During a pit stop last week to promote Kentucky Speedway, NASCAR television analyst Kyle Petty suggested Tony Stewart’s best racing days are in the rear-view mirror.
“I believe his better days, his best days, are behind us,” Petty said of the 43-year old Stewart. “Will he still win big races? Yes he will. Is he going to win seven or eight races? I don’t believe that.”
Stewart would likely settle for one victory this season. He has yet to win the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s equivalent of the Super Bowl. He makes his 17th start in next Sunday’s race (1 p.m., FOX), with a career-best finish of third in 2008.
Six drivers have made 10 or more starts before winning their first Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt (19), Buddy Baker (18), Darrell Waltrip (16), Bobby Allison (14), Michael Waltrip (14) and Sterling Marlin (12).
One driver Stewart doesn’t want to beat is Dave Marcis. He holds the record for most all-time Daytona 500 starts without a win at 33.
And as anyone knows, anything can happen — and often does — at the Daytona 500.
“It’s almost an oxymoron. It’s easier and tougher for someone to win this race now,” Petty said. “It’s easier for someone you don’t expect to win it, and it’s tougher for someone you expect to win. Tony is one of those guys you always expect to run up front.
“You can be the fastest car there and finish 10th. We’ve seen guys with the fastest car not be able to get (up front) and guys with a top-eight car win the race,” Petty said. “It’s where you put yourself in that last shuffle and that last pit stop cycle. I think the restrictor plate is a great equalizer.”
During the media day earlier this week at Daytona Internationals Speedway, Stewart addressed the question of whether he fears never winning the Daytona 500.
“No, not until the day that I don’t run here anymore. Everybody has got a shot here, so it’s just a matter of — we’ve been in that position,” Stewart said. “We’ve been in that position before, so it’s not like we’ve never been in that position. At least that gives you confidence that you’ve got a shot.
“If anybody looks at my career and says because I haven’t won a Daytona 500 that I didn’t have a good career, I’d want to say they really don’t know what they’re talking about.”