Race Weekend Central

The 10: Best Active NASCAR Drivers Without A Daytona 500 Win

For some NASCAR Hall of Famers, the Great American Race became the Great American Failure. Recently retired Tony Stewart was never able to bring home the trophy; Hall of Famer Mark Martin came two turns from it in 2007 only to fall just short. Rusty Wallace, Carl Edwards, Ned Jarrett… those are just some of the great drivers who never tasted victory on a cool February Sunday down in Florida.

So many of the sport’s superstars are now jostling to avoid the same fate. Here’s a look at the 10 best active drivers racing at Speedweeks who have yet to record their first Daytona 500 victory….

Daytona almost sidetracked Busch’s NASCAR career after a devastating 2015 wreck in an XFINITY race. With both his legs in shambles, he missed the 500 and was quickly reminded of how dangerous restrictor plate racing can still be.

That makes the push for a Daytona trophy all the more intriguing for Kyle. Sunday will mark his 12th 500 start but Busch has finished inside the top five in this race only twice. The good news: one of those finishes was last year, a third-place run that saw Busch jostling toward a winning move late. Can he do two spots better in 2017?

The 2004 Cup Series champion pushed teammate Ryan Newman to the checkered flag in 2008. Back then, Busch was happy to give up the ghost, running second while expecting that favor would one day be repaid.

We’re still waiting.

Busch, for all his success elsewhere has yet to taste victory on a plate track. He’s earned the runner-up moniker at Daytona three times, including falling short to Jeff Gordon in 2005 and to Michael Waltrip way back in rain-shortened 2003. But the driver of the No. 41 Ford continues to fall just short of success. The Clash crash Sunday, one that left his car a mangled mess in the garage isn’t what the doctor ordered to fix that.

Keselowski, the active leader in wins at Talladega is a plate race expert that hasn’t been able to close at Daytona. In 2013, he ran fourth despite a mangled front end that was damaged in an early wreck; he upped that performance to third a year later. Each of those times, he led 13 laps but couldn’t mount a charge toward the front when it counted.

You’d think that Keselowski, big on milestones and history would have this date circled fon the calendar. Team Penske has speed this Speedweeks to the point he’s the most likely contender on this list to break through. 

 Forget Daytona; at this point, Kahne would like to win a race, period. Bristol. Martinsville. Your local short track. A foot race from point A to point B. Really, at the moment anything will do.

He’ll have an uphill battle, to start breaking a string of bad performances with the good mojo of a Daytona victory. The last time Kahne cracked the top five at the Daytona 500, George W. Bush was president, Barack Obama was just a Senator from Illinois and teammate Chase Elliott was in elementary school.

Can Kahne turn it around? Many think another bad season could lead to his demise at HMS. There’s no better way to turn it around than with a surprise victory on Sunday, right?

  • Martin Truex Jr. suffered heartbreak in 2016 when he narrowly missed scoring his first Daytona 500 win. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

    Martin Truex Jr.

Second was the first loser by a matter of inches in February, Truex falling just short after Matt Kenseth nearly wrecked was a rare Daytona 500 opportunity. Sure, the No. 78 team didn’t cash in but it rode momentum from there through the rest of the year.

It was the only top-five finish Truex has had here in 23 total starts. Conventional wisdom might say he scales back to his average finish Sunday; but then, you see the Toyotas buzz around along with new teammate Erik Jones and a win looks like a real possibility.

It’s a new team, new opportunity for Bowyer who used to be one of the sport’s great plate racers. Unfortunately, he’s led just four laps in the last five years down in Daytona while struggling to develop any type of drafting consistency. Add in the uncertainty of Stewart-Haas Racing’s sponsorship for the No. 14 and Bowyer appears the least likely of anyone on this list to cash in during 2017.

Larson, making just his fourth 500 start has a great resume built up by last season’s back-to-back top-10 finishes at Daytona. The problem? He has yet to lead a lap in the Cup Series at this facility. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Small steps?

Dillon, of course has yet to win anywhere but starts 2017 with six straight top-15 performances at Daytona. The pole winner in 2014, Dillon is hoping raw speed translates well with a Richard Childress Racing crew dedicated to pushing people over the top.

The ‘Dinger has just one career victory, collected on the road course of Watkins Glen and could seize the opportunity of the draft; it levels the playing field. But since a third-place finish in 2009, he’s struggled to even get near the front.

Each of these drivers will be in their first 500, full-time rookies on the NASCAR circuit but either one could easily win it. Suarez is the reigning XFINITY champion, taking over for a championship-caliber driver (Carl Edwards) while Jones is the product of Furniture Row expansion.

About the author

Tom Bowles
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The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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