Home » Ranking 12 drivers poised to win first career Daytona 500

Ranking 12 drivers poised to win first career Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — When drivers think about wins that got away, the first race they likely think about is the Daytona 500.  

With the nature of the aerodynamic draft at Daytona International Speedway, they race in big packs that require risky blocks. Drivers hope they are making the move for the win only to end up on the tow truck. Or they lose their help — drivers need a fast car behind them to help keep pace in the draft — at the most inopportune time or their competitor just gets a better aerodynamic push at just the right time.

Several of the sports’ stars remain looking for that first Daytona 500 win. Let’s take a look at a dozen, starting with the six active Cup champions who have yet to win the sport’s biggest event ahead of the “Great American Race” (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX). 

1. Brad Keselowski

The driver with perhaps the best chance to have won is Brad Keselowski, who is 0-for-14 in the race and only has been running at the finish six times.

“The Daytona 500 just feels like a race you don’t win — you get chosen to win,” Keselowski said. “So all you can really do is put yourself in position and hope you’re chosen.

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“And you go back and watch the end of the races and people win this race that you just kind of scratch your head and go, ‘How did they win this race?’ There wasn’t a move that won it for them, it just like fell in their lap. And that part gets super frustrating.”

So what can 2012 Cup champion Keselowski do to put his RFK Racing car into victory lane?

“The last three years, I feel like I’ve put ourselves in position to win the race and it falls apart in ways that you’re like, ‘Man, I just feel like I wasn’t chosen, right?'” Keselowski said. “I feel like there’s a divine power in it and it just wasn’t for me.

“Maybe I take some kind of solace or cope with that and just have some kind of thoughts of just sticking through it and continue to put ourselves in position.”

Keselowski led 42 laps in 2022 and 67 laps in 2023. His best finish was third in 2014.

“In the last two years, we’ve led the most laps, and we’re leading late in the race — and the year before that, we were trying to make the pass to win on the last lap and it didn’t come together,” Keselowski said.

“I don’t like it. Nobody likes not having won there when you’ve been so close. But the reality is I don’t think in any of those scenarios, I look in the mirror and say I could have done anything differently. I really don’t. … Just things didn’t go our way.”

Brad Keselowski talks about the Daytona 500s that slipped away

2. Kyle Busch

Busch was leading after 500 miles last year but the race, unfortunately for him, went into overtime and he wound up seventh.

He is 0-for-18 in the Daytona 500, not including the year he qualified for the race but then was replaced by Matt Crafton after Busch broke an ankle and leg in a crash in the Xfinity race the day prior to the 2015 Daytona 500.

Busch, the 2015 and 2019 Cup champion, has led 330 laps in the Daytona 500 with three top-five finishes, including a second in 2019. The Richard Childress Racing driver has failed to finish the race six times.

“I would love nothing more than to win the Daytona 500,” Busch said. “It’s been feast or famine it seems, and there’s been a lot of years where I finished second or I finish third or there’s five, six times that I can count on [where I had a chance].

“But the rest of the time it’s ending up in a crash on the hook and going back to the trailer early. We don’t want to have that happen. It would be nice to get it done this year and be in victory lane celebrating at the end of the night.”

‘I would love nothing more’ – Kyle Busch on trying to win the Daytona 500

3. Chase Elliott

The 2020 Cup champion has yet to win the Daytona 500. He doesn’t seem to love the drafting style of racing but has won twice at Talladega.

Elliott has been on the pole twice in his eight Daytona 500s. His best finish was second in 2021.

Hendrick Motorsports has pretty much owned qualifying with eight poles in the last nine Daytona 500s.

“It’s a big weekend for our sport,” Elliott said. “It’s a good look for our company to go down there and fire off well. On the same token, I would rather have better results in the race than qualify well.

“There’s really no reason why we can’t do both. I think the qualifying side has been good, we just need to shape up the race side of it as well.”

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4. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex has come close to winning the Daytona 500 (he was second in 2016), but he still hasn’t hoisted the Harley J. Earl trophy.

For the 2017 Cup champion, the last few years have always started with questions about whether it is his last year. This year is no different, so he heads to the Daytona 500 knowing it might be his last chance. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will enter the race with the most Daytona 500 starts (19 with this being his 20th) without a win.

“Obviously I want it,” Truex said. “It would be great. It would be amazing. I don’t know if I’d be completely disappointed with my career as a whole if someday when I retire and look back and I’m like, ‘Ah, I didn’t win that race.’

“I don’t know if that is a big deal to me or not. I still have opportunities to get it done, so I try not to think about it. But it would be huge to win, that’s for sure.”

‘Obviously I want it’ – Martin Truex Jr. on going after a Daytona 500 victory

5. Ryan Blaney

The defending Cup champion has won three times at Talladega as well as the 2021 summer race at Daytona. He has three top-five finishes in nine Daytona 500 starts.

Blaney came closest in 2017 and 2020 when he finished second in the race. The Team Penske driver has led 174 laps over his nine starts.

6. Kyle Larson

Larson, the 2021 Cup champion, isn’t typically a threat on the drafting-style tracks. And he probably isn’t sweating whether he wins the Daytona 500.

In his 10 starts, Larson has a best finish of seventh and an average finish of 18.7. The Hendrick driver has led a mere 24 laps in the race.

Here are six other drivers with the best chance to win their first Daytona 500:

7. Chris Buescher

Buescher won the previous race at Daytona — the 2023 regular-season finale in August. He also has won a Daytona 500 qualifying race (typically known as the duels). Entering his ninth Daytona 500, Buescher will be a threat along with his RFK Racing teammate Keselowski. His best finish in the race was third in 2020.

Chris Buescher on building on success from 2023

8. William Byron

Byron also has won at Daytona, grabbing the win in the summer race in 2020 for his first career victory. He is 0-for-6 in the 500, having been running at the finish twice.

And don’t tell the Hendrick driver this (although he probably already knows) — his best finish in the Daytona 500 is 21st.

9. Bubba Wallace

Wallace finished second in his first Daytona 500 (in 2018) and was second again in 2022. He also has a win at Talladega. What will it take to get that one final spot as the 23XI Racing driver tries for the seventh time to win the Daytona 500? Lots of friends and the right move at the right time.

10. Christopher Bell

Bell is crafty enough to put himself in the right position, as he showed last year when he finished third, his first top-10 in four Daytona 500 starts. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has led 52 laps in those four starts.

11. Erik Jones

Jones won the summer race at Daytona in 2018 for his first career victory and is considered a solid superspeedway racer. The Legacy Motor Club driver was third in the 2019 Daytona 500, his only top-10 finish in seven Daytona 500 starts.

12. Alex Bowman

Bowman has started on the front row for a record six consecutive years at the Daytona 500. But that doesn’t mean a great deal when it comes to the race — Bowman was fifth from the pole last year, the only pole-winner to finish in the top-five in the last 22 Daytona 500s.

That finish was the Hendrick driver’s only top-10 in seven Daytona 500 starts.

 Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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