In the Rearview Mirror: First-time winners of the Daytona 500

Savoring the victory, a first-time winner never forgets that
win, let alone a win at the Daytona 500.
Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
The magic of Trevor Bayne’s Cinderella win is still fresh in our minds a year later. A rookie in the Daytona 500, Bayne became an overnight sensation with his amazing victory and captivating story.

Just one day after his 20th birthday Bayne win brought the No. 21 car and the Wood Brothers race team back into victory lane. Shouting “Are you kidding me,” Bayne himself could not believe it. There is simply no grander way than to claim your first victory at the largest race of the year, much less in your rookie attempt at it.

TBayne was not the only driver to pull off such a miracle. Dating back to Tiny Lund’s win in the 1963 Daytona 500 to Michael Waltrip in 2001, first-time winners have been blessed multiple times at the Great America Race.

The 1960s and 1970s

In the first years of the Daytona 500 (first ran in 1959), the winners were familiar names like Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts and Junior Johnson, but the names of the first-time winners are a who’s who of racers. Tiny Lund, Mario Andretti and Pete Hamilton all were the “Trevor Bayne” of their time, claiming their first win at The Great American Race.

Credit: RacingOne Multimedia
Tiny Lunds’ win in 1963 was coincidentally for the Wood Brothers race team. After starting the race in 12th, pit strategy allowed Lund to run the entire race on the same set of tires.

“After that 36-lap caution, we wanted him to draft and save fuel,” said Leonard Wood.  “When it came down to the end of the race, we didn’t have but 40 laps to go and we knew he could make it because we had been running 42. When Fred Lorenzen and Ned Jarrett had not made their laps up from that first caution, we knew they were gonna have to stop, so we were just waiting for it to happen.”

Happen it did - their bold move won the Wood Brothers team the race and Lund his first NASCAR victory. This would be the first of five Daytona 500 victories for the infamous Wood Brothers team.

Mario Andretti raced in NASCAR before heading to IndyCar.
Credit: RacingOne Multimedia
Just four years later Mario Andretti clinched his one and only NASCAR victory at the Daytona 500. Prior to his brief jaunt into NASCAR, Andretti had been racing in the USAC series and racking up wins. Afterward he became famous for his career in the IndyCar Series. Andretti’s time in NASCAR was short-lived, only 14 races, but winning the Daytona 500 before leaving was definitely the pinnacle of his short stay.

The 1990s and 2000s

Present-day NASCAR has given us first-time winners Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994) and Michael Waltrip.

Waltrip’s win in the 2001 Daytona 500 is perhaps the most overlooked wins in NASCAR because it occurred on “the day.” Watrip won while driving for his DEI team owner Dale Earnhardt, who was tragically killed in a last-lap crash. As Mikey celebrated in victory lane he had the widest smile on his face, unbeknownst to him the news that awaited him. His joy turned to sorrow In the Blink of an Eye.

Who is next?

This season the possibilities are endless. Danica Patrick is making her Sprint Cup debut and has the eyes of the world on her. Aric Almirola is getting his second chance in the Cup Series with Richard Petty Motorsports, and who wouldn’t want to see that No. 43 back in victory lane? AJ Allmendinger is another driver looking for that elusive win; with a new team at Penske, “The Dinger” is poised to break his winless streak this season. Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is getting the opportunity of a lifetime and will be racing in the Daytona 500; his buddy Trevor Bayne was Cinderella last year, and it sure would be fitting for him to follow.

Then you have the more experienced drivers who are still waiting patiently: Michael McDowell, Landon Cassill, David Gilliland, J.J. Yeley, Tony Raines, David Stremme, Mike Wallace and Kenny Wallace.

Place your bets, who do you think it may be? 

Amanda Ebersole brings the readers of Skirts and Scuffs interviews and insight into the people who make NASCAR the sport we all love. Besides interviews, Amanda also writes her weekly columns In the Rearview Mirror and NASCAR By the Numbers. Catch up on all Amanda's writing by clicking here. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter or e-mail.

In the Rearview Mirror: First-time winners of the Daytona 500 In the Rearview Mirror: First-time winners of the Daytona 500 Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 Rating: 5