As we begin closing in on the 61st running of the Daytona 500 this Sunday, I always take time to reflect on the history of the event, and of the sport itself.
There’s no question that – despite coming along some 11 years after the founding of NASCAR, the annual 500 mile race at Daytona International Speedway is the biggest race in stock car racing. Such luminaries as Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Fireball Roberts and David Pearson have driven through the gates to victory lane – some more than once.
But I also stop and think about the “what might have beens” at the Daytona 500. There are lots of incredible, great drivers who excelled in the sport and whose names are whispered among “the greatest” who never scored a win in the “Great American Race.”
This means that, to be considered one of the greats, a Daytona 500 win is a nice accolade, but it’s not a must.
With that in mind, I sat down to try to put together a list of some of the all-time greatest wheelmen who never hoisted the Harley Earl Trophy in Daytona’s victory lane.
First, a few ground rules. First, while I consider some of the greatest drivers of all time to come out of NASCAR’s “Pioneer Era” from 1948 to 1959, it’s not fair to try to determine who might or who might not have made a smooth transition to the “superspeedway era.” So anyone who did not have the chance to compete on the high banks is exempt.
Also exempt are drivers who are still competing. With the state of restrictor plate racing today, any one of them could make it to victory lane this year or in the next few, so let’s leave them out for the time being.
That being said, here are my picks – in no particular order – of the top 10 NASCAR drivers to never win the Daytona 500.
Curtis Turner – One of the most legendary names in the sport, “Pops” easily should have made the transition from the short track 50’s to the superspeedway 60’s, much as his contemporaries Fireball Roberts and Marvin Panch did.
But Turner saw that opportunity literally taken away when NASCAR slapped him with a lifetime ban in 1961 after he tried to unionize the drivers in a fight for better purses and a retirement plan. That robbed the Roanoke, Virginia native a chance at the 500 for the next four years. The ban would be lifted during the 1965 season, allowing Turner to return to NASCAR racing.
But as a result of that ban, the NASCAR Hall of Famer made only five starts in the Daytona 500. Out of those, his best result was a seventh place finish while driving for the Wood Brothers in 1961. Three of those starts resulted in DNFs due to mechanical issues in two cases, and a broken windshield in the other.
Of special note is his final start in the “Great American Race.” Driving Smokey Yunick’s infamous No. 13 Chevy Chevelle, Turner became the first driver to qualify for a NASCAR Cup Series race at a speed greater than 180 mph to score the pole for the 1967 running of the 500.
Turner would lead six laps on the day, but saw his chance at a win go away with engine troubles on lap 143.
Turner would never again attempt to qualify for another Daytona 500, and competed in just seven more Cup Series races through 1968. He would lose his life in a plane crash in 1970 at the age of 46.
Because of his status as one of the greatest NASCAR competitors ever and his fearless form of driving, he makes the list because – with a little luck and without a four year gap – who knows what he could have done at Daytona.
Tony Stewart – Tony Stewart roared into the NASCAR Cup Series in 1999, setting a new record with an unprecedented three victories by a rookie driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
While the Open Wheel turned Stock Car phenom chewed his way through several seasons and victories on every type of raceway on the circuit, the Daytona 500 eluded him.
In 17 starts in the “Great American Race”, Stewart got as close as second, and that was only once. He followed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. across the finish line in 2004. His second best finish came four years later, as he followed Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch under the checkered flag for a third place result. Oddly enough, both Newman and Busch would drive for Tony Stewart’s team later in their careers, with Busch winning the 2017 running of the 500.
But another running of the race that looked like Stewart had a strong hand also included Busch, but it didn’t end very well. The two were battling for the lead 2007 when they tangled in turn four, ending both of their days with just 48 laps to go.
While he never won the Daytona 500 as a driver, he can at least boast a win as an owner thanks to Kurt Busch.
Mark Martin – Speaking of that 2007 Daytona 500, that gives us a perfect transition to the next driver on the list, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin.
Martin scored 40 wins in his NASCAR Cup Series career, but never one in February at Daytona.
But in 2007, he came oh-so-close.
After leaders Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch took each other out with less than 50 laps to go, Martin found himself in the catbird seat. Driving the No. 01 Army Chevrolet, Martin moved to the lead on lap 176. Martin seemed to have the win in hand until a late caution set up an Overtime finish for the race.
Martin got away on the restart with a push from Kyle Busch. The two were trying to hold their own on the final lap when Kevin Harvick charged on the outside with an assist from Matt Kenseth. When Harvick and Busch made contact on the backstretch, it broke Busch’s momentum, allowing Harvick to charge to Martin’s outside as they raced through turns three and four.
Coming off turn four, Busch and Kenseth both spun, leaving it a solo drag race between Martin and Harvick. At the line, Harvick was ahead by just .020 seconds.
It was the closest Martin came to winning the 500. In 29 starts, Martin recorded five top 5 and 11 top ten finishes. He did score the pole for the race in 2010 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports, finishing 12th in the end.
Bobby Isaac – When you talk about the “aero wars” years of NASCAR, Bobby Isaac is one of the drivers who should have come away with a win in the Daytona 500.
The 1970 NASCAR Cup Series Champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer was one of the drivers chosen by Chrysler to help test the newly designed Dodge Charger 500 and then the winged Dodge Daytona. Given the incredible momentum he had in 1969 (17 wins) and 1970 (11 wins and the championship), a Daytona 500 win was really the only thing missing from his record.
Isaac twice scored wins in the qualifying preliminary races during SpeedWeeks, in 1964 in a Dodge for Ray Nichels and in 1969 in the famed K&K Insurance Dodge for Nord Krauskopf.
But his best finish was a runner up result – but not in a Dodge. That came in 1973 driving a Ford for Bud Moore, when he finished second to Richard Petty.
His best finish in a MoPar product was in 1970 when he piloted the No. 71 Dodge Daytona to a fifth place finish.
In all, Isaac made ten starts in the Great American Race. Again, that lack of success in the 500 is surprising given how closely he worked with Chrysler on the development of the aero cars.
On a side note, Isaac and crew chief Harry Hyde took the winged Dodge to the Bonneville Salt Flags in Utah, where the K&K Insurance team set 28 world speed records, proof that sometimes it’s circumstances, not speed or skill, that can make a Daytona 500 champion.
Bobby Isaac passed away in 1977 of a heart attack.
Rusty Wallace – Rusty Wallace was another driver who raced into the NASCAR Cup Scene off the short tracks of the Midwest, and saw success on almost every type of race track he competed.
But in the Daytona 500, he was snake bit.
The NASCAR Hall of Famer made a total of 23 starts in the Great American Race, but finished no higher than third, with that finish coming in 2001.
However, the 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champ does have a memorable moment on his Daytona highlight reel – although it’s probably one he would just as soon forget.
It came in the 1993 running of the race, when Wallace’s No. 2 Pontiac got airborne on the backstretch on lap 168.
The accident started as the field battled down the backstretch. Contact between Michael Waltrip and Derrike Cope sent both cars down the track, just clipping Wallace’s car as he came by. That sent Wallace’s Pontiac sideways at speed, sending it flying into the air. The car would tumble side over side, and then fly some 20 feet into the air before continuing to flip in the grass. In all, Wallace’s car would flip some 14 times before coming to rest right side up.
Fortunately, Wallace was okay. He had been running seventh when the accident occurred, but the day ended as another Daytona 500 disappointment for the Missouri native.
Ned Jarrett – The 1993 Daytona 500 gives us another transition to another NASCAR great that couldn’t break into Daytona’s victory lane – sort of.
Ned Jarrett is a classic NASCAR Cup Champion. Nick named “Gentleman Ned”, the NASCAR Hall of Fame member won the series title twice, first in 1961 and again in 1965.
But Jarrett was more than that. Sensing the need to improve his ability to represent the sport, Jarrett took a Dale Carnegie course to learn how to be a public speaker – a decision that would aid him when he moved from the role of driver to broadcast announcer later in his life.
Jarrett won his first two Cup series races in 1959, and began racing on the circuit full time in 1960. In 1964, Jarrett joined with team owner Bondy Long, and the two would see great success, winning 15 races in that year, and 13 in 1965. Among those wins in '65 was the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, where he trounced the field by a record 14 laps.
But among those 50 career victories, you will not find a Daytona 500 win.
Ned Jarrett made seven starts in the Daytona 500, beginning in 1960 and ending in 1967. Over that period, the best result by the Newton, North Carolina native was a third in 1963.
In that race, Jarrett and fellow Ford factory team driver Fred Lorenzen were battling for the lead, but saw the race come down to a fuel mileage gamble. Lorenzen blinked first, bringing his No. 28 Ford to pit road with nine laps to go. One lap later, it was Jarrett heading into the pits for a splash of fuel.
That left Tiny Lund, piloting the Wood Brothers’ famed No. 21 Ford, on the track. With better fuel mileage, Lund took the win, with Lorenzen in second and Jarrett in third.
Jarrett would make his final Daytona 500 start in 1966, where he finished seventh. Later that year, he would hang up his driving helmet for good. Over the years, fans heard him on MRN Radio broadcasts and later in the announcer’s booth for CBS television broadcasts.
And that brings us back to the connection with the 1993 running of the race. Over the closing laps, the race came down to a battle between the late Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett, the son of Ned Jarrett.
On the final lap, Dale Jarrett made his move to take the lead. From the announcer’s booth, Ned Jarrett made fathers around the country proud by calling his son home to his first Daytona 500 victory is what remains one of the most memorable moments in NASCAR racing history.
And likely one that Ned Jarrett wouldn’t trade for his own Daytona 500 trophy.
Terry Labonte – With all of the accomplishments that two-time NASCAR Cup champion Terry Labonte had in his 37 year career, many would be surprised to learn that a Daytona 500 win is missing from his resume.
The Corpus Christi, Texas native scored 22 wins in his career, starting with an upset victory in the 1980 running of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway over NASCAR legend and fellow Hall of Famer David Pearson.
In 1984, Labonte would score the first of two Cup Series titles on the strength of two wins, 17 top fives and 24 top 10s while piloting Billy Hagen’s No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Chevy.
Incidentally, that title came with fellow Hall of Famer Dale Inman as the crew chief, making Inman an eight time series champion crew chief – a number unmatched today.
Labonte would score his second title some 12 years later, in 1996 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports – the longest time between championships in series history.
Along the way, Labonte would score wins at Texas, Bristol, Talladega, Richmond and others – but not in the Daytona 500.
Labonte started in 32 runnings of the event in all. His best effort was second place, which he scored three times – in 1986, 1990 and 1997. Of those three, it may be 1990 that still gets the most attention.
Dale Earnhardt had dominated on the day, leading 155 laps as the field entered the final lap. Behind him, Derrike Cope had been the surprise of the day, hanging with the leaders and even leading a couple of laps, while Terry Labonte, in his first outing in Richard Jackson’s No. 1 Skoal Oldsmobile, followed in third.
Going into turn three on the final lap, Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevy suddenly shot towards the outside wall, slowing rapidly, the victim of a cut tire. Cope pushed his No. 10 Chevy past and into the lead, with Labonte hot on his heels, looking for an opening. Cope kept his car glued down low while Labonte and third place Bill Elliott looked to the outside, but to no avail. Derrike Cope crossed under the checkered flag in first, while Labonte had to settle for second.
Labonte would finally retire in 2014, and two years later was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Charlie Glotzbach – Some newer fans might not know the name, but back in the day, “Chargin’ Charlie” Glotzbach was always a driver to be reckoned with.
Much like fellow Dodge pilot Bobby Isaac, Glotzbach, who hailed from Edwardsville, Indiana, was one of the “test pilots” during Chrysler’s aero wars years that resulted in the legendary Winged Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird.
And much like Isaac, one would think that would put him in a unique position to be able to score a Daytona 500 win. And it almost did. But we’ll come back to that.
In 124 career starts over 18 years, Glotzbach boasts four wins. The first in a Cotton Owens owned Dodge at Charlotte in 1968. The second came at Daytona in a qualifying race in 1970 (back when the qualifying races counted as points paying wins. Now they pay points, but don't count as wins. Don't ask why. It's NASCAR logic). Later that same year, he would pilot the Ray Nichels owned purple No. 99 Dodge Daytona to the win at Michigan.
His final victory came the year that Chrysler pulled the plug on most of its factory backing. Glotzbach would move to a Chevrolet owned by Richard Howard and win at Charlotte in the fall.
The closest that Glotzbach came to a Daytona 500 win was in 1969 – and man, was it ever close.
Going into the final laps, Glotzbach had the lead in Cotton Owens' No. 6 Dodge Charger 500 as a result of a two tire pit stop on lap 186. Behind him, Leeroy Yarbrough, piloting Junior Johnson’s No. 98 Mercury, had taken on soft compound tires on lap 181. Crew Chief Herb Nab had made the call to take on four tires. Yarbrough trailed Glotzbach by 11 seconds, and it looked like “Chargin’ Charlie” had it in the bag.
But over the closing laps, Yarbrough turned faster and faster laps on the softer tires, and had closed on Glotzbach’s back bumper going into the final lap.
As the duo raced down the backstretch, Yarbrough drafted to the back of Glotzbach’s Dodge, then used a classic slingshot pass in turn three to take the lead. With no time left to try to draft his way back around, Glotzbach had to settle for second while Yarbrough scored his first – and only – Daytona 500 win.
Glotzbach would match that second place finish in the 500 in 1972, this time finishing as runner-up to A.J. Foyt.
In all, Glotzbach would compete in seven Daytona 500s. He never ran a full season in NASCAR Cup Series competition, but was a constant competitor for many years, including working as a test driver in ARCA competition for Richard Childress Racing, where he scored four wins driving a black No. 28 Chevrolet between 1990 and 1992.
Jim Paschal – Largely overlooked by many in this day and age, Jim Paschal was a formidable foe on all sorts of tracks, largely due to one factor – he was a steady, meticulous racer who understood the old adage that “to finish first, you must first finish.”
Hailing from High Point, North Carolina, Pachal was a favorite wheel man for Petty Enterprises in the 60s. Between 1962 and 1964, he would score nine victories in the famed Petty Blue Plymouths, including the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1964.
In all, Paschal recorded 25 NASCAR Cup Series wins between 1949 and 1972, , with wins at Martinsville, Nashville, Richmond and two additional wins at Charlotte, including his second World 600 in 1967.
Paschal's steady driving style suited him well on Daytona's high banks, and while he never made it to victory lane, his numbers in the event are impressive. In eight Daytona 500 starts, Paschal recorded three top five and four top 10s.
His best result was a fifth place effort in 1964, piloting a Dodge for Cotton Owens. Considering he only once came close to running a full season (making 45 starts in 49 races in 1967) before moving to NASCAR’s now largely ignored Grand American series, you can see what a strong competitor he was at Daytona.
Donnie Allison - It’s hard to bring up Daytona and not talk about Donnie Allison. A member of the famed Alabama Gang, Donnie, the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, drove for some of the best in the business, including Banjo Matthews, the Wood Brothers, DiGard and Hoss Ellington.
Allison would record wins at Rockingham, Talladega, Atlanta and Charlotte, as well as the July race at Daytona. In all, he scored 10 victories over a career that spanned 21 years.
When it came to the 500, however, he was always fast, always a contender, but never a winner.
In all, Allison would make 13 starts in the “Great American Race,” with his best result being a third place driving Banjo Matthews’ No. 27 Ford Torino in 1970. He also twice was a pole sitter for the 500, with those coming in 1975 for DiGard and in 1977 for Hoss Ellington.
But it’s the one that got away that everyone talks about. In fact, you can’t see a Daytona highlight reel or even a NASCAR commercial it seems without seeing images of Allison’s near miss.
Early on in the 1979 Daytona 500, Donnie Allison was racing with Cale Yarborough for the lead. The two tangled on lap 31 and spun into the muddy infield, gathering up Bobby Allison in the process. When it was all cleared up, Allison was one lap down while Yarborough was three laps in arrears.
Both Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough put on incredible drives, making up the deficits. As the race entered the closing laps, Donnie Allison held the lead, with Yarborough on his tail.
The last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500 is one of legends.
On the final lap, Allison held the lead as Yarborough ducked low, looking or a patch around to make a sling shot pass. The two made contact as they came down the backstretch, and as they approached turn three, both cars were hitting and banging into each other at almost 200 mph. They shoved each other into the turn three wall, with both damaged cars sliding down the banking and to a stop inside the corner.
Behind them, Richard Petty, fresh off stomach surgery, powered around the scene, and held off Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foy to take his sixth Daytona 500 victory.
Meanwhile, things were just getting interesting in turn three, as Donnie Allison and Yarborough exited their cars and began arguing. When Bobby Allison arrived on the scene to check on his brother, it all erupted into a fist fight.
All while being broadcast around the country for the first time live on national television.
So while Donnie Allison didn’t win the Daytona 500, he has gained immortality for being a part of one of the most memorable runnings of the “Great American Race.”
And who can argue with that?
WDUN will carry MRN Radio coverage of the NASCAR season opening weekend at the Daytona International Speedway, beginning with Thursday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV Duel At Daytona beginning at 6 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and and streaming live on AccessWDUN. Coverage continues on Saturday with the NASCAR Xfinity Series NASCAR Racing Experience 300 beginning at 2 pm on 102.9 FM and streaming live on AccessWDUN. That's followed on Sunday with the 61st running of the Daytona 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series begining at 1:30 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and streaming live on AccessWDUN.