Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Who Needs a Daytona 500 Win?

Who would benefit the most from a Daytona 500 win? What driver in the field needs a 500 to complete their resume? 

Sean Fesko, Staff Writer: Any driver with no prayer of winning a non-plate race would benefit the most. Not only would they be a part of the whirlwind winner’s media tour, but they’d also secure their place in the Chase, both of which look great to potential sponsors. Tony Stewart needed the 500 win the most, but without him in the field I look at Kurt Busch as the one who could round out his resumé with a victory in the Great American Race.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: The greatest benefit varies depending on what you want the win to mean. For Joe Gibbs Racing, a win by any of that organization’s four drivers would be huge. A win by Greg Biffle would steer the Roush Fenway Racing ship back toward smoother seas. A win by Danica Patrick would likely tip the planet off its axis, but I’m not holding my breath or hanging onto a secured object.

Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: The easy answer would have been Stewart, but that’s not going to happen now. A good driver who is lacking a Daytona 500 win and a championship is Carl Edwards. With the Gibbs cars, he certainly has the equipment to win and seems to have become one of the more likable guys in Sprint Cup. If he can win the 500 that might also help boost him to the title with that Chase guarantee in place.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: While I don’t think anyone needs a Daytona 500 win, a win would do the most for a team that doesn’t have endless money and resources at its disposal, and there are some mid-tier and smaller teams in the field who could pull it off.  That would be a great storyline to kick off the season and possibly help one of those teams get additional sponsorship needed to get to the next level.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor:
As Derrike Cope‘s career trajectory has shown, the driver with the relatively thin resume can prolong their careers by years thanks to a Daytona 500 win, since that’s practically all anyone remembers about him.  As a result, a driver like Chris Buescher, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto or David Ragan would benefit most from winning. In regards to the driver who needs to complete their resume, it would be Tony Stewart if he weren’t hurt.  Without Stewart in the race, it’s either one of the Busch brothers — and I’ll go with Kurt Busch because this will be his 16th start, he hasn’t won and he’s always a factor regardless.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson each have two wins in the Daytona 500. Where would you rank them in the list of all-time drivers in the race? What would a third victory mean for either of them? 

Henderson: I do find it interesting that these two have both made the statement that a second win makes, because if you come right down to it, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a much better plate driver than Jimmie Johnson, who’s generally mediocre — yes, he can win, but he’s a bit of a loose cannon who isn’t nearly as successful without a very good plate racer behind him in the draft. He had that for both of his wins.  I think Earnhardt could possibly fall in the top 10 at Daytona, but Johnson isn’t even on the radar.

Allaway: Earnhardt is one of the toughest chaps of the last 30 years at Daytona.  Whenever you go there, you know he’s going to be in the hunt.  Johnson’s had his successes, but they’ve been a little more quiet.  Earning a third win in the Daytona 500 would be a nice feather in the cap to either driver, but I believe it would mean a heck of a lot more to Earnhardt than to Johnson.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are each looking for their third Daytona 500 win (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: Considering only a handful of drivers have ever won three Daytona 500s, and most came before the current, massive-pack era, a third win in the Daytona 500 would be career-defining for either driver. One could argue that without a championship, this might be Earnhardt’s best bet at a Hall of Fame nod. As for their rankings, both deserve a place in the top-10 list of drivers to run the race. Earnhardt would rank higher on restrictor plates, though Johnson has clearly proven himself to be the better overall competitor.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: I would put Johnson somewhere on the same level as Sterling Marlin, having won two Daytona 500s. Earnhardt, however, I would probably rank a bit higher. He had to hold off three really strong competitors to win it in 2014 in the closing laps. In 2004 at the height of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. dominance on the plate tracks and he won that race comparatively easy. It’s his record the past few years that stands out to me. Even in the dark years of 2008-2011, Earnhardt has shown up ready to contend for the win, no matter how bad things would get by mid-season. Since 2001 he’s finished in the top 3 seven times. Not exactly Richard Petty’s seven for the Daytona 500, but he actually beats his old man in that stat department by one.

Howell: Earnhardt’s ahead of Jimmie, but I stick both of them behind names like Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough. Earnhardt has a real grip on plate tracks and always seems destined to run well at Daytona. A third victory by either of these two would simply be another feather in Rick Hendrick’s plumage-laden cap. I’m keeping an eye on Earnhardt this Sunday.

Both Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon will see seat time in the No. 14 as Tony Stewart recovers from his injuries, with other drivers a possibility as well.  Is this revolving door of drivers best for the team, or should the have stuck with one driver, and if so, which one?

Allaway: Ideally, you don’t want a merry-go-round of drivers.  It plays havoc with the team chemistry.  “Buga” does not need that as a rookie crew chief.  Ideally, they should have gone with either Alex Bowman or Justin Allgaier.  Sure, neither of them have won in Sprint Cup, but they would be able to give a good accounting of themselves and they both already have relationships with a Hendrick-affiliated team.

Pugliese: The reality of the situation is, whoever is subbing is irrelevant, because they’re only a seat warmer for a few months. This works well to help Brian Vickers audition for a top ride again assuming his health holds up, and lets Bass Pro Shops get its driver some Cup level exposure in a prime time ride. What I think all of this ultimately will lead up to, however, is Clint Bowyer taking over the car by mid-season, and one of the two subs finding their way into the No. 15. Sad to say, but I feel that we’ve already seen the last of Smoke in the Sprint Cup Series.

Fesko: Normally, a revolving door of drivers is great for the drivers but not the team. However, after Joe Gibbs Racing’s 2015 season utilizing Matt Crafton, David Ragan and Erik Jones in the No. 18 while en route to a championship with Kyle Busch, it is clear that using a cadre of drivers isn’t a death sentence for a team’s season. Will Stewart win the championship upon his return? Probably not, but not because his team is unprepared.

Wolfe: I think it would be ideal for the team if it could stick with one driver, but that’s not the sponsor driven world we live in today. In other words, given Ty Dillon‘s affiliation with Chevrolet and his potential to bring sponsors to the ride, it will be no surprise to see him in the No. 14 at times as well.

Before today’s superspeedway was built, races at Daytona took place on a course consisting of a section of Daytona Beach itself and Highway A1A.  Who in today’s field would you have liked to see take on the beach-road course?

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Defending Sprint Cup Series champ Kyle Busch would be a popular pick to take on the old Daytona Beach course. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Pugliese: Jimmie Johnson given his off-road exploits, but the guy I’d really want to see tackle it is Robby Gordon. He’s still among the best I’ve ever seen on a road course, and his off-road chops are legendary as well. Then again, Kyle Busch holds the land speed record in a 45-mph zone, so I’d like to see him give it a whirl too.

Fesko: Kyle Busch. His no-holds-barred approach to racing would be a sight to behold on both pavement and sand. It would be an absolute treat to see him wheel the car on both surfaces while pushing the limits of his machine.

Howell: I’m thinking someone like Jimmie Johnson might have done well on the old beach-road course. He comes from a dirt/off-road background and would likely understand the best way to throw sand. Tony Stewart is another who’d likely run well on the old layout. It’d be fun to see Stewart mixing it up in the old cars.

Wolfe: I think someone like a Kyle Busch would’ve been great on the sand/highway. He’s daring enough to make the kind of moves you need and skilled enough to pull them off.

Henderson: I’m with Vito on Robby Gordon.  I think any of the drivers with a true off-road background would be fun to watch, so put Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears and Brendan Gaughan in that field as well, among others.

Allaway: I’d actually want to put Austin Dillon in there.  He’s got a lot of skill on the loose surfaces and would be able to show the greats of the 1950s who’s boss.

Oh, baby. This is a dream scenario, here. Give me Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu. It’d be the perfect mix of asphalt champions and dirt aces willing to let ‘er eat on the sand.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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