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Surprise Winners of the Daytona 500

Posted on February 11, 2020 by Dean Hybl

Many familiar names in stock racing history, including Petty, Earnhardt, Waltrip, Johnson, Gordon and Yarborough have reached victory lane at the Daytona 500, but there have also been a number of surprising victors in the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing.

Below is a look at some victorious Daytona 500 drivers who did not parlay their Daytona victory into memorable NASCAR careers.

Tiny Lund won the 1963 Daytona 500.

DeWayne “Tiny” Lund – 1963 Daytona 500 Champion; 5 career NASCAR wins

At 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, DeWayne Lund’s nickname of “Tiny” was a bit of an oxy-moron, but the journeyman race car driver somehow managed to fit his large frame into a stock car and achieve notable success.

A part-time driver in NASCAR’s highest series, Lund came to the 1963 Daytona 500 looking for a ride. Not only did he leave as the Daytona 500 champion, but also as a hero. When his friend and 1961 Daytona 500 Champion Mavin Panch suffered an accident driving an experimental Ford in the Daytona Continental three-hour sportscar race (a precursor to the 24-hours of Daytona), the car burst into flames. Lund ran into the fire and pulled Panch from the wreckage. The act earned him the Carnegie Hero’s Medal and also a ride as Panch’s replacement in the Daytona 500.

Driving for the Wood Brothers, the plan was for Lund to maneuver the 500 miles on one less fuel stop than the rest of the field. Lund led late in the race before being passed with 10 laps left by Fred Lorenzen. However, he soon ran out of gas to give the lead back to Lund. Ned Jarratt soon passed Lund and looked poised for victory. However, with three laps left he too ran out of gas. Lund ran out of gas on the final lap, but was able to coast home for victory.

Though he rarely had a full-time ride during his career, Lund posted 119 top ten finishes and five victories in 303 races. He enjoyed greater success in the NASCAR Grand American Series, where he won the season championship three times in four full years on the series. He also won 41 of 109 Grand American events in his career.

He was killed during a wreck at the 1975 Talladega 500. Though he struggled to maintain a full-time ride in NASCAR’s top series, he was named one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR history in 1998. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994 and will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2020.

Pete Hamilton – 1970 Daytona 500 Champion; 4 career NASCAR wins

There was no surprise that the winner of the 1970 Daytona 500 was representing Petty Enterprises, but it was surprising that the champion driver was Pete Hamilton and not Richard Petty.

The 1968 NASCAR Grand National Rookie of the Year, the 1970 Daytona 500 was the first career win for Hamilton. He won two additional races for Petty Enterprises in 1970, claiming both victories at the Talladega Speedway. In 1971 he won one of the 125 mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500, but that would prove to be his final victory. He did have one pole and 11 top five finishes during the 1971 season.

He retired from full-time NASCAR racing in 1973 due to a back injury suffered in a 1969 wreck. His NASCAR Grand National career included 64 races, four wins, three poles and 33 top 10 finishes.

Derrike Cope won the 1990 Daytona 500 after having only four top 10 finishes in his career.

Derrike Cope – 1990 Daytona 500 Champion; 2 career NASCAR wins

There has perhaps never been a less likely Daytona 500 winner than Derrike Cope in 1990. Entering the 1990 race, Cope had only four top 10 finishes (none better than 6th) in more than 70 career NASCAR starts.

His victory at the 1990 Daytona 500 came about on the final lap as it looked like Dale Earnhardt was going to end his Daytona jinx before running over debris and cutting his tire in turn three while leading the final lap of the race. Cope was able to avoid the debris and seize the lead and a surprising victory. Later in the season he overcame running out of gas early in the race to win at Dover. Those two races would prove to be his only wins in 427 NASCAR races over 31 years.

Cope finished 18th in the NASCAR Cup point standings in 1990 and in 1995 posted a career-best 15th place. He was a NASCAR Cup series regular through the 1998 season and then spent much of the next two decades primarily competing on the NASCAR Xfinity Series while occasionally moving back to NASCAR’s top series. His last races on the NASCAR Cup series came in 2018 at the age of 59.

Overall, Cope posted 32 top 10 finishes with two wins and one pole in 427 NASCAR Cup races.

Ward Burton – 2002 Daytona 500 Champion; 5 career NASCAR wins

Most NASCAR fans are familiar with 21-time NASCAR race winner and current NBC TV analyst Jeff Burton, but might be surprised to know that while Jeff never was victorious at the Daytona 500, his brother Ward has a Daytona 500 win among his five career victories.

Ward Burton claimed the 2002 Daytona 500.

After honing his racing skills in short track racing on his home track in South Boston, Virginia, Ward moved to the NASCAR Busch Series in 1990 and spent four years on the junior circuit. He moved to the top circuit, then known as the Winston Cup, in 1994 and competed in 26 races with his highest finish being second place at Pocono Raceway. The next year he claimed his first NASCAR Winston Cup race victory in the AC Delco 400 held at Rockingham.

By 1999 he was a consistent contender as he finished a career-best ninth in the point standings. The next year he claimed his second career victory at Darlington and placed 10th in the point standings.

After claiming another win at Darlington in 2001, Burton opened the 2002 season by pulling off a surprising victory in the Daytona 500. He was in second place late in the race when race leader Sterling Marlin was penalized for working on his car during a red flag. Burton held off Elliott Sadler and Geoffrey Bodine to secure the victory.

Later in the 2002 season he earned his fifth career victory at New Hampshire. However, his season was very inconsistent and he placed 25th in the point standings.

Burton would remain a regular driver on the circuit for only two more seasons and his last NASCAR stock car races were in 2007. In 2012 he competed in the Camping World Truck Series Daytona Race and finished 8th.

He finished his NASCAR Cup racing career with 375 starts, five victories, seven poles and 82 top 10 finishes.

Jamie McMurray – 2010 Daytona 500 Champion – 7 career NASCAR wins

Though he won only seven NASCAR Cup races during his career, Jamie McMurray is one of only three racers to claim both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year.

After beginning his career in the Busch and Truck Series, McMurray moved to the Winston Cup series near the end of the 2002 season. In just his second career NASCAR Winston Cup and first non-restrictor plate start, McMurray outraced Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart to win the UAW-GM Quality 500 in Charlotte.

The next year he raced a complete schedule and won the Rookie of the Year honors. In 2004 he registered 23 top 10 finishes and placed 11th in the point standings, which would prove to be his highest career finish.

In 2007 he claimed victory at the Pepsi 400 in Daytona and in 2009 won the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega.

His 2010 season began with the victory in the Daytona 500 and later included victories at the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then in Charlotte at the Bank of America 500. Even with those three victories, he managed only a 14th place finish in the point standings.

The final victory of his career was at Talladega in 2013. He remained a series regular through 2018. He is now a NASCAR commentator for FOX.

During his career, McMurray competed in 583 Cup races with seven victories, 11 poles and 168 top 10 finishes.

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