014 Chase.
Video from NASCAR America
- Rex White, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver — and storyteller 1
- Is a NASCAR TV analyst career in Jeff Gordon’s future? ‘I’d entertain it’ 2
- After wedding and winter to reflect, Joey Logano looks for more in 2015 2
- Jeff Gordon’s legacy of success transcends generations 1
- Jeff Gordon announces 2015 as final full-time season 43
- NASCAR: Trackside shopping set to change as part of new Fanatics deal (UPDATED) 10
- Brian Vickers to return to racing at Las Vegas after health scare 9