DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For the first time in seven years Tony Stewart did not win the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
That might be exactly what Stewart needed.
While he’s had no trouble winning races and championships everywhere else, the Daytona 500 remains an enigma.
He’s been fast and the favorite so many times, but none of that has translated to a win he admits is at the top of his wish list.
Maybe not winning Saturday’s race will change his routine of not winning the main event.
“There’s just something magical about Daytona, just like IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500, the same thing,” he said. “When it’s the most important race of the season, especially the first one, all the drivers and all the teams and all the crews put more pressure on themselves for that one race than they do anywhere else the rest of the season.”
Stewart finished second last week in the Budweiser Shootout and he won a 150-mile qualifying race for the 500 on Thursday. He was involved in a final-lap, 10-car crash in Saturday’s Nationwide race, snapping a winning streak that started in 2005.
Counting Thursday’s win, Stewart now has 17 career trips to Victory Lane. He’d probably trade all of them for one Daytona 500 win.
Darrell Waltrip used to say the Daytona 500 wouldn’t define his career. Dale Earnhardt used to say the same thing.
Then they both won – Waltrip in his 17th attempt; Earnhardt in his 19th – and everything changed. Waltrip crying in Victory Lane and dancing still is one of his most-lasting memories, just like when Earnhardt emotionally embraced the Harley Earl Trophy.
Stewart will try to add his name to racing history when he rolls off the line from third on the grid.
Stewart still holds a deep appreciation for the Indianapolis 500 because he lives an hour away in Columbus, Ind.
But now that he’s committed solely to NASCAR, the Daytona 500 is all that matters.
He’s done just about everything else.
He won the championship last year. It was the third time he’s done that in NASCAR. He’s the only driver to win championships in both NASCAR and IndyCars.
But nothing drives him more than winning the Daytona 500.
He will make his 14th attempt at it today.
“I don’t think that we’re jinxed,” he said. “We’ve had some really good cars and we’ve just missed. We’ve been leading late in these races, and so I feel like with the law of averages, we’re going to get one eventually.
“There have been a lot of them that have slipped away and slipped through our fingers. But we’ve had good luck here. We just haven’t had that good luck during the 500 yet. So we’ll just keep digging.”