Has the Busch Light Clash Winner Ever Won the Daytona 500 in the Same Year?

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Denny Hamlin picks up the checkered flag after winning the Sprint Unlimited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13, 2016.

The first two race weekends of the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series season couldn’t look more different. The Busch Light Clash is an exhibition being run on a quarter-mile track in a football stadium. The Daytona 500 is the Holy Grail of stock car racing, held at the sport’s hallowed superspeedway.

There was little correlation between the two in 42 seasons of conducting both races at Daytona International Speedway. There’s even less reason to believe this year’s Clash winner will pull off the season-opening sweep by also winning the 500.

NASCAR has broken apart the Busch Light Clash and Daytona 500

Has the Busch Light Clash Winner Ever Won the Daytona 500 in the Same Year?
Denny Hamlin picks up the checkered flag after winning the Sprint Unlimited race (now the Busch Light Clash) at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13, 2016. | Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

NASCAR has a long and storied history in Daytona Beach, Florida, where cars raced along the shore throughout the year. When Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, NASCAR ran the Daytona 500 for the first time. The event moved to the start of the points-race schedule beginning in 1982, and the 500 has only grown in stature since.

Dubbed “The Great American Race,” the Daytona 500 is drivers’ No. 1 prize other than the NASCAR Cup Series season championship.

NASCAR introduced the Busch Light Clash in 1982 as part of the kickoff to Daytona Speedweeks, whetting fans’ appetite for the start of the regular season.

The event went through several name changes, but Anheuser-Busch returned in 2020 and restored the original moniker. Owing to logistical concerns, NASCAR moved the 2021 edition off the Daytona oval and onto the road course.

The latest change is a more drastic shift in venues. NASCAR announced late last season that it would conduct the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum, laying down a quarter-mile asphalt track for a first-of-its-kind event there. Additionally, the Clash format has switched from invitation-only to one with qualifying heats and a 150-lap, 37.5-mile final.

Has the Busch Light Clash winner even won the Daytona 500 in the same year?

For the first half of its existence, the Busch Light Clash consisted of a modest 20 or 25 laps on the 2.5-mile superspeedway. The race grew to 70 laps in 2001 and later to 75 laps, still much shorter than the 200-lap Daytona 500. Though it goes against logic, winners of the shorter versions of the Clash had more success than recent competitors in coming back to capture the Daytona 500.

To date, the only drivers to pull off the double have been:

  • 1982: Bobby Allison (20 laps in the Clash)
  • 1989: Bill Elliott (20)
  • 1996: Dale Jarrett (20)
  • 1997: Jeff Gordon (20)
  • 2000: Dale Jarrett (20)
  • 2016: Denny Hamlin (79, including overtime)

Four of the five drivers who’ve pulled off the double are inductees in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Hamlin is destined to join them shortly after he retires.

Dale Earnhardt tried for the double six times but missed

Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin have all won the Busch Light Clash three times, but Dale Earnhardt was the undisputed king of the exhibition kickoff to the racing calendar, triumphing six times from 1980-95.

Earnhardt’s two closest calls came with second-place Daytona 500 finishes in 1993 and ’95.

Earnhardt possessed the dominant car in 1993, leading 107 laps. He was in front with two laps to go, but Earnhardt’s Chevy got loose coming out of a corner, and Dale Jarrett drove by him on the inside. They brushed coming to the white flag, but Jarrett pulled ahead for good as his father, Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett, made the television call of what he dubbed “the Dale and Dale Show.”

In 1995, Sterling Marlin, who led more than half the race, passed Earnhardt with 20 laps remaining to regain the lead and never relented. Earnhardt gambled late with a pit stop for fresh tires and almost worked his way back to the front before running out of time.

After years of frustration, Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998.

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