In the history of NASCAR, there have been many Drivers who made our jaws drop to the ground with their astonishing skills and feats. The Daytona 500, the crown jewel of NASCAR racing, has had scores of talented participants. As there are winners who crossed the checkered finish line with their chest puffed, there are also some unfortunate racers who, despite great efforts, failed due to mishaps and sheared bad luck.
In this article, we will be listing 10 of the best drivers who came close but were unable to take home the cake.
Best Drivers to Never Win the Daytona 500: List of 10 Unlucky Racers
#10. Tony Stewart
It was a no-brainer to put the incredible 3-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart first up on the list. The American stock car driver’s best finish was 2nd place in the 2004 Daytona 500 as a runner-up behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tony’s ambitious racing sets the tracks on fire. Hence he got the nickname “smoke.” He’s loved racing since childhood as he grew up racing to go karts and went on to win a World Karting Association championship in 1987. Tony Stewart became one of the most renowned racers after winning multiple championships, though the Daytona 500 is one of the few he hasn’t won.
#09. Rusty Wallace
After racing for the Daytona 500 for a whopping number of 16 times, Rusty Wallace was finally able to get in the top 5, though he was never able to win. His best finish was 3rd place in the 2001 race.
The now-retired American racer has a ton of wins under his belt from the successful championships he’s raced in throughout his NASCAR Cup career, 55 to be precise. Rusty Wallace was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013. The short end of the stick – he had for his Daytona 500 races, as Wallace raced in a total of 23 races before admitting defeat and retiring.
#08. Ned Jarrett
As a two-time NASCAR Grand National Series Champion with a career average of 9.2 finishes, it seemed as if Ned Jarrett would sweep up a win the second he stepped onto the tracks. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as he was unable to win the Daytona 500.
Ned Jarrett’s racing career was short-lived; he raced until he was just 33 years old. He had a fair amount of success in the sport; if the talented racer continued his career, he would’ve definitely won. Ned Jarrett might not have been able to win one for himself, but he went on to watch his son Dale Jarrett win 3 Daytona 500’s up until now.
#07. Terry Labonte
Two-time NASCAR Cup champion “Texas Terry” has won 22 games throughout his career; the only one he didn’t manage to get is the Daytona 500 as his best finish was 2nd place.
Terry Labonte may not have won 1st place, but his track records are truly too respectable for us not to include him in the list. The dedicated stock driver raced 29 Daytona 500’s before he decided to put it to a stop. Terry came really close to first place in the 1996 race, where he led 44 laps, only for his engine to start overheating that caused him to lose speed. In more than half of his races, Labonte finished in the top 15. If that isn’t impressive to you – we’re sure nothing is.
#06. Mark Martin
Mark Martin has to be one of the most influential and successful drivers in NASCAR history not to win the Daytona 500. His best finish was 2nd place in the 2007 race.
Martin was inches away from his victory when he was overtaken by Kevin Harvick, which resulted in one of the closest finishes NASCAR has ever seen. He is definitely an eminent racer, for ESPN to describe him as “The best driver to never win a championship”- a quote we wholeheartedly agree with.
#05. Ricky Rudd
With his deep determination to win, Ricky Rudd raced in 29 Daytona 500’s. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to cross the checkered tracks with a victorious smile on his face. Ricky’s best finish was in the 1981 race, where he crossed in 3rd place.
“The Rooster” has one of the longest careers in NASCAR history, with a whopping number of 906 races over the course of 32 years (from when he was just 18 up to 50 years old). He was quite a successful racer as he accumulated 23 wins in the NASCAR Cup series with straight wins for 17 years.
#04. Bobby Labonte
With 21 career wins in the top series of NASCAR Championships, Bobby failed to get a single Daytona 500 win as he finished at 2nd place in the 1998 race – just one year after his own older brother Terry Labonte’s attempt at taking the cake.
Bobby Labonte has run 729 races in his racing career of over 25 years, most of which he’s found success in. He’s the first-ever driver to ever have won the Winston Cup championship and the Busch Series championship. Given his accomplishments, it sure was a surprise seeing Bobby not win the Daytona even after 19 attempts.
#03. Martin Truex JR.
Having raced in an astonishing number of 569 championships over the course of his 18-year career – left everyone dumbfounded to know that he hasn’t won a single Daytona 500. His best finish was in the 2016 Daytona 500 race in 2nd place.
Martin lost to his now-teammate Denny Hamlin by just a hair of a second (0.010 seconds to be exact)- which is the closest Daytona 500 finish in the history of NASCAR. Martin Truex JR. is definitely capable of snatching the victory for himself. With his prominent racing skills, who knows? He might just come out on top someday.
#02. Harry Gant
“Hard-luck Harry” has 18 NASCAR Cup Series wins under his belt, yet even after 17 attempts at the Daytona 500, he’s never won one, let alone scored in the top five. His best finish was 6th place in the 1984 race.
Harry Grant’s record and stats may be poor due to him coming in 2nd place at the beginning of his career. But it doesn’t make him undeserving of being called one of the best to never win the Daytona 500 any less. Grant’s a six-time visitor to the top 5 in the season-ending point standings – which is impressive nonetheless.
#01. Buck Baker
Last but certainly not least – American stock car driver Buck Baker is one of the racers that had the potential to win Daytona. As he won 46 wins and back-to-back championships in 1956 and 1957 – if he hadn’t retired, he would surely have snatched a Daytona 500 for himself.
Buck’s made a lot of attempts at winning the championship, though the races he ran on the beach were proven to be more fruitful. Buck Baker raced in 16 Daytona 500 championships, 6 of which were on the beach – where all of his top 5’s came from.