The NASCAR Cup Series’ Daytona 500 is undoubtedly its most renowned event. It follows that it’s also one of the most challenging races to win, even when a driver surprises everyone and enters the Daytona 500 for the first time. In the 500’s historic 64-year history, several of the sport’s renowned heavyweights have triumphed. Still, like every other one on the Cup calendar, this race doesn’t always have a famous face on Victory Lane. Daytona is even more prone to produce a shock winner than certain tracks because it is a 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway when drafting is crucial to one’s performance.
In eight full or nearly full seasons at the top level of NASCAR, Ward Burton had only three NASCAR Cup Series victories going into the 2002 Daytona 500. All of that didn’t matter in The Great American Race, though, as slow-talking South Boston, Virginia native Burton claimed the lead for the first time with five laps remaining and held on from there. When a red flag period occurred late in the race, Sterling Marlin, driving the dominant car, was penalized heavily by NASCAR for getting out of his car to brush off the front grille. Marlin overcame the penalty to place seventh, but Burton stole the show in his Bill Davis Racing bike, earning his first and only victory in the crucial season opening at The World Center of Racing.
The most recent Daytona 500 champion, Michael McDowell, is the one whose triumph most people would consider an accident. The Great American Race winner and Front Row Motorsports driver entered the race with exactly 0 victories in 357 starts, making his prospects of winning practically nonexistent, at least statistically. Many people were unaware that McDowell had a respectable record at the two NASCAR superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega, even before he showed up to participate that day. Nevertheless, no one predicted he would win the 2021 season’s inaugural competition, and how he did so would unquestionably be classified as “lucky.”