Without question, Sunday’s Daytona 500 is the biggest race on the NASCAR schedule with the most coveted checkered flag.
It’s bigger than the championship race at the end of the season, it’s more important than the summer race at Daytona International Speedway and it’s colloquially known as the Super Bowl of NASCAR.
But it’s a chaotic race, often filled with massive multi-car wrecks, and avoiding them sometimes simply requires being in the right place at the right time. A major reason for huge wrecks is because Daytona International Speedway — one of NASCAR’s longest tracks at 2.5 miles — requires cars to use restrictor plates to limit their speeds for safety reasons.
However, this also makes it difficult to pass or pull away and causes them to race in packs. So the tiniest mistake from one car or driver can take out half the field. In the 2018 Daytona 500, only 25 of 40 cars made it across the finish line.
There are several active drivers who have driven to the Daytona 500’s Victory Lane — like Joey Logano (2015), Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013), Kevin Harvick (2007) and 2018 winner Austin Dillon — but this win has eluded a handful of big names.
Here are the best active drivers (who have been racing full time at least five years) who have never won the Daytona 500:
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Best Daytona 500 finish: 3rd, 2016
2018 Daytona 500 finish: 25th
Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is one of the best NASCAR drivers on the track, but the 2015 Cup Series champ has yet to win the Daytona 500 – although it seems reasonable to predict the 33-year-old driver will before his career is over. Busch does, however, have one win at Daytona International Speedway: the 2008 Coke Zero 400 in July. He also won that same year at Talladega Superspeedway – NASCAR’s longest track, which also requires a restrictor plate – so it’s not as though he can’t win plate races, like the Daytona 500.
In 27 Cup Series starts at the Daytona track, Busch has seven top-5 finishes and eight top 10s. He was fourth in the 2008 Daytona 500 and eighth in 2011. If his team maintains the speed its had over the last few years and he can stay out of trouble on the track, it seems like he’s due for a Daytona 500 win one of these years.
Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Best Daytona 500 finish: 2nd, 2016
2018 Daytona 500 finish: 18th
Martin Truex Jr. is admittedly not great at the superspeedway tracks – 1.5-milers are more of his thing – and he’s never won a race at Daytona International Speedway. But he came close once in 2016 when he lost to Denny Hamlin by .010 seconds in NASCAR’s closest Daytona 500 finish. In 27 starts at the track, he has four top-10 finishes and just two top fives after coming in second in the 2018 summer Daytona race.
However, the 2017 Cup Series champion is with a new team this season after Furniture Row Racing closed up shop at the end of last year, so maybe the people at Joe Gibbs Racing can help get him to Victory Lane.
Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske
Best Daytona 500 finish: 3rd, 2014
2018 Daytona 500 finish: 32nd (did not finish)
Of the best active drivers to never win a Daytona 500, Brad Keselowski has to be the biggest surprise here. Keselowski is one of the best restrictor-plate racers on the track with five of his 27 career wins coming at Talladega Superspeedway. However, he’s only won at Daytona once and it was the 2016 Coke Zero 400.
He just doesn’t seem to have a lot of luck at this track, which is absolutely a major factor in winning the Daytona 500. Of these four drivers without a win, he has the highest DNF percentage, completing 11 of 19 starts at the iconic 2.5-miler and has not finished 42 percent of the time. But the 2012 Cup Series champion was the way-too-early favorite to win the 2019 Daytona 500, so if he can avoid any huge crashes, he could be in contention at the end.
Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing
Best Daytona 500 finish: 4th, 2009 and 2010
2018 Daytona 500 finish: 15th
Clint Bowyer isn’t a huge surprise here, especially when you remember that last season, h e snapped a 190-race winless streak that stretched across seven seasons. He’s never won a race at Daytona International Speedway, but in 26 career starts, he has 12 top-10 finishes and four top fives. And although it was in the 2017 summer race at Daytona, Bowyer’s best finish at the track was second.
He does, however, have teamwork going for him. At the fall Talladega Superspeedway race, Bowyer and his three other Stewart-Haas Racing teammates – Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and (at that point) Kurt Busch – worked together in extraordinary and unexpected fashion and were the top-4 cars throughout much of that race before Almirola ultimately won. While Daniel Suárez replaced Busch this year in the No. 41 Ford, perhaps we’ll see these teammates work together again, which could possibly put Bowyer in position to win.