Each year, hundreds of drivers from all different racing backgrounds head to Daytona International Speedway’s high speed road course circuit for the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona. The race is not only a testament to the race engineers that build cars capable of completing the feat, but also to the drivers whose mental and physical limits are tested.
The endurance race features teams of drivers each sharing a car over the course of 24 hours. Countless prestigious race drivers including Dan Gurney, Scott Pruett, and Mario Andretti have reached victory lane in this classic event. However, due to the team format, there have been several drivers take the checkered flag that might be a total surprise. Here are 12 drivers you probably didn’t realize have won the Daytona 24.
12. Jeff Gordon – 2017
Okay, so this one may still be fresh in your minds, as Jeff Gordon accomplished the feat in 2017. The four-time NASCAR Cup series champion wasn’t known to stray too far from NASCAR during his 23-year career but he did attempt the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007 with Wayne Taylor Racing, leading to a 3rd place finish. This seemed to whet Gordon’s appetite for endurance racing as he would focus solely on his NASCAR career until his retirement from full-time racing in 2016.
In 2017 he returned once again to Wayne Taylor Racing to brave the 24-hour event and would go on to win first overall in a thrilling finish. After 24 hours of racing, Gordon’s team won the event by a sheer 0.671 seconds. The win would add another milestone to Gordon’s highly successful career in racing.
11. Al Unser Jr. – 1986, 1987
Over Al Unser Jr.’s vast career in open-wheel racing, he’d visit victory lane twice in the Indy 500 and win two CART series championships. However, Unser’s racing acumen wasn’t limited to exclusively open-wheel cars. He also competed in various sports car events and competed in the 24 hours of Daytona on several occasions, achieving the overall victory twice.
In 1986, his team Holbert Racing would complete 712 laps and take the overall victory by a very close margin over the 2nd place team which coincidentally featured fellow Indy 500 legend A.J. Foyt. Unser would return with Holbert in 1987 to defend his Daytona crown and would once again take the overall victory, this time by a ridiculous margin of eight laps over the second place finishers.
10. Juan Pablo Montoya – 2007, 2008, 2013
Arguably one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, Juan Pablo Montoya has won in every type of car he’s ever climbed in to. After a successful career in American open wheel racing that culminated with an Indy 500 win and a CART championship, he’d head to Forumla One where he’d win six races before returning to the U.S. to compete in NASCAR for seven seasons, winning twice. Oh yeah, he’d also win the Indy 500 again in 2015.
If all this winning wasn’t enough, Montoya’s resume also includes winning the 24 Hours of Daytona… three times. That’s right, Montoya has stolen the show at Daytona on three separate occasions. His first victory came in 2007 alongside Daytona 24 legend Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran. Montoya would repeat again in 2008 with Pruett, Dario Franchitti, and Memo Rojas. Montoya’s third victory came in 2013, adding him to a short list of just six drivers with three overall wins at Daytona.
9. A.J. Foyt – 1983, 1985
The name A.J. Foyt is synonymous with the Indy 500 due to his four victories at Indianapolis. Foyt’s seven USAC championships are unmatched, making him one of the great open-wheel racers of all time. Throughout his career in open-wheel, Foyt dabbled in all different types of racing including winning NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in 1972 and winning Europe’s premier endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in his only attempt in 1967.
Foyt would also win in North America’s premier endurance event, the 24 Hours of Daytona in both 1983 and 1985. Foyt didn’t only win at Daytona, he won in dominating fashion, winning by 6 laps in 1983 and by 17 laps in 1985. These two victories tacked on to an already incredible racing career helped cement Foyt as one of America’s greatest racers.
8. Bobby Rahal – 1981
Like Al Unser Jr. and A.J. Foyt, Bobby Rahal is one of the first drivers that comes to mind when listing America’s great race drivers. Rahal’s racing career was spent primarily in Indy cars where he would win an incredible 24 races, including a victory in the 1986 Indy 500. Rahal would also claim three Indycar Series championships over his 17-year career.
Like other great open-wheel racers before him, Rahal would also test his meddle in endurance racing at Daytona. Rahal would enter the 24 Hours of Daytona four times in the 1980s, claiming the overall victory in 1981 by a margin of 13 laps. Rahal’s victory didn’t seem too iconic at the time, but 20 years later it would take on a whole new meaning when his son, Graham would also take the checkered flag at Daytona.
7. Graham Rahal – 2011
Being the son of a racing legend always creates a flurry of media attention and high expectations from a young age but this didn’t phase Graham Rahal. In fact, his racing career got off to an incredible start, when in 2008, he won in his first ever Indycar series event, being just the fourth driver to do so. Rahal’s Indycar career would be somewhat up and and down over the next few seasons until began having consistent success in the mid 2010s.
Many fans and media members feel that Graham has yet to live up to the success that his father had in Indycar racing. However, Graham has matched his father in one racing endeavor, the 24 Hours of Daytona. Graham would enter the 2011 24 Hours of Daytona with Chip Ganassi Racing and take the overall victory in one of the tightest races on record, with four teams finishing within a lap of the winner.
6. A.J. Allmendinger – 2012
A.J. Allmendinger burst onto the racing scene in 2006 in the Champ Car World series where he would overcome a mid-season team change to win an incredible five races and finish third in the championship standings. Allmendinger would then make the controversial decision to head to NASCAR with the upstart Red Bull Racing team. His career in NASCAR would get off to a terrible start, marred by failing to qualify for races and finishing poorly when he did make a race.
Allmendinger would eventually find consistent NASCAR success, especially on the circuit’s road course races. This road course success could be linked to Allmendinger’s sport car racing experience, especially in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He competed in 11 consecutive Daytona 24’s from 2006-2016, all with the Michael Shank Racing team. After several attempts ending in DNFs (Did Not Finish) due to mechanical failures, Allmendinger and his team would finally win the event in 2012.
5. Buddy Rice – 2009
Buddy Rice is yet another open-wheel racer that spent time dabbling in sports car racing throughout his career in Indycars. Rice is of course best known for winning a rain-shortened Indy 500 in 2004, which ended up being the only season he would have much success. Rice would add two more wins to his Indy 500 victory and finish the 2004 season third in championship points.
Besides his 2004 season, Rice’s Indycar career was arguably a disappointment and he would spend much of his later years in Indycar transitioning to sports car racing full time. Rice would compete in the 24 Hours of Daytona throughout the 2000s and would win the event in 2009 driving a Porsche Riley for the prestigious Brumos Racing team. Although Rice’s racing career was mostly a disappointment, he does own victories in two of the world’s premier auto racing events.
4. Kyle Larson – 2015
The NASCAR young gun has made quite a name for himself in his first few seasons in the series. The 25-year old owns 15 victories over NASCAR’s three national touring series in his short time in the sport and is showing no signs of slowing down in the future. He finished in the top ten in series championship points in both 2016 and 2017, finishing ninth and eight respectively. But Larson hasn’t only driven at Daytona in NASCAR, he’s also braved Daytona in a sports car for the 24 Hours.
Being a driver for Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR allowed Larson the opportunity to also race for the team in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Larson’s first attempt at the 24 Hours came in 2014 and ultimately resulted in a DNF but his second attempt in 2015 would be much more successful. Larson’s team would take the overall victory in 2015 by a margin of just 1.333 seconds over the team of Action Express Racing, resulting in one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.
3. Dan Wheldon – 2006
The late Dan Wheldon was a true racer. Racing was part of his life from the age of four when he started racing go-karts. Wheldon would eventually work his way up to racing in the Indycar series where he’d claim a series championship in 2005 and two victories in the Indy 500. Like dozens of Indycar drivers before him, Wheldon would also compete in the 24 Hours of Daytona on several occasions.
In 2006, Wheldon would enter the race with Chip Ganassi Racing and claim the overall victory by one lap over the Michael Shank Racing team. Wheldon’s victory adds him to short list of drivers to accomplish the feat of winning both the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona, in fact Wheldon won them both within in a 12-month span. Unfortunately, Dan Wheldon would lose his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011, but he is fondly remembered as one of the greats.
2. John Andretti – 1989
The nephew of the great Mario Andretti, John Andretti would drive essentially any car he could climb into. Although often overshadowed by the more famous members of the Andretti family, John has enjoyed a long career in auto racing. John has raced in Indycars, NASCAR, sports cars, you name it. John is most known for his career in NASCAR, driving for legendary car owners Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty.
Throughout his career in NASCAR and Indycar, Andretti was also very active in sports car racing, racing in several IMSA sanctioned events in the 1980s and 1990s. Andretti would also race in the 24 Hours of Daytona several times and won the event in 1989. This would be the biggest victory of Andretti’s racing career, as he would only visit victory lane three more times between his racing in Indycars and NASCAR.
1. Casey Mears – 2006
Nephew of Indy 500 legend Rick Mears, Casey Mears is the most unlikely driver to have ever won the 24 Hours of Daytona. Being the son of a four-time Indy 500 winner, the expectations were set very high for Casey Mears when his racing career began. After a dismal attempt at an Indycar career, including twice failing to qualify for the Indy 500, Mears turned to NASCAR to blaze his own trail in auto racing. Driving for one of NASCAR’s top teams, Chip Ganassi Racing, Mears was unable to find much success, never finishing higher than 14th in series points.
After moving to the premier Hendrick Motorsports team, Mears would win his first and only NASCAR Cup Series race on a late-race fuel mileage gamble. Since then, Mears’ NASCAR career has been disappointing, with only a few top ten finishes in nine seasons. Although Mears never even scratched the surface of his father’s success, he does own one distinction his father does not — a win in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Mears would win 2006 edition of the race with Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon, giving Mears the lone accomplishment he can hold over his uncle’s head.