It says something about the recent mix of winners in Sprint Cup races at Daytona International Speedway that the track’s active leader in Cup victories hasn’t won at NASCAR’s most famous track since 2005.
Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in Daytona victories with six (three scored in the marquee Daytona 500). But Gordon has been locked out of Daytona victory lane since winning the 500 in February 2005.
In the past nine races at DIS, Matt Kenseth is the only repeat winner. He won the Daytona 500 in 2009 and repeated that victory this year.
Kenseth runs up against a statistical oddity for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at the track, however. Both Daytona Sprint Cup races have been won in the same year only four times, and that feat hasn’t been accomplished since Hall of Famer Bobby Allison did the double in 1982.
Adding to the volatility of racing at the track in recent years has been the arrival of new-model cars and the tweaking of rules to deal with those cars. Daytona and Talladega have been two of the circuit’s big experimental bases as officials have struggled with tandem drafting and ways to limit it.
The latest round of rules changes made the tandem drafts much less attractive and generally has returned “pack” racing to the circuit’s giant tracks. In the meantime, as things have evolved, a parade of drivers, from David Ragan to Trevor Bayne to Jamie McMurray, has rolled onto Daytona’s high ground.
"I enjoy this type of racing more," said Gordon, who will be making his 40th Daytona start in Saturday’s race. "I think this way gives the drivers the opportunity to create more chances instead of relying on the car you're pushing or the one that is pushing you. [Pack drafting] brings things back into our hands.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., twice a winner at Daytona (2001 and 2004), agrees.
“We’re racing more,” he said. “We’re not tandem drafting all the time, so your race really is in your own hands, and what you do with it and what you make of an afternoon is really up to you and you alone for most of the event. So I kind of like that.
“That’s the way I’ve always thought racing should be. Racing has always been that way. We never had racing where you were so dependent on another car until we had the repaves at Daytona and Talladega and tandem racing came around. It was OK to watch, and I think some of the drivers probably enjoyed it, but for me it was just the opposite of a driver’s instincts. Everything you ever learned about racing, it was kind of the complete opposite of that as far as how you approached an event. I didn’t like it much.
“But the rules have kind of moved away from that a little bit, and hopefully that is the way it stays. Hopefully, we will keep going in the right direction to get it to where it’s you against 42 other guys. That’s the way it’s been this year so far.”
Although Daytona’s win list has added numerous new members in recent years, some drivers are still looking for win No. 1 at the 2.5-mile track. Among them are four drivers in the current top 10 in points – Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.