Beware the Daytona 500 winner's jinx

February, 19, 2011

Every driver who's ever sat in a stock car has wanted to win the Daytona 500.

Well, you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for.

In recent years, a victory in NASCAR's biggest event has become a bit of a curse for the rest of the season.

The past three Daytona 500 winners -- Ryan Newman in 2008, Matt Kenseth in 2009 and Jamie McMurray last season -- failed to make the Chase that year.

The winner of the season-opening Super Bowl of racing has failed to make the playoff in four of the seven seasons since the Chase began.

Jimmie Johnson in 2006 is the only driver to win the Daytona 500 and go on to win the Chase, and that year marked the only time in the last 13 years the 500 winner won the title.

It gets worse. Only twice in the last 10 seasons has the Daytona 500 winner gone on to finish better than 10th in the standings that year.

Johnson's championship is the easy one to remember. The other one may surprise you -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth in the Chase when he won the 2004 Daytona 500.

So if you want to see a real positive sign that better days are ahead for Junior, hope he wins the 500 on Sunday. For everyone else except Johnson, it hasn't led to more good times that year.

The average finishing spot in the standings for the Daytona 500 winner is 13.6 in the last 10 seasons. Three of those years the 500 winner didn't win another race that season, and three other times the Daytona winner had only one other victory that year.

But there are plenty of drivers who gladly would take a Daytona 500 victory over any other achievement that season, or even their career, for that matter.

After winning the 500 and the Brickyard 400 (arguably the two biggest races of the year) in 2010, McMurray wasn't crying about failing to make the Chase.

"If someone told me I could win those two races or I could barely make the Chase and not win either one, I'd take the wins," McMurray said last year. "If I make the Chase without a realistic shot at winning the championship, I'd rather win these races."

Under the new rule of two wild-card spots based on victories, McMurray would have made the 2010 Chase. So a Daytona 500 victory this year might lead to a better outcome in the end.

Whether it does or doesn't, winning the Daytona 500 places a driver in a prestigious group no matter what he does anywhere else.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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