Feb 21, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
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.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
Sep 2, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The Fontana race replay and championship celebration air tonight on NBCSN from 8 p.m. ET through 11:30 p.m. ET.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman have their ideas on who can beat out NASCAR’s two strongest teams for a championship.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
The newest Chase-bound driver chats with NBCSN’s Marty Snider about his win on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
400 miles. 2 Chase Grid spots. It all comes down to Saturday night.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: Beating the Hendrick/Penske bloc; Atlanta edition of “Scan All 43″; Kyle Busch’s continued struggles; the career of crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Daly confirms the tough news on his Twitter page, citing a “lack of funding” as the cause for his dropping.
Sep 2, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Ron Hornaday Jr. is out of a ride and 18 employees are out of a job.
Sep 2, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Alonso to Britain’s Sky Sports: “I want to win here and finish the job that we started some years ago, and we will see what the future [holds]“
Sep 2, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Mazda Road to Indy regulars Scott Hargrove and Daniel Burkett secure titles in Porsche GT3 Canada and Atlantic, respectively.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Pierre Gasly, a Red Bull Junior, will join Caterham’s GP2 team for the rest of 2014.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Ryan Newman is the only Chase hopeful that controls his destiny going into Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Mikhail Aleshin updates his social media pages for first time since scary Fontana accident on Friday night.
Sep 2, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT
What was Haas Formula is now Haas F1 Team as part of a new brand rollout.
Sep 2, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
United Fiber & Data looks set to return to IndyCar for 2015 and the foreseeable future.
Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Team Penske president Tim Cindric all but confirms Will Power will run the No. 1 in 2015.
Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
MAVTV announces IndyCar’s return to Fontana for two more years through 2016, although official confirmation from the sanctioning body and a date remains to be revealed.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”
Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.
Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.
Video from NASCAR America
- Gene Haas’ F1 team changes team name, launches new pages 3
- Cindric proposes IndyCar champion Will Power will run No. 1 in 2015 2
- NASCAR AMERICA: Assessing Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta (VIDEO) 1
- Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power 3
- Honda preps for first simulations, expresses confidence it can match Mercedes 5
- Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go 1
- Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase 1