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. James Hinchcliffe on the comeback trail for IndyCar driving return

    Sep 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    HinchComeback AP

    James Hinchcliffe a few weeks away from his driving return.

  2. Bottas and Massa to remain with Williams for 2016

    Sep 3, 2015, 5:38 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Williams confirms an unchanged line-up for 2016, keeping Bottas and Massa together for a third season.

  3. Mardenborough set for GP2 debut at Monza with Carlin this weekend

    Sep 2, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT

    Photo: NISMO Photo: NISMO

    Jann Mardenborough steps up from GP3 into GP2 this weekend.

  4. James Hinchcliffe describes how inspired he was by Justin Wilson

    Sep 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Hinchjw AP

    Hinchcliffe recalls racing, commentating on Justin Wilson.

  5. NHRA: Leah Pritchett climbing mountains as she continues to grow career

    Sep 2, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT

    All Photos: Gumout/Dote Racing All Photos: Gumout/Dote Racing

    Leah Pritchett looks to make her mark even more in NHRA Top Fuel, going into U.S. Nationals.

  6. Dixon: “I don’t think anybody had a stellar season”

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:22 AM EDT

    DixonJPM AP

    Dixon offers a rebuttal to Montoya’s dig about a “poor” season.

  7. Hulkenberg: Force India recovery influenced new deal

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT

    xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 22, 2015 in Spa, Belgium. Getty Images

    Hulkenberg reveals he held talks with Haas F1 Team about a seat for 2016 before opting to remain with Force India.

  8. Takuma Sato ends 2015 on a good note

    Sep 1, 2015, 6:37 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy TakumaSato.com) (Photo courtesy TakumaSato.com)

    Sato improved four spots in the driver standings over his 2014 result.

  9. Ryan Briscoe finishes short 2015 season with top-five finish

    Sep 1, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT

    Firestone 600 - Practice Getty Images

    Substituting for James Hinchcliffe, Briscoe ended his abridged 2015 with his first top-five finish of the year.

  10. Report: Derrick Walker reflects on IndyCar tenure and future

    Sep 1, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT

    DerrickWalker2

    Walker spoke with racing journalist Gordon Kirby about his two years in charge of competition and operations.

  11. Social Roundup: IndyCar season-ending banquet

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    A look at the festivities held in San Francisco on Monday night.

  12. Reports: IndyCar’s testing plans for Road America, updates for road course

    Sep 1, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT

    Generac Grand Prix Getty Images

    Track president George Bruggenthies provided details on what to expect at the track next June.

  13. Hulkenberg extends contract with Force India for two more years

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:19 AM EDT

    HulkLaunch15 Getty Images

    Hulkenberg announces two-year extension with Force India F1.

  14. Ten with Townsend: Sonoma and 2015 IndyCar debrief

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    dixonconfetti Getty Images

    NBCSN’s Townsend Bell checks in for the final IndyCar installment of “Ten with Townsend” for 2015, after Sonoma.

  15. Dixon’s latest title a story of consistency, comeback, typical “Ice Man” cool

    Aug 31, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT

    DixonChamp2 AP

    MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno reflects on the latest championship achieved by Scott Dixon and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team.

  16. Damien Power hits Sonoma in person, live tweets, preps for IndyCar video series

    Aug 31, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Damien Power hits Sonoma to meet up with brother Will. Hilarity ensues.