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Greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 is considered one of the greatest events in American stock car racing. Here are the greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500.

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race and grabs the attention of many racing fans worldwide. It’s on par with the Indianapolis 500 for the NTT IndyCar Series in terms of prestige and viewership.

There are some drivers that have excelled in the Great American Race more than others, making them some of NASCAR’s greatest legends. Here are the top-5 greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500.

5. Bobby Allison

Bobby Allison won the Daytona 500 on three occasions in 1978, 1982, and 1988. The Daytona 500 finish in 1988 was especially special for Allison since his son, Davey Allison, finished in second place behind him.

Allison’s victory in the 1988 Daytona 500 was the last victory of his career in NASCAR’s top level. He is a part of an exclusive club to win the Great American Race three times, which is shared with three other drivers.

Sadly, Allison does not remember the finish with his son due to a terrible crash at Pocono Raceway that ended his racing career. Allison is still among the elites when it comes to the Daytona 500 and will remain locked in history.

4. Denny Hamlin

Greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500: Denny Hamlin
Feb 17, 2019; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates with the Harley J. Earl Trophy after winning Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Hamlin has been the best driver in the Daytona 500 since 2016 and has quickly climbed the list of the race’s greatest drivers. Hamlin has won the event on three separate occasions in 2016, 2019, and 2020.

Hamlin’s victory in the 2016 Daytona 500 is the closest finish ever in the race’s history. Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. by 0.01 seconds at the line for his first win in the event. It’s tied for 12th-place in the closest NASCAR finishes ever.

The 40-year-old driver also won the event in 2020 that has been remembered as the race where Ryan Newman had a terrible crash on the last lap. Hamlin still has time to add even more victories to his name and move up the list.

3. Jeff Gordon

The greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500: Jeff Gordon
Feb 15, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon (24) gets out of his car after winning the pole during qualifying for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Gordon’s emergence onto the NASCAR scene is a big reason why the sport is where it’s at today. It’s only right for one of NASCAR’s most well-known drivers to have a spot on the list with his three Daytona 500 victories in 1997, 1999, and 2005.

The 2019 Hall of Fame member’s victory in the 1999 Daytona 500 came one year after Dale Earnhardt, Sr’s first victory in the race and he had to beat Earnhardt, who finished in second place, to win the event. The Gordon-Earnhardt rivalry is what gave NASCAR its legs.

Gordon’s final victory came in the 2005 Daytona 500, which put him in an exclusive group of drivers to win the event three times. Much of Gordon’s success in the race came in the first half of his racing career, but he still has a place in history.

2. Cale Yarborough

The greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500: Cale Yarborough
Feb 19, 1984; Daytona Bch, FL, USA FILE PHOTO; NASCAR Winston Cup driver Cale Yarborough celebrates in victory lane after winning the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

Cale Yarborough has won the Daytona 500 a second-best four times in 1968, 1977, 1983, and 1984. Yarborough had to go up against one of the greatest drivers ever in Richard Petty, so he could’ve been more successful if not for him.

Yarborough could have been a five-time Daytona 500 winner, but an accident in 1979 took away any opportunity for him to win the race. The accident caused the famous brawl on the backstretch between him and Donnie Allison.

The 2012 Hall-of-Fame member tried to win a record-setting third Daytona 500 in a row during the 1985 race, but an engine issue took him out of contention after only completing 62 of 200 laps. Yarborough is also considered one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.

1. Richard Petty

Richard Petty won the Daytona 500 an outstanding seven times, which is by far the most by any driver in NASCAR history. Petty won the event in 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, and 1981.

The most historic finish came in the 1979 Daytona 500 when he passed Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough on the final lap after the two crashed. If not for that victory, the gap between him and second place would be less than right now.

Many of his victories came at a time where cars were less competitive than they are now, but the quantity of wins he has in the event is staggering. No other driver has more than five victories and Petty has three more than any other driver.

Petty holds the mantle as the greatest driver to ever run the event out of the past Daytona 500 winners. He is regarded as one of the most famous NASCAR drivers ever, and for the seven-time champion to win the Great American Race seven times is fitting.

Conclusion

The greatest drivers in the history of the Daytona 500: Richard Petty
Feb 17, 1985; Daytona Bch, FL, USA FILE PHOTO; NASCAR Winston Cup driver Richard Petty during the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

Names ranging from Richard Petty to Trevor Bayne have won this race, which solidifies their name in NASCAR history. Anyone can go into the race with a chance to win due to the package and track configuration, which makes the race highly anticipated.

The five drivers above have already solidified themselves in NASCAR history as some of the greatest superspeedway drivers ever by winning three or more Daytona 500’s.

The unpredictability of superspeedway races makes each individual victory at Daytona sweeter than any other race that NASCAR has on the circuit.