Note: 60 Days Until The Daytona 500: This is the final part of a six-part series previewing the exciting events surrounding Speedweeks 2004, which includes the 46th annual Daytona 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event - the "Great American Race." Past releases profiled the Gatorade 125's, the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, the Hershey's Kisses 300 NASCAR Busch Series race, the Budweiser Shootout and Bud Pole Day.
The Daytona 500: NASCAR's Most Coveted Prize
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Dec. 18, 2003) -- Beginning with the inaugural 1959 Daytona 500 where it took three days and a photo finish to determine Lee Petty was the winner to Michael Waltrip's second victory in the "Great American Race" earlier this year, the Daytona 500 has become NASCAR's biggest, richest and most prestigious race.
While the 46th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 15 promises the same excitement, it will also be different in many ways. This year's edition of the "Great American Race" will be the first with Nextel and Sunoco.
Nextel is taking over sponsorship of NASCAR's Cup Series while Sunoco is becoming NASCAR's official fuel.
There's also an elite group of rookies making their first Daytona 500 start including 2003 NASCAR Busch Series champion Brian Vickers as well as Busch Series stars Scott Wimmer, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter.
Wimmer will be driving the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge for Bill Davis Racing, which won the 2002 Daytona 500 with former driver Ward Burton.
"They still have that same car that won the Daytona 500 in 2002 sitting in the lobby of Bill Davis Racing," Wimmer said. "You have to walk by it every day when you go into the shop. They've also got that great, big trophy down there. Hopefully, we can add another one to it."
"That's going to be pretty neat - my first Daytona 500," said the 20-year-old Vickers, who first raced go-karts at Daytona in his early teens. "I grew up dreaming about that race. It's going to be a big race. It's a dream come true. It's something me and my family and friends have worked for my whole life."
Michael Waltrip, the defending Daytona 500 champion, has won two of the last three Daytona 500s. If Waltrip, who drives the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., can win a third Daytona 500, he would join Bobby Allison and Dale Jarrett as the only three-time winners of the most anticipated motorsports event of the year.
Richard Petty (seven) and Cale Yarborough (four) are the only drivers with more than three Daytona 500 victories.
But winning consecutive Daytona 500's is no easy chore. Only Petty (1973-74), Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) have been able to pull off that feat.
Waltrip, who enjoyed the benefits of winning the 2003 Daytona 500 by ringing the bell to start trading on Wall Street as well as making numerous national television appearances, would love to win stock car's biggest prize again.
"The Daytona 500 is unmatched as far as attention," Waltrip said. "I'm quite honored to win the race and to get to walk around being referred to as the two-time Daytona 500 champion and the wonderful accolades and honor that it gives you to be that."
Actor, writer and director Ben Affleck will get things started for the 46th annual Daytona 500 with the command "Drivers, start your engines." His Grand Marshal duties also include leading the field in the pace laps from the Grand Marshal's pace car.
Tickets are available for the Daytona 500 and other Speedweeks 2004 events online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.