First raced in 1959, the Daytona 500 is now the crown jewel of the NASCAR racing season. Throughout the five decades of its existence, the “The Great American Race,” which opens the NASCAR season, has had its share of great drivers competing for the coveted Trophy. Here then are the top 5 drivers to have raced at the Daytona 500.
Richard Petty, “The King” , spread his record seven wins at Daytona across three different decades, winning the grand event in 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979 and again in 1981. Petty, whose father Lee won the first event in 1959, scored wins aboard four different makes of cars, Plymouth (64, 66, 71), Dodge (73, 74), Oldsmobile (79), and Buick (81). Add to that the fact that Petty, who would go on to win a record 200 NASCAR races in total, also had two second place finished (1962 and 1976), and three third place finishes (1960, 1987) and one can see why he earned his famous nickname.
Cal Yarborough’s career spanned 31 years, totaling 83 NASCAR victories. Included in those win are four Daytona 500 titles. Much like Petty, Yarborough spread out his wins across three different decades, and three different makes of cars (Mercury -1968, Chevy 1977 and 1984, Pontiac 1983). Even more impressive is the fact that from 1974-84, Yarborough had a total of nine top ten finished (3 wins, 3 seconds, 1 third, 1 fifth, and an eight). If not for Petty, Yarborough could have been “King” at Daytona.
Bobby Allison had good luck at Daytona throughout his storied career, winning the event in 1978 aboard a Ford, and then back to back again in 1987-88 aboard a Buick. Allison, who is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, also had three second place and two third place finishes at Daytona.
Love him or hate him, Jeff Gordon will some day leave an outstanding legacy at Daytona. The still active driver has won the event three times, 1997, 1999, and 2005, all aboard his #24 Chevy. Totaling eight top ten finishes in all, Gordon has earned over $5 million dollars in prize money at Daytona.
Though normally the bridesmaid and seldom the bride (if you can say that about the man they named the Intimidator), Dale Earnhardt left his mark, as well as his life at the famous track. Throughout a story book career that ended too soon (with a fatal crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500), Earnhardt recorded 15 top ten finishes at Daytona. Finally winning the event in 1998, Earnhardt also had five second place finishes during his career.