Jamie McMurray's life wasn't always so glamorous before he won the Daytona 500.

2011 Daytona 500: Drivers Faced Personal Potholes Along The Road

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Jeff Gordon's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Jeff Gordon.

Jeff Gordon first came to national attention while coming up through the sprint car ranks – and once he hit NASCAR, his career took off at a lightning-fast pace.

But did you know there was a time when Gordon's sprint car career wasn't going very well? Here he explains some of the adversity he faced as a teenager:

Right before things started going well for me – before I started being kind of a household name on ESPN's "Saturday Night Thunder" and "Thursday Night Thunder" (USAC shows) – I was racing for a guy named Stan Shoff in a sprint car.

It was a great ride – they had great cars, good funding. And nothing went right for us.

I wrecked everything he had. So things were not going very well for me at that time, because I had an opportunity that I felt like was slipping away.

That's when the whole "Night Before The 500" (USAC race) came about on ESPN. We went and set a new track record...and won the race. And that changed my whole career.

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Jamie McMurray's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Jamie McMurray.

Jamie McMurray's road to Daytona – which eventually led to him becoming Daytona 500 champion last season – was no piece of cake. At one point, he had all his possessions in his Chevy Tahoe – but amazingly, he says he never minded it.

To hear him tell it:

The whole time I was moving up through racing, I always thought everything was great. I always thought I had more than everybody else. I grew up in a really average family, and when I look back, we didn't have a lot – but at the time, that was normal to me.

My mom reminded me that I had a Tahoe at the time, and I had all my clothes in it and I had a VCR and a bunch of VHS movies she had bought for Christmas. I remember driving in it to Texas and Kentucky and all these places where I was racing for all these different teams. I was having the time of my life, but I remember (my mom) was like, 'I felt so sorry for you, because you had everything you owned in a Tahoe.'

But I don't know. It was just fun at the time.

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Kurt Busch's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Kurt Busch.

Coming up through the racing ranks, it was obvious Kurt Busch had a ton of talent – but he didn't necessarily make many friends along the way. Busch's aggressive nature in the lower levels ruffled the feathers of many a veteran, which he explained in his own words:

It's always a challenge when you're a new guy or you come into a series – you want to stick your neck out and race competitively and race hard. But that always rubs veterans the wrong way. And that happened to me in each of the series I was in.

This started in hobby stock racing. Back in 1996, I had a Camaro and the guy I was racing against had a '70 Torino. And this was a boat, but this Torino was fast. But my bumper never lined up with his – it would hit his valance underneath his chrome rear bumper.

He came up to me, and it was a life-threatening situation. He was like, 'You hit my valance one more time and I'm going to kill you!' And I'm like, 'Seriously? You just threatened me with my life and I'm 16 years old.'

So of course, the next thing that happens out on the track is he checks up and I accidentally run into him – and now there's a brawl in the pits.

That seemed to follow me a lot where I went – not necessarily fitting in early in my career.

In the Southwest Tour, there was a veteran driver named Jim Petit III – he was a champion driver after I left. He and I were almost at each other's throat each week. He'd say, 'You're the new kid – you should learn how to fit in better.' I kept going, 'I'm here to make a name and keep racing hard.'

I don't know if I ever would have made it if I didn't have that approach.

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Ryan Newman's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Ryan Newman.

Ryan Newman didn't come from a wealthy family – quite the contrary, actually. What money his family did have went toward Newman's racing career, which turned out to be a wise investment in the future.

Reaching the top of the NASCAR world – which happened when Newman won the 2008 Daytona 500 – only came after a long, difficult journey. And because of that, Newman says he appreciates his success so much more.

In his own words:

We didn't have much money growing up. I had five pairs of jeans – one for each day of school. The next Monday came, and I wore the same pair I wore the last Monday – that type of thing.

I knew we didn't have a ton of money. I knew we had enough money to live and be happy, but I wanted that money to go toward my race car – to be productive. What jeans I wore didn't make a difference to me.

Ultimately, we didn't go out very much. On Friday nights, we might go get a pizza and play Putt Putt as a family, but that was it. We didn't indulge ourselves, because we didn't have the money to indulge ourselves.

That, to me, makes me appreciate it that much more – where I am, where I came from, things that I've done, hard work that's been done by myself, my family and all the friends it took to get to this point.

I think there are people who don't even have a clue to appreciate the things they've gotten, because the money has come so easily – and that's usually pretty evident to see.

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Tony Stewart's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Tony Stewart.

Growing up in Indiana, Tony Stewart would do anything to race. But in order to do so, he had to find people who were willing to give him the time off to be at the track.

Most of the people who fit that description were racers themselves – and they had random jobs for Stewart, such as working at Woody's Tow Truck company.

As Stewart tells it:

I drove a tow truck for a buddy of mine one summer – he was racing Sprint cars, and I was just getting into that business. I slept on a fold-out couch, and there were no days off – I was literally on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only time we were allowed off was to go race.

(Another time), I sealed parking lots in the middle of the night for a guy who raced Midgets in Indianapolis – that was probably the least glamorous job I had. You worked all through the night.

There was never anything that was given to us. We've definitely had to pay our dues like everybody else. We had to work the odd, quirky jobs – the weird jobs – jobs that were probably below what we were capable of doing at the time, but they were jobs that would allow us the opportunity to take the time off to go race.

The great thing about people in racing, whether you're on the...ownership side or the driving side, is racers are very resourceful people and they'll do things most people won't do – just to be able to race on the weekends.

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Greg Biffle's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Greg Biffle.

Having established himself as a consistent Chase driver, it's hard to believe Greg Biffle ever struggled to make races. But it's true: In 2003, Biffle missed the third race of the season in Las Vegas.

By that time, Biffle had already won a championship in the Truck Series (2000) and the then-Busch Series (2002). But there were no guarantees Biffle would make it at the Cup level.

Here's Biffle's recollections of a tough time, in his own words:

When we very first started Cup racing, it was a difficult time at Roush. When we first started five teams, obviously our cars weren't where they needed to be, and we didn't start out very good. We missed a couple races – I remember we missed the race at Las Vegas that first season.

That 2003 season was pretty touch-and-go, you know? It was pretty tough (to know) whether we were going to be able to sustain and be competitive in that series or not.

I wouldn't say (I had) real doubts, because I felt like I had the ability. And we had the stuff, we just needed to get it right. But I was nervous about whether we were going to make it or not.

Then, when we won those two races in 2004, I felt pretty good that we were on our way.

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Kyle Busch's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: Kyle Busch.

To some fans, Kyle Busch is the ultimate silver spoon driver. They believe he never faced adversity or hard times on his way up the NASCAR ladder, simply showing up in good rides all along the way.

Well guess what? Like every other driver, Busch had doubts as to whether he'd make it to Sprint Cup. Yes, even Kyle Busch wasn't sure.

The most difficult time for Busch was when NASCAR raised the age limit from 16 to 18 while he was already in the sport. Here's the rest of the story, in his words:

When I was 16 and I was in the Truck Series running for Roush, all the sudden NASCAR decided to make the rule change that you had to be 18. That's the time when I wasn't sure I was going to be able to come back.

Most of the time, when you see people that are in NASCAR that get kicked out or lose their ride, there's really not many opportunities for them to come back.

Me being young and not having the experience, I didn't recognize that you could come back and be just fine. It didn't sit well with me at first.

I got kicked out in November, and everybody in NASCAR told me I'd be fine to race Daytona the following year when I was still 16. Never got to race any NASCAR stuff. I ran the full tour of the ASA – when it was still alive – and from January (of the next year) until my birthday in May when I turned 18, I ran ARCA stuff.

Then after I turned 18, I ran seven Busch races (and got back into NASCAR).

It was always a dream anyway. And as long as you keep clawing toward the dream, you know one of these days it'll become a reality.

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David Reutimann's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though this week's Daytona 500 drivers may be rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up next: David Reutimann.

One of the great NASCAR success stories in recent years has to be David Reutimann. After fighting to reach the highest levels of racing for his entire life, Reutimann finally made it to the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 – at the age of 37.

We'll let him talk about the good ol' days in his own words:

It starts with having all volunteer guys on your team and going to races that you really can't afford to go to, and having to rely on running well to get back home.

I operated for years when I had my own (cars) just by going to the racetrack, buying tires, writing a check that had no money in the bank to cover whatsoever, winning the race and getting up early Monday morning to go to the bank and be there with the money so the checks wouldn't bounce.

I never bounced a check, but I was dang close. Thankfully, the ladies at the bank would call me Monday morning and say, 'You comin' in this morning?' 'Yes ma'am! I'm on my way!'

 

That was the way I operated – and it's not the way to operate. But it was the only way I could, because I didn't have any money.

Putting seven guys in a motel room because you could only afford one – and you can't really afford that one. Sleeping in rest areas. Getting up and driving to a racetrack, racing all day and then driving 12 hours home after the race because that's just what you did.

That's racing. That was life, and that was my life. I did it every weekend, and I really didn't care – because I was racing.

When you rely on racing for your income, you don't race all year. So you've got to ride around. I ended up working for UPS a little bit as a jumper for $8 an hour and doing things like that just so I could make it through the offseason. The whole time, I'd be rebuilding my race cars and going to do it all again.

That was just the way I did it. And if I hadn't gotten the opportunity I had (at Michael Waltrip Racing), I'd still be doing the same thing. I don't think I would have changed anything.

That's not the right way to operate your business, but when you don't have any money...I don't know what I thought I'd do if I didn't run good that night and (win) the money back, but my dad always told me that if you've got a Plan B, you're planning for your Plan A to fail.

I just loved the sport and wanted to get to the next level. I figured it was 'Out of sight, out of mind.' If we were running well and winning races, I figured at some point maybe somebody would give me the opportunity to do something different so I wouldn't have to do what I was doing.

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Bobby Labonte's Road To The 2011 Daytona 500

Though we view this week's Daytona 500 drivers as rich and successful now, none of them reached NASCAR's Super Bowl without some bumps along the way. We asked several drivers to share the story of a difficult moment with us. Up first: Bobby Labonte.

Over the past two seasons, 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte's career hit the skids in a major way. Long gone were the glory days of his time at Joe Gibbs Racing, replaced instead by a miserable 2009 (in which he lost his Hall of Fame Racing ride) and an even worse 2010 (in which he was uncompetitive and even had to start-and-park at times).

But Labonte pushed on, and his perseverance paid off: This year, he's getting a chance to revive his career with JTG Daugherty Racing.

Here's Labonte on the struggles of the past two years, in his own words:

There was definitely times of (asking myself), ‘Should I stay home or not?' That was very difficult. There was a couple races in particular where I could have said, ‘There's no sense in going.'

But in my mind, if I had (stayed home), I don't know if that would have gotten me to where I am today – if I'd have quit, if I'd have stopped.

So I look back on that and think if I didn't have that perseverance, I wouldn't be here today. So hopefully that made me a better person and a stronger person.

Knowing what I went through, this is a good opportunity.

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2011 Daytona 500: Drivers Faced Personal Potholes Along The Road

With the exception of lottery winners and people with wealthy relatives, most of us have to pay our dues on the way up the career ladder.

Whether it's an aspiring lawyer who interns for a slave-driving boss, a future doctor pulling all-night shifts in the emergency room or a sports writer who covers Little League baseball for the community paper, it's hard to move up without putting in hard work – and facing adversity at times.

It's no different for many of the drivers who will race in this Sunday's Daytona 500. While their lives are full of fame and fortune now, it wasn't always that way. In fact, given their humble beginnings, it didn't seem like many of them would ever reach NASCAR.

These success stories get lost in the shuffle sometimes, but they should be celebrated. If nothing else, it shows that those willing to completely dedicate themselves to their dreams can achieve their goals.

We could all use the reminder at times.

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