Who Will Win the Daytona 500?
It is the Grand Daddy of Them All in stock-car racing. It is the Super Bowl of NASCAR. The biggest and first race of the year in the greatest superspeedway of them all. It is the Daytona 500 and it just a couple of weeks away. It sets up the long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and gives us a glimpse at the potential contenders for the Points Championship at the end of the year. It provides with the greatest pageantry that NASCAR has to offer.
So, who will come away with the victory at the Daytona 500? Let's take a nice look at the top five contenders to hoist the historic trophy of the race:
1. Jimmie Johnson. The six-time points champion is looking to begin his quest for a record-tying seventh points title with a solid win at Daytona International Speedway. He is also a member of the Hendrick Motorsports team-- possibly the best team in restrictor plate racing. The team that is put together by Crew Chief Chad Knaus and Johnson is always one of the best year in and year out. You can count out the 48 car from winning a race of this or any magnitude.
2. Kevin Harvick. Happy may be joining a new team this year after many strong years with Richard Childress Racing, but Stewart-Haas Racing uses Hendrick setups in their Chevrolets and Harvick is always a contender in Daytona.
3. Kyle Busch. The face of Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the fastest drivers in the sport, but his volatile style hurts just as much as it hurts. He is known for having a huge weekend where sweeps all the weekend's races from all three NASCAR levels, and imploding the following week with a 30th place finish or worse. Having said that, all he needs is to be in contention within the final 15 laps and he has a very realistic shot at victory.
4. Jeff Gordon. Yes, he has seemed to have lost a bit of some luster over the last few years-- struggling to even qualify for the Chase recently. But with the amazing restrictor plate setup of Hendrick Motorsports and his own positive history in this race, you can't discount Gordon from contending for the checkered flag.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Since Hendrick Motorsports teamed Junior up with Crew Chief, Steve Letarte, no driver has shown as much consistency race in and race out. The other caveat to look at? Since being brought into NASCAR's top tier by his father, no driver has been as dangerous in restrictor plate tracks as Junior has been-- even with deficient setups from a financially-strapped Dale Earnhardt Racing.
While there are other great drivers that could challenge for the Daytona 500 checkered flag, I believe that these are the five drivers that have the best chance-- given their engines don't blow or they get caught in a "Big One" type crash-- to drive away from Daytona the victors.
So, who in fact will win the Daytona 500? I believe that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will do something that his father was never able to do and win a second-career victory in the 2014 edition of the Daytona 500. I believe this will set him up for a great 2014 Sprint Cup season for NASCAR's most popular driver.