In part one, I discussed reasons why they may or may not be a curse for winning the Daytona 500. In part two, the 2000-2009 Daytona 500's. This decade saw only one repeat winner but also some of your more unlikely winners as well.
2001 & 2003: Michael Waltrip
In 2001, Michael Waltrip came to Daytona with a brand new team and a 300+ race winless streak. In one of more thrilling Daytona 500's to date, Waltrip held off teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr to earn his first career Winston Cup Series win. Of course that race will forever be known as the race that took the life of Dale Earnhardt. Waltrip never got to truly celebrate that win until the July race at that track where he pushed Dale Jr to the win at that race. Waltrip struggled through most of 2001 and 2002 although Waltrip did post another win in the 2002 Pepsi 400 at Daytona. 2003 saw Waltrip once again win the great race in a rain shortened event. Waltrip would have flashes of brilliance that year remaining in the top 5 in series points until the August race at Michigan. However his luck would soon turn sour as the next 5 races saw him post a 26th place finish as his best until the fall race at Talledega. That race would prove to be likely Waltrip's last win. Waltrip would have a vicious crash in the 2004 500 and blow a motor in the 2005 Daytona 500. In 2007 Waltrip recieved a heavy fine and points deduction for adding an illegal fuel additive during 500 qualifying and would suffer through 3 mediocre to horrible seasons to follow.
2002: Ward Burton
Ward Burton won the 500 after contenders Jeff Gordon was spun out by Sterling Marlin and Marlin himself took himself out after a red flag where Marlin famously got out of his car to pull out some fender damage that sent him to the tail end of the longest line. Burton held off Elliott Sadler and Geoffrey Bodine to claim Dodge's first win since the 1970's in this event. Burton would win another race in the summer at New Hampshire but struggled through most of that season. Burton was released from his ride with Bill Davis a year and a half later and with the exception of a year with Haas CNC racing and McClure Motorsports has been inactive in Sprint Cup competition
2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr
2004 was Jr's best year to date as he dominated the race that took him years to win the race that took his father 20 to win. Jr won numerous times in 2004 but suffered injuries during a trans-am race at Infineon raceway. Jr would have to get out of the car early the next few events and a crash at Atlanta ended all hopes of a championship. Many point to those events as the stopping point of Jr's days of being a championship contender. He failed to make the chase in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and has only won 3 times since 2004.
2005: Jeff Gordon
Gordon won his third Daytona 500 after a late race pass over Dale Jr with just 4 laps to go and held off Kurt Busch to win the race. Gordon would win two more times before May 1 and was primed for his 5th title. After that win at Talledega in the spring, Gordon struggled through the summer and missed the chase. Gordon would win at Martinsville in the fall and finish 11th in points but overall the season was a disappointment
2006: Jimmie Johnson
Of course there is an exception to every rule as Johnson won the 500 and would go on to win the Nextel Cup Title. In fact Johnson has won every Sprint/ Nextel Cup since then. Ironically this 500 win was without Chad Knaus after he was suspended for this race due to a rules violation.
2007: Kevin Harvick
After the death of Dale Earnhardt 6 years to the day, Harvick took Earnhardt's old ride to the win in the Daytona 500 holding off Mark Martin in one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history. Harvick struggled through most of the 2007 season but would make the chase. Harvick would not contend for the championship and has struggled for the past two seasons to find consistency. Harvick has went winless since that race in Daytona with the exception of two Budweiser Shootout wins in 2009 and 2010 and a win in the Sprint All Star race in 2007
2008: Ryan Newman
Penske Racing South had never won a restrictor plate race entering this event. Teammate Kurt Busch pushed Newman by Tony Stewart late in the race to win the event and end a winless drought of two years. Newman struggled throughout 2008 not winning another race and missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Newman left Penske to join Stewart-Haas in 2009
2009: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth like Newman also had a winless drought as he went the entire 2008 season without winning a race. Kenseth passed Elliott Sadler just as the rain started to fall to win the race and earn Jack Roush his first Daytona 500 win. Kenseth would also win a week later in California but in the third race at Vegas had engine problems and finished in 43rd. Kenseth would go through an un-Kenseth like inconsistent season that caused him not to win again and miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time since the debut of the chase
So there you have it. The last three winners of the Daytona 500 have struggled to find any time of consistency the rest of the season. Of course there are reasons why these things have happened. Restrictor plate racing is a reason as anyone that has a decent car can get up to the front and take advantage of weather or big ones or a good drafting partner. In the case of Waltrip, many would point out that DEI focused so much on the restrictor plate program that they "dropped the ball at the other tracks". Dale Jr still hasn't grasped the COT and has numerous crew chiefs since that 2004 race. Burton, Gordon, Newman, Harvick and Kenseth were all "snake bit" the rest of their perspective seasons as none of those drivers would enjoy the same success as that day gave them. Sometimes though, things just happen.
To sum things up, the Daytona 500 is still the biggest race of the year. If you win this race you are forever known as champion of the Daytona 500. That stays with you the rest of your career....rest of your life even. I'm sure those drivers would have like to have had more consistent seasons but barring a championship what really defines your season? Nobody remembers who finised second in the Chase but I bet they remember who won the Daytona 500. Ask any driver the race they want to win and its going to be the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt said it best. "The wins and the championships are nice but there is nothing like winning the Daytona 500"
I don't believe personally the 500 is cursed. Injuries, deaths and bad luck cannot be blamed but it does kind of make you think about it though.
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