Best Daytona 500 Debut No. 2: Wimmer Wows In First 500 - Scott Wimmer (Note: This is the fourth installment in a five-part series on some of the best Daytona 500 debuts by either rookie of the year candidates or drivers making what amounted to...
Best Daytona 500 Debut No. 2: Wimmer Wows In First 500 - Scott Wimmer
(Note: This is the fourth installment in a five-part series on some of the best Daytona 500 debuts by either rookie of the year candidates or drivers making what amounted to an initial "NASCAR cameo" appearance in the event. Today, we take a look at No. 2 in the countdown -- Scott Wimmer's third-place finish in 2004.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2009) -- Here's one way a third-place Daytona 500 finish by a rookie could get buried: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the race with President George W. Bush watching.
Scott Wimmer's performance was the forgotten story in 2004. But it shouldn't have been.
Wimmer's finish was a surprise -- a big one. He struggled all through Speedweeks, lacking speed in practice and finishing 13th in his qualifying race. Thus, he started the 500 in 26th.
But his tales of Speedweeks woe ended once the green flag dropped on the Daytona 500. By the quarter pole, Wimmer was seventh. By mid-point, his No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Dodge was fifth.
Savvy pit strategy by crew chief Frank Stoddard put Wimmer at the front after a lap 169 pit stop. Only 31 laps separated Wimmer and Daytona's Victory Lane.
But Earnhardt and second-place finisher Tony Stewart soon caught, and passed, Wimmer. The rookie would pace the field for four laps after the stop, and added another one for five laps led overall. He was the only rookie to lead a lap.
Wimmer Best Of Strong Field Of First-Timers ... Almost Best Of Them All
Notable 500 First-Timers in 2004: Scott Wimmer, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, Scott Riggs, Brendan Gaughan, Johnny Sauter, Larry Foyt.
The Intangibles: Though Wimmer's finish was a surprise, maybe it shouldn't have been. Just two year's earlier, his No. 22 Dodge won the Daytona 500, though with a different driver -- Ward Burton.
The Recap: President Bush was the first sitting president to attend the Daytona 500, and he saw quite a show. NASCAR's marquee names -- and a little-known rookie -- headlined The Great American Race. ... To the delight of fans, it was all Earnhardt and Stewart. Wimmer had little chance against the drafting buddies, as the two restrictor plate heavyweights traded the lead almost the entire day. Stewart led a race-high 97 laps; Earnhardt led 59. Jimmie Johnson was the only other driver to lead double-digit laps -- 16. ... After Earnhardt's win, he got a congratulatory call from President Bush.
Wimmer's Take: "'It would have been a dream come true... We led the race really late in the going and I thought we had a real good shot at winning, but just ended up getting passed there at the end. But I got beat by two of the best at Daytona, Tony Stewart and Dale Jr., and for my first 500 that was real memorable to go down there and run well and have a shot at winning. It turns a lot of emotions, a lot of memories to this day, and every time I go through that tunnel I think back to 2004 when we had that good run and try to duplicate it every year I can."
The Follow-Up: Wimmer finished 27th in the final 2004 series standings. ... His best performances have come in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he has won six career races and helped the No. 29 Richard Childress Chevrolet capture the owners title in 2007. ... This season, Wimmer will drive a number of races in the No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.