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Richard Petty, The King of Racing, Talks About His Daytona Wins With USA Today

12:50 PM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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Courtesy: Getty Images

Nate Ryan, USA TODAY Sports

The final victory of Richard Petty's career also was the most memorable.

With President Ronald Reagan in attendance July 4, 1984 at Daytona International Speedway, "The King" scored win No. 200 in NASCAR's premier series.

"It don't get any better than that," Petty said, while also adding that the second annual race held at the World Center of Racing usually doesn't carry such significance.

"The Daytona 500 is the race," he told USA TODAY Sports. "You go back in July, it's just another race."

The results, though, often are entirely different from its world renowned predecessor.

There hasn't been a sweep of the annual Sprint Cup races at Daytona since Bobby Allison in 1982, and drivers who excel in February often don't seem to fare as well in July.

Petty is a good example. He notched a record seven victories in the Daytona 500 but took the checkered flag in the annual July event only three times.

"It's just another race, but different people, different styles, different teams seem to function better," said Petty, who turns 76 on Tuesday. "I functioned better in February and won seven 500-mile races but didn't win but three of the 400s. You say, 'Why not?' Because basically it's the same racetrack running against the same people, just a different time of year. Why wouldn't it carry over (and) if you run good in the 400, why not run good in the 500? Or vice versa?

"I don't know that answer. If I did, I'd have won more 400s."

On the flip side of the seven-time champion is Tony Stewart, who has won four of the past eight summer races at Daytona but remains winless in 15 tries at the Daytona 500. Between Sprint Cup (including Daytona 500 qualifying races), Nationwide and the defunct IROC Series, "Smoke" has 19 triumphs on the 2.5-mile oval but none in the Daytona 500.

Yet the dubious distinction puts him in good company. Dale Earnhardt didn't win the Daytona 500 until his 20th attempt in 1998, marking the 31st of a record 34 Daytona triumphs.

If he captures Saturday's Coke Zero 400 and becomes the event's first repeat winner since he turned the feat in 2005-06, it won't be much consolation for Stewart as his focus soon will turn to the sport's crown jewel once again.

"The hard part about the 500 is that's all you think about once (the season finale at) Homestead is over," said Stewart, who finished 41st after getting caught in a multicar crash in February at Daytona. "Which makes sense as you should be thinking about winning the biggest race of the year. The hard part is it's the first race of the year, and if you don't win it. You can't go back. You can win the next five races, and it doesn't take the place of winning the Daytona 500."

Follow Ryan on Twitter @nateryan

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