Skip to content

Will Tony Stewart finally break Daytona 500 jinx on Sunday?

Feb 21, 2014, 7:20 PM EST

Coke Zero 400 - Qualifying Getty Images

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.

The latter finish still eats at Stewart six years later, when he watched Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch make a last lap charge past him to the checkered flag to finish 1-2.

“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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. NASCAR Canadian Tire Series 2015 schedule released

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:51 PM EST

    Canadian tire series logo

    It lasts only four months, but there’ll be lots of action on the schedule for the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

  2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to do a little pre-Christmas dirt tracking Saturday in Illinois

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:26 PM EST

    (Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be slinging some pre-Christmas dirt this Saturday in an all-star sprint car race in DuQuoin, Ill.

  3. Kurt Busch sponsor supports him ‘110 percent’ in dispute with ex-girlfriend

    Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 PM EST

    (Jerry Markland/Getty Images) Getty Images

    One of Kurt Busch’s sponsors has joined team owner Gene Haas in backing the driver in his ongoing dispute with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

  4. Have a good laugh: Check out NASCAR America’s 2014 blooper reel (video)

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EST

    NASCAR America

    Want to have a good laugh or two? Check out all of the bloopers and behind-the-scenes fun from NASCAR America over this past year.

  5. NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck Series crew member

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:18 PM EST

    nascar logo 2014

    NASCAR announced that a Camping World Truck Series crew member has been suspended for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy.

  6. WATCH: Race of Champions at 7 p.m. ET kicks off motors evening on NBCSN

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST

    ROA_Twitter_Promo

    RoC, Mecum, and two F1 “Road To:” specials make for motors block on NBCSN tonight starting at 7 p.m. ET.

  7. IndyCar champ Will Power’s hidden talent — breakdancing

    Dec 18, 2014, 4:15 PM EST

    penske file power montoya 2014

    Will Power is a closet breakdancer? Who knew? Find out in the latest edition of The Penske Files.

  8. Sauber’s new C34 chassis has passed crash test

    Dec 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Brazil Getty Images

    Sauber’s 2015 car is the second to pass crash test.

  9. Ganassi’s IndyCar, NASCAR stars set for another Rolex 24

    Dec 18, 2014, 3:28 PM EST

    PruettCOTAWin Getty Images

    No Franchitti in 2015 as CGR announces Rolex 24 lineup.

  10. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud will head to Super Bowl with Verizon

    Dec 18, 2014, 2:30 PM EST

    Pagenaud AP

    Penske’s newest star to head to NFL’s biggest game.

  11. Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 13 – Chase Elliott wins final Nationwide Series championship at record age

    Dec 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    (Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

    In less than one year, Chase Elliott went from the driver of a start-up team to the youngest champion in NASCAR history.

  12. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 16 Aric Almirola

    Dec 18, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    Oral-B USA 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Almirola broke into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a rain-shortened win at Daytona in the summer.

  13. F1: Hamilton, Alonso engineers on the move

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EST

    Alonso and Hamilton were teammates at McLaren back in 2007 (© Getty Images) Getty Images

    The engineer market is busy in F1, as well.

  14. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 15 Kasey Kahne

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    (Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Kasey Kahne struggled at times in 2014, but there’s great promise for 2015 with a new contract, new crew chief and an extension from his primary sponsor.

  15. CVC adds di Montezemolo, Walsh to Board of Directors for F1; Bernie stays on

    Dec 18, 2014, 11:46 AM EST

    MontezemoloBoard AP

    Di Montezemolo and Walsh now part of F1’s controlling shareholder Board of Directors.

  16. Menards stays on as NASCAR XFINITY sponsor for RCR

    Dec 18, 2014, 11:11 AM EST

    MenardsNXS Getty Images

    Menards stays with RCR’s XFINITY program.

  17. Flying Lizards head to PWC with McLaren

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:56 AM EST

    Photo: McLaren Photo: McLaren

    New cars, series for sports car stalwart team.

  18. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Southern Modified Tour release expanded 2015 schedules

    Dec 17, 2014, 8:47 PM EST

    nbc whelen modified tour logo

    NASCAR revealed the 2015 schedules for the Whelen Modified Tour and its Southwest Modified Tour, including a first-time visit at the legendary Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway.

Video from NASCAR America

NASCAR America's 2014 blooper reel
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. A. Self (1826)
  2. D. Suarez (1688)
  3. M. Tifft (1660)
  4. J. Boston (1601)
  5. C. Coughlin (1555)
  1. K. Busch (1517)
  2. K. Busch (1291)
  3. B. Vickers (1275)
  4. D. Armstrong (957)
  5. K. Larson (938)