The Daytona 500 is NASCAR's most premier event. A win in the Daytona 500 puts you in the record books forever and while some of NASCAR's best drivers have won the 500, there are a few that just let Daytona get away from them. The names of the drivers who just missed the Daytona 500 may be just as impressive as the guys who have won it. Over the next few weeks I will list the drivers who have just missed the Daytona 500, debating which driver may be the best to never win the 500.
In my opinion you have to look at what a driver did at Daytona and how good they have been/were at the racetrack. When you think about a successful driver at Daytona, you have to think about Terry Labonte, although Labonte has never won the Daytona 500 in 30 starts.
Labonte first came down to Daytona in 1979. While that race is known by most NASCAR fans few remember Labonte ran in that race. He finished 16th in his first attempt in the race, driving a Buick for car owner Billy Hagan. Since then Daytona has been fair to Labonte.
In 30 starts, he has 12 top ten finishes, pretty respectable for a man who has never won the race. He has finished runner-up in the big dance three times, in 1986, 1990 and 1997. In 1986 he finished second to Geoff Bodine, In 1990, Labonte had been running third when Earnhardt's tire let go on the final lap, letting Deriick Cope and Terry Labonte go by for the victory. In 1997, Labonte helped teammate Jeff Gordon pass Bill Elliott for Gordon's first 500 victory. Labonte's consistency at the track was as impressive as anyone. In more than half of his starts in the race, 17, he has finished in the top 15.
You also have to look at the starts Labonte has in the Daytona 500. He has made every Daytona 500 he has attempted, which to me gives him some creditability. He is just one of three drivers to have 30 or more starts in the Daytona 500, joining Richard Petty and Dave Marcis.
While Labonte may not be the best driver to never win the Daytona 500, his record at the track speaks for itself. He has come close to winning the 500 a few times including 1996 where he led 44 laps only to finish 24th after overheating issues.
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