Skip to content

Will Tony Stewart finally break Daytona 500 jinx on Sunday?

Feb 21, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT

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. Grosjean reveals Lotus escape clause

    Oct 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    GrosjeanAUS AP

    Romain Grosjean can opt out of Lotus at year’s end if he so desires.

  2. Button hit with five-place grid penalty for Austin

    Oct 30, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-RUS Getty Images

    British driver forced to change his gearbox for this weekend’s race at COTA.

  3. Johnny Sauter is fastest in both Truck practices at Texas

    Oct 30, 2014, 6:39 PM EDT

    (Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway) Getty Images

    Johnny Sauter was fastest in both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practices Thursday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.

  4. NASCAR America video: Top five drivers to watch in Texas

    Oct 30, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT

    (Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images) Getty Images

    On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Rusty Wallace gave his top five drivers to watch in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Texas. Rusty’s pick for the winner? Jeff Gordon.

  5. Alonso speaks of “ambitious plan” for his racing future

    Oct 30, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Qualifying Getty Images

    Spaniard says that his future is not his first priority, and that all of the events of the past few months have gone as planned.

  6. NASCAR America video: Who has the best chance in Texas?

    Oct 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT

    (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Rick Allen and Rusty Wallace discussed what are Carl Edwards’ and Jeff Gordon’s chances Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

  7. Kaltenborn “beyond the stage of frustration” over F1’s cost crisis

    Oct 30, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-SIN-F1 Getty Images

    Sauber team boss has long warned about the problems blighting Formula 1.

  8. Hamilton excited by F1’s profile and growth in the USA

    Oct 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton AP

    British driver speaks about his appearance on NBC’s TODAY Show and his trip to New York City.

  9. Hamilton questions fairness of double points

    Oct 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel AP

    Lewis Hamilton politely questions double points.

  10. 2014 United States Grand Prix Preview

    Oct 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton AP

    As the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season draws near, the sport ventures to the United States for one of the most popular races of the year in Austin, Texas.

  11. Watch NASCAR America LIVE at 5 pm ET: Texas 3-step, Harvick’s 500th, up-and-coming Quiroga, lots more

    Oct 30, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    Things are always bigger and better in Texas, and we live up to that with the big show we have planned for Thursday’s NASCAR America.

  12. Miles explains IndyCar’s 2015 schedule changes, clashes

    Oct 30, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    TorontoLeadPts Getty Images

    Date changes, date equity, and broadcast windows play key role in shaping 2015 IndyCar schedule.

  13. What does the future hold for F1 in the United States?

    Oct 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    F1 United State Grand Prix Auto Racing AP

    F1 is booming in the United States, but could the arrival of an American team and an American driver send its popularity off the charts?

  14. Road To: Mercedes teaser – The very first Mercedes-Benz car (VIDEO)

    Oct 30, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT

    RTM Logo 101714

    Ahead of the premiere of Road to Mercedes on NBCSN at 10p ET, here is one final teaser for the show that will see NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales travel to Germany to visit the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart.

  15. Vergne: Being kept by Toro Rosso win-win for everybody

    Oct 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia Getty Images

    Frenchman thinks he would be the best choice for Toro Rosso in 2015 alongside Max Verstappen.

  16. Perez close to new deal with Force India

    Oct 30, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain Getty Images

    Sergio Perez closing on in contract extension with Force India.

  17. In just three years, why have Austin and COTA become favorites for F1?

    Oct 30, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    F1-US Grand Prix AP

    The F1 community loves coming to Austin and COTA, but why?

  18. Crew chief trade for Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch begins this weekend

    Oct 30, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT

    (Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images) (Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

    This weekend’s race at Texas will mark the official debut of Tony Gibson and Daniel Knost as crew chiefs for Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, respectively. How will they and their drivers fare together?

  19. Successful COTA Forum in Austin proves the importance of fan engagement in F1

    Oct 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    F1 Fan Forum - Austin, TX Getty Images

    Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez appear at the event in Austin ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

  20. Get your calendars ready for conflicts: Here’s the IndyCar/sports car ones in 2015

    Oct 30, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT

    Long-Beach-Lead Getty Images

    Get your calendars out and start marking up which series run where, when.

Video from NASCAR America

Who has the best chance in Texas?
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Harvick (1131)
  2. J. McMurray (1112)
  3. J. Logano (1107)
  4. T. Stewart (1093)
  5. D. Hamlin (883)