Six of the Best: Rejects in the Daytona 500

Every category has its jewel in the crown. Formula One has the glittering, glamourous Monaco Grand Prix, the World Endurance Championship has the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans, and IndyCar boasts the grandiose Indianapolis 500. They’re all fantastically unique events, and plenty of racing drivers have tested their mettle in all three – with Fernando Alonso the most recent example to try his luck at the unofficial Triple Crown.

In comparison, few F1 drivers have ever taken a chance at the Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series’ blue-riband event. Whether that’s because the nature of oval-bothering stock cars is so far removed from the world of F1, or because drivers are simply too afraid to do battle against NASCAR’s finest drivers around a superspeedway, there’s historically been very little cross-pollination.

Kurt Busch wins 2017's Daytona 500 (AP)

Kurt Busch wins 2017’s Daytona 500 (AP)

Regardless, we’ve managed to delve into the annals of history to pick out six F1 rejects who joined the NASCAR Cup field at Daytona, in recognition of 2018’s season opener.

6. Bob Said (1959)

Father of Boris Said, the famed NASCAR road course specialist – or ringer, to adopt the relevant terminology – Bob Said was a famed Olympian, taking part in the bobsled (honestly!) events in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Olympics.

Just under a decade before his bobsledding exploits, Said took part in dual runnings in F1 and NASCAR in 1959, joining future two-time Cup champion Buck Baker in his eponymous team for the inaugural Daytona 500. The race itself was famous for the controversial photo finish between Johnny Beauchamp and Lee Petty – Beauchamp took to victory lane but, after further review of the race, Petty was declared the victor on the following Wednesday.

Not that it mattered much in Said’s case. Suffering a transmission failure in his Chevrolet, Said retired after 42 laps and was classified 50th overall in the final standings. Later in the year, Said took part in the first United States Grand Prix at Sebring, racing a Connaught, but managed to spin off on the first lap!

Adapting to the rigours of Formula 1 was certainly easier Said than done.

5. Danny Sullivan (1994)

The Kentucky-native was something of a latecomer to the motorsport world, not making his F1 debut until the relatively late age of 33. Joining Ken Tyrrell’s eponymous outfit in 1983 at the behest of title sponsor Benetton, who wanted to expand their scope in the US with an American driver, Sullivan struggled in his switch from IndyCar and managed only two points with a fifth-place finish at Monaco.

Sullivan was more successful in the States, winning the IndyCar title in 1988 and spending most of his time among the front-runners before losing his Galles drive to Adrian Fernandez for 1994. With no other Indy Car drives on the horizon, Sullivan embarked upon a new commentary career, supplementing his income by attempting a few rounds of the NASCAR Cup series, starting with the Daytona 500.

Danny Sullivan with Virtue Racing. His NASCAR stint, ironically, was without virtue.

Danny Sullivan with Virtue Racing. His NASCAR stint, ironically, was without virtue.

His attempt at Daytona was over before it began. Joining Chris Virtue’s small outfit, Sullivan withdrew after Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr perished in separate accidents in practice for the 500. Although this barely counts as an attempt, Sullivan made further efforts in the 1994 season, failing to qualify at North Carolina and Atlanta before making it into the field for the Brickyard 400, finishing a lowly 33rd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He signed up for one more NASCAR Cup round a year later in 1995’s round at Indianapolis, again with Virtue, but a colossal crash the week before at the IndyCar round at Michigan ended Sullivan’s racing career on the spot.

4. Brian Naylor (1961)

Naylor took to the start-line in seven F1 Grands Prix in the 1950s, driving in his self-entered Cooper-derived JBW car. The chassis was not particularly conducive to success, lacking the funding of manufacturer outfits, and as a result Naylor failed to score in any of his outings across five years.

Prior to his final F1 season in 1961, Naylor decided to take part in that year’s Daytona 500, the third 500-mile event ever held at the world-famous Florida venue. Piloting a Warner Brothers (not THOSE Warner Bros)-run Ford Falcon, Naylor became the first European ever to take part in NASCAR.

It was a dramatic event, with multiple crashes in the qualifying heats unsettling even the established drivers. The Daytona 500 itself was a tentative affair – the officials threatened to punish any robust driving – and as a result the race was run entirely without a caution. Naylor completed just 85 laps before an engine problem forced the Brit out of the running. He was classified 42nd overall, paving the way for a smattering of European drivers to give NASCAR a try.

3. Max Papis (2010)

On the back of his less-than-successful foray in F1 with the Footwork team, Massimiliano “Mad Max” Papis joined the NASCAR Cup field in 2006 via almost a decade of competing in CART/IndyCar.

Token appearances with the now-successful Furniture Row Racing and Haas CNC Racing runners at Watkins Glen were without much success, but nonetheless Papis joined part-timers Germain Racing in 2009 for 21 races.

It wasn’t until the following year that Papis made his first start at the Daytona 500, sticking with Germain, debuting with Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski. Papis qualified 31st, just one place behind fellow ex-F1 racer Scott Speed, and was running steadily in the lower midfield. Approaching half-distance, Papis pulled in with an engine problem and was unable to return to the track.

After completing half of the season with Germain, Papis made just one more Cup appearance after 2010, returning to his “roots” as a road course ringer with Stewart-Haas Racing after Tony Stewart sustained a leg injury following a crash in 2013.

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Scott Speed (#82) and Max Papis(#13)  run side-by-side at Daytona in 2010.

2. Scott Speed (2009, 2010, 2013)

After being unceremoniously dumped out of Toro Rosso due to a year and a half of underperformance in F1 the ironically-named Speed was drafted into Red Bull’s NASCAR Cup line-up in 2008, failing to qualify at Charlotte in his first appearance.

After the #82 car was given a full-time schedule in the following year, Speed managed to qualify for his first Daytona 500, qualifying 38th ahead of the illustrious names of Matt Kenseth and Bill Elliott.

While Kenseth climbed the field, eventually winning the rain-shortened event after 152 laps, Speed stayed rooted to the rear of the pack and brought his Toyota Camry home in 35th place.

Speed remained with Red Bull for the 2010 edition of the race, which was brought into overtime following a litany of late crashes. The California native narrowly avoided a pile-up himself on the final lap, having narrowly evaded Jeff Gordon’s sideways Chevrolet having been tagged by Denny Hamlin at the final corner.

Missing the next two Daytona 500s, Speed returned in 2013 with the part-time Leavine Family Racing team, putting the #95 Ford Fusion 35th in qualifying – just 0.004mph slower than Michael McDowell’s best run! Speed completed the full 200 laps, albeit down in 21st position following a late caution.

After a few more races for Leavine, Speed stepped away from NASCAR and embarked on a very successful Global Rallycross career.

1. A. J. Foyt (1963-1993)

The Formula 1 credentials of “Super Tex” are a hot topic of debate, and GPRejects is divided as to whether he actually qualifies as a “reject” driver since his only F1 outings came when the Indy 500 was a championship round.

Nonetheless, he’s a legend of the American racing scene, and it would be remiss of us not to include him.

A champion multiple times over in USAC-sanctioned categories, Foyt first tried the Daytona 500 in 1963, snatching a fantastic third place in his qualifying race in his Ray Nichels-run Pontiac. He led six laps, fighting at the front of the pack, but crashed out when approaching three-quarters distance and was left content with a classification of 27th overall.

The following year’s event was just as inauspicious – fourth in the qualifying race was once again unrewarded, albeit this time not of his own making. Driving for Banjo Matthews, his engine gave way after 127 laps.

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In fact, Foyt’s first experience of the chequered flag in the Daytona 500 came in 1969, grabbing a long-overdue fourth place finish – albeit a lap down. Retiring from the race the following year, Foyt took third in ’71 with Wood Brothers.

He remained with them for the following year, in which the Grand National Series became the Winston Cup Series. Making his mark under the new moniker, Foyt produced an overwhelmingly dominant display to streak to his first and only Daytona 500 win, leading 167 laps and finishing almost two laps ahead of second-placed Charlie Glotzbach.

Foyt raced the Daytona 500 for another two decades, but only finished six more times – a third place in 1979 his best finish post-victory. Failing to qualify in 1993, Foyt elected to bring an end to his 30-year long Daytona exploits.