Daytona 500: Top 25 Drivers at Daytona International Speedway
NASCAR is like any other sport. It has its moments and venues that allow its greatest competitors to shine.
The Daytona 500 is easily the most important race on the Sprint Cup schedule, and it's the race that everyone wants to add to their personal record.
Even the great Dale Earnhardt knew that winning the Daytona 500 was an important part of his legacy, and after 20 years his win was a crowning achievement.
In 52 Daytona 500s, there have been upsets and underdogs in Victory Lane, but in total the biggest race on the biggest stage in NASCAR has been a forum for the legends to shine.
The drivers here are in no particular order, since there are so many metrics that can qualify a driver for greatness. Laps led, total distance raced, top fives and tens and of course wins can do it.
Here's a look at 25 drivers (some who never managed to win) who always performed up to expectations when history was at stake.
25. Fred Lorenzen
Fred Lorenzen managed to win the 1965 Daytona 500.
In itself, that's an impressive feat by any standard.
His body of work though over the years is what truly shows his mastery of the high banks.
In nine Daytona 500 starts, Lorenzen posted a top 10 finish on eight occasions.
That percentage of top 10 finishes (88.8) is the highest among all drivers registering more than two Daytona 500 starts.
Although he didn't have the most wins, he was always around at the finish as the number show.
24. Lee Petty
Lee Petty only won the Daytona 500 once, but it was the right one to win.
He won the inaugural 500 in 1959 in a door-to-door shootout with Johnny Beauchamp.
In only seven starts at Daytona, he posted one win, three top fives and five top tens.
On equal footing with all other drivers (since none had raced there in 1959 when it was new), Petty stood tall.
To this day, Lee Petty is the only driver to win the Daytona 500 on his first attempt, a testament to the difficulty of winning the biggest prize in NASCAR.
23. Joe Weatherly
Joe Weatherly never won the Daytona 500, but his performance at Daytona compares favorably with almost anyone.
He posted two wins, eight top fives and ten top 10s in 15 starts.
His average finish in those 15 starts was a 10.5.
He's not far behind the great Fred Lorenzen when it comes to percentage of runs at the speedway in the top ten at 66.6 percent.
22. Fireball Roberts
Fireball Roberts was one of the most popular drivers of his day.
He was also a master when it came to the high banks.
Glen Roberts earned his nickname pitching a baseball, but he could blaze around Daytona International Speedway as well.
His 1962 Daytona 500 win was one of seven wins at the speedway along with his eight top fives, ten top tens and six poles in just 17 starts.
21. Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett is in a three-way tie for third on the Daytona 500 win list with Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon.
He won the race in 1993 for Joe Gibbs and won it twice more in the powerful Robert Yates Fords in 1996 and 2000.
Jarrett has one more win at the speedway, and also has nine top fives, 17 top tens and four poles in the record book.
20. Davey Allison
Davey Allison's career at Daytona was short, but it remains impressive.
It's difficult to say which was a greater accomplishment: winning the race in 1992 or finishing second to his father in 1988.
Either way, Allison was a quick study when it came to Daytona.
He posted two wins overall, four top fives and five top tens in just 14 starts. He also won two poles in his short but magical career at Daytona.
19. Buddy Baker
Buddy Baker only won the Daytona 500 once in 1980, but to this day if you could put all the drivers in all the races out there at once, he'd win.
Baker won the fastest Daytona 500 ever, with an average speed of 177.602 mph.
He won once more at the track and collected 22 top fives and 31 top ten finishes.
He also managed to lead a staggering 1,126 laps.
18. Dave Marcis
Dave Marcis has never won at Daytona, but when it comes to racing there he's one of the most experienced wheelmen in history.
He has only three top fives and 11 top tens in 67 starts, but he's run an amazing 9,529 laps.
That's second only to Bill Elliott in terms of laps run.
Some may scoff at his presence on the list, but it's useful to remember that he had the respect of one of Daytona's undisputed masters, Dale Earnhardt.
Earnhardt's disdain for testing often allowed Marcis to shake down the famed Goodwrench Chevy.
If Earnhardt thought Marcis was good enough to help get his car ready for Daytona, then he's on the list.
Earnhardt knew what it took to be fast at Daytona, and so did Marcis.
17. Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte, another driver who has never won at Daytona, has the credentials to make the list.
In 55 starts, he's scored 11 top fives and 26 top tens.
With 9003 laps completed, he's ranked fifth in history.
That total will go up Sunday afternoon when he makes his assured start in the Daytona 500 thanks to being the most recent past champion outside the 2010 top 35 in owner points.
Labonte has three runner up finishes in 1986, 1990 and 1997.
16. Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick has become the new standard when it comes to restrictor plate racing.
Last year, he won two restrictor plate races and has an impressive career record at Daytona.
In 19 starts he has two wins, five top fives and eight top tens.
He won the 2007 Daytona 500 and the 2010 July race.
He also has one pole.
His Daytona 500 win is still considered one of the most thrilling final laps in the history of the race, and it stands alone in margin of victory at .020 seconds.
15. Cale Yarborough
Cale Yarborough is second on the all-time win list in Cup races at Daytona with nine victories.
Among those nine wins are four Daytona 500 crowns in 1968, 1977 and back to back wins in 1983-84.
He has 20 top fives and 27 top tens in 57 starts, but he's also good at just going fast.
He has 12 poles at Daytona International Speedway.
14. Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip's win in 2001 was overshadowed by the death of Dale Earnhardt, but in itself it was a benchmark for his career.
After starting 463 races, Waltrip notched his first career victory in the 500.
He joined Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990) and Sterling Marlin (1994) among the drivers who made their first Cup win the biggest.
Waltrip has three career wins at Daytona, including another Daytona 500 win in 2003.
13. Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip finally won the Daytona 500 in his 17th attempt in 1989.
It was his only win there in 55 starts, but it remains one of the more memorable races in Daytona 500 history.
That's not to say his career there wasn't successful. Waltrip collected 13 top fives and 18 top tens in addition to a pole at Daytona.
12. A.J. Foyt
A.J. Foyt made his living in open wheel racing. However, when he came south and ducked into the cockpit of a stock car, he was magic.
Super Tex won the Daytona 500 in 1972, and he also collected two more wins at the speedway.
In 55 starts he had 15 top fives and 17 top tens along with three poles.
He's one of only two drivers to win both of America's crown jewel races, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
11. Mario Andretti
Mario Andretti is the other driver to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
In only eight starts at Daytona, he notched a win in the 1967 Daytona 500 in his Holman-Moody Ford.
That win was his only top five finish, and he collected just one more top ten, but anyone who has managed to win both celebrated races is worthy of being on a list of the all-time greats.
10. Junior Johnson
Junior Johnson only won the Daytona 500 once in 1960, but he greatly influenced the racing today.
Johnson explained that he thought if he pulled up in the slipstream of the car in front of him, he could feel the car pick up speed.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the draft.
Johnson used his knowledge to win another three races at Daytona, along with seven top fives and nine top tens in just 20 starts.
9. Tiny Lund
Tiny Lund won the Daytona 500 in 1963.
Several drivers have won it, a few have won it several times.
The circumstances surrounding Lund's win are what makes it special.
Days before the race, Lund rescued Marvin Panch from his burning Maserati as Panch was practicing for the endurance race prior to the 500.
Panch was set to pilot the Wood Brothers entry in the Daytona 500, and his injuries kept him out of the car
Tiny Lund was tabbed to replace him.
He seized the moment and won his only Daytona 500.
Perhaps more importantly, he was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Honor for his actions to save Panch's life.
For his heroism in saving the life of another member of the auto racing fraternity, he's among the greats.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't at the top of any statistical category at Daytona, but he seems to come up big in the big moments at Daytona.
He only has two Cup wins at Daytona, but one was his thrilling victory in the July race in 2001 just months after his father's passing, and the second was the 2004 Daytona 500.
In 22 starts, he also has eight top fives and 13 top tens.
He adds another first to his Daytona 500 file this weekend, as he will start on the pole for the first time.
7. Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott was a favorite for years when it came to Daytona.
He's back again in 2011, to extend his record as the most traveled Cup driver at the speedway.
He's completed more laps than anyone at Daytona and covered almost 24,000 miles in competition.
Along the way he's made 58 starts and won four times, including two Daytona 500 crowns in 1985 and 1987.
He also has a knack for staying out of trouble. In his 58 starts, he's been running at the finish 52 times.
6. Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin has started at Daytona 52 times.
He has three wins, including back to back victories in the Daytona 500 in 1994 and 1995.
His 1994 victory was his first Cup win, and through the early 1990s he became a fixture at the front driving the Morgan-McCure Chevys that took him to victory in the 500.
He also has four poles, 12 top fives and 21 top tens at the speedway.
5. David Pearson
David Pearson has eight wins at Daytona including a victory in the memorable 1976 Daytona 500.
He limped the car to the finish line after a wreck with Richard Petty with the checkers in sight.
His body of work over his 54 starts is impressive, including 22 top fives and 34 top tens.
The Wood Brothers had a knack for showing up and winning the big races, and they did that a lot with the Silver Fox behind the wheel.
4. Bobby Allison
Bobby Allison won the Daytona 500 three times, the most memorable coming in 1988 when he led his son Davey to the checkered flag.
Allison's two other Daytona 500 wins came in 1978 and 1982.
He won at the speedway three other times, and also collected 17 top fives and 22 top tens.
Only two drivers (R. Petty and C. Yarborough) won the Daytona 500 more than Bobby Allison, who is in a three way tie with Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett for third on the Daytona 500 win list.
3. Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon will start the 2011 Daytona 500 on the outside of row one, and his outside pole win is the latest achievement at Daytona for the four-time champ.
Gordon has won the Daytona 500 three times (1997, 1999, 2005).
He's managed to finish in the top ten in half of his 36 starts at the speedway, and also has 12 top fives.
In addition to his three 500 crowns he has three other wins at Daytona.
2. Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt has only one win in the Daytona 500 in 1998, but his body of work at Daytona is impressive and in many ways may never be matched.
In 46 Cup starts he had three wins, 22 top fives and 34 top tens, but that only begins to tell the story of his mastery of Daytona.
In various series and disciplines, Earnhardt posted a record 34 victories at the speedway.
He won his Daytona 500 qualifying race 12 times, including a staggering stretch where he won his qualifier every year from 1990 to 1999.
He also won the Bud Shootout/Busch Clash a record six times.
The Intimidator probably could have notched more wins at Daytona, but even as much success as he had there, he found every way imaginable to not win.
He ran out of gas, had flat tires in sight of the finish and even hit a seagull at full speed.
It's useful to note though that one reason he encountered so many ways to lose a race at Daytona in the late stages is because he was in contention for the win so often.
1. Richard Petty
Richard Petty is The King in terms of wins and titles, and he's also The King at Daytona.
He has seven Daytona 500 wins (1964, 66, 71, 73,74,79 and 81).
He also leads all drivers with ten wins at the speedway.
The most revered man in the garage area was a master when it came to the high banks.