Daytona 500 2012 Predictions: Tony Stewart Needs Win to Cement Legacy

T.J. McaloonContributorFebruary 27, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 29:  2011 Series Champion Tony Stewart poses with his trophy during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week on November 29, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Tony Stewart needs to win the Daytona 500 to cement his legacy as one of the sport's best drivers ever.  

Stewart already has built a Hall of Fame resume with 44 wins, 162 top-fives and 266 top-10 finishes in 464 races. He’s been the top driver in NASCAR, with three championships in 13 years. His championship last year dethroned Jimmie Johnson’s five year reign as NASCAR’s top driver. 

However, with all of those accolades, Stewart has yet to win NASCAR’s biggest race of their year. In his 13 attempts at winning the 500, his best finish was second in 2004. Since then, it's been disappointing finish after disappointing finish.  

From Fox Sports, Stewart’s longtime crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zipadelli, said this about Stewart’s desire to win the 500 saying: 

“I know he wants to win it as bad as he’s wanted to win anything,” said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s longtime crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing. “The opportunities that we had in the first 10 years, we could have won three or four of them. I mean, easily. Things didn’t go our way. We got wrecked. We blew up. Whatever. We had really good, strong race cars.”

Patience has been something that some of the great NASCAR drivers have had when it comes to winning this race. For example, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was 46 when he won his first, Michael Waltrip was 38 and Ward Burton was 40 when they won their first Daytona 500.

Stewart has a great car heading into this year’s race. He barely drove this car during practice recently, only completing 14 laps. According to his current crew chief for this Sprint Cup season, Steve Addington, it was because he didn't “want to take any chances tearing up our race car. I just feel really good about the speed we have in this car and the drivability.”

Stewart has had a good run in the races leading up to the Daytona 500, finishing second in the Budweiser Shootout and first in the first Gatorade Duel. It looks as if he has the momentum to carry him into his first Daytona 500 victory. 

It is something that has been eluding him from entering into the conversation as one of the best drivers ever. However, after tonight’s race, he will finally secure his first ever Daytona 500 victory.