Five drivers who were born before—or shortly there after—the first Daytona 500 was ever run are attempting to make the 51st running of NASCAR's biggest race this Thursday in the Gatorade Duel races—two of which are already guaranteed a spot.
A lot of emphasis is put on age these days. Women are constantly worrying about wrinkles and various parts sagging, but in NASCAR, age doesn't matter.
That is never more evident than this weekend's kick off event. In the same event that will feature the sport's youngest driver ever (18-year-old phenom Joey Logano), five drivers at age 50+ will try and earn a spot in the 43 car field.
Between these five drivers, they have three Cup Series championships, 2,975 career starts, 119 wins, 700 top-fives and 1,267 top-10 finishes.
So while many people their age are priming themselves for retirement and a comfy recliner, these men are preparing to drive nearly 200 mph on the high banked 2.5 mile oval known as Daytona International Speedway.
1. Mark Martin (age: 50) — Martin has already retired (twice). Yet once again in 2009 he will compete in the entire season, hoping to claim the title that has eluded him his entire career. Sure, his career has been remarkable and he'll be remembered as one of the greatest drivers ever, but he doesn't want to be the greatest driver ever—without a title.
Martin will pilot the No. 5 Kellogs/CARQUEST Chevy out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable.
•26 years in the sport
• 722 starts
• 35 wins
• 243 top-fives
• 396 top-10s
• earned $50,579,273
• highest points finish: 2nd (four times)
• Guaranteed spot in the 500: on the front row
2. Bill Elliot (age: 53) — Awesome Bill from Dawsonville has been running part-time for the past couple of seasons. This year, again, he finds himself piloting the historic No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. While he has struggled to bring home many good finishes in the recent seasons, he was once the creme of the crop.
• 33 years in the sport
• 796 starts
• 44 wins
• 175 top-fives
• 320 top-10s
• earned $34,611,495
• highest points finish: championship (1988)
• Guaranteed spot in the 500: Yes sir, fastest non top-35 car in qualifying
3. Terry Labonte (age: 52) — Labonte is one of those drivers that has been "used" several times to get a car a guaranteed spot in a race with his past champions provisional. But honestly, I'm sure Labonte doesn't mind being "used" and is just enjoying more time behind the wheel of a stock car.
Labonte will be driving the No. 66 Windows World Toyota owned by Prism Motorsports. The team is owned by former NASCAR driver Phil Parsons and Randy Humphrey.
• 31 years in the sport
• 861 starts
• 22 wins
• 182 top-fives
• 361 top-10s
• earned $34,668,686
• highest points finish: champion twice (1984 and 1996)
• Guaranteed spot in the 500: You betcha. After Tony Stewart qualified on speed, Labonte is the next champ in line.
4. Geoffrey Bodine (age: 59) — After a five year hiatus from the sport entirely, Bodine will attempt his first race since 2004. He does so in the No. 64 Toyota under the Gunselman Motorsports banner. While the attempt will be his first since 2004, Bodine has plans to share the ride with his brother Todd throughout 2009.
"This is a pretty neat opportunity and something I'm looking forward to doing," Bodine said. "I still feel I have the competitive spirit and ability to get out there and race. I have driven so many types of cars from Cup to Modifieds to Trucks that I'm looking forward to the learning curve here with the new Sprint Cup car.
When Larry first approached me about this, I started to get excited about getting behind the wheel again. So here I am, getting ready for Daytona and seeing what our Toyota Camry can do at Daytona."
• 25 years in the sport
• 570 starts
• 18 wins
• 100 top-fives
• 190 top-10s
• earned $14,285,326
• highest points finish: 3rd (1990)
• Guaranteed spot in the 500: No. Bodine must race his way in through his Duel race on Thursday.
5. Kirk Shelmerdine (age: 50) — Shelmerdine returns in 2009 looking to run an entire season. While he is more known for his time atop the pit box, he has lately tried to make a name for himself behind the wheel.
This season Shelmerdine will field the No. 27 Toyota and with recent announcements that some funding has come in, the team hopes to be building towards a competitive race team.
• 6 years in the sport (as a driver)
• 26 starts
• 0 wins
• 0 top-fives
• 0 top-10s
• earned $1,600,757
• highest points finish: 47th (2004)
• Guaranteed spot in the 500: No. Shelmerdine will have to race his way in on Thursday.
After all these years, it's the passion for the sport that drives these five guys into stepping behind a 200 m.p.h. piece of metal.
So here's to the five who are proving that 50 is nifty!