DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Stewart has had plenty of chances to win the Daytona 500, and he’s had his heart broken every time.
Stewart wound up on his roof in 2001, and his engine blew in the opening laps of the 2002 race. He finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004, and wrecked while leading in 2007.
The most difficult defeat was likely 2008, when Ryan Newman was pushed past Stewart on the last lap to snatch the victory. Last year, Stewart was second on the final restart but faded to a 13th-place finish as rookie Trevor Bayne pulled off the upset.
The race is such a crapshoot that Daytona 500 rookie Danica Patrick said she believes she has as good a chance to win the race as anyone.
“I felt comfortable. I feel more than ready for Sunday,” said Patrick, who walked away from a violent crash in Thursday’s qualifying race.
Her car is owned by Stewart, the defending NASCAR champion who goes into Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 with a disappointing 0 for 13 record in “The Great American Race.” Stewart has been reminded every day since arriving in Daytona about his inability to win the big race here.
“It’s not a good feeling to not have that tally in the win column,” Stewart said. “Everything else we have pretty much accomplished in this sport that we want to accomplish. It’s the biggest race of the year. Everyone wants to win that race. I won’t say that it is not a complete career if you don’t win it, but there is a lot of priority on this.”
Stewart, who closed last season with five victories in the final 10 races to win his third NASCAR title, has given no indication he’s slowed down during the offseason. He lost the exhibition Budweiser Shootout last week when Kyle Busch passed him at the finish line, but rallied to dominate his qualifying race on Thursday.
On the track Friday night, John King wrecked the leader and later held on to win a wild Truck Series opener at Daytona International.
Timothy Peters finished second, giving Red Horse Racing a 1-2 finish in the series opener. Justin Lofton was third.