Almost every article I’ve posted this week talks about how impossible it is to predict Daytona. Now I’m becoming a hypocrite by posting an article predicting Daytona. I feel like a true journalist.
The fact if the matter is that it is impossible to predict what’s going to happen, but I still want to try my best to give a few names to watch. There is still plenty of history to dissect and analyze how fast the cars are running to be able to make an educated guess on who should at least be contending.
I’ll give three drivers names, and each will be classified differently. A Near-Lock, who is a big name driver who is my favorite to win. A Dark Horse, a driver who would be considered an underdog but has just as much chance as anyone to win. Lastly, a No Way, a driver who nobody would ever guess would even be contending. Guys who are generally running in the twenties each week.
Near-Lock: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is the best driver to never win a championship. It’s a title that nobody wants, and this past season might’ve been the strongest bid he had to win the title in years. The motivation after this near-win is palpable in his interviews and the overall feel around his driving.
His car has been consistently fast in every practice and he’s won this very race twice in his career. Not afraid of the bright lights and showing up in the clutch moment. I think he has the best shot of anyone to win.
Dark Horse: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
RSJ isn’t going to make these lists many times this year, but he’ll live here on restrictor-plate races. The luckiest man in NASCAR was gifted a solid ride after no success in years at Roush-Fenway Racing and finally being given the boot after Ryan Newman came in and proved that RFR is not the total problem.
Stenhouse has a fast car, evident by his pole win. He has just as much motivation as anyone to prove he belongs in the Cup Series. Difference between Hamlin and Stenhouse’s motivation? Hamlin has proven to be able to actually do something with it.
RSJ is an amazing restrictor-plate driver to his credit, so I’ll never count him out here.
No Way: Ross Chastain
Now, this is the busiest man in NASCAR. Running triple duty for most of the year while attempting to chase the championship in the Xfinity Series. Chastain was running well in the Truck race before a crash and the same in the Xfinity race.
He’s driving for Spire Motorsports in the 500, which isn’t boding well for him, I was really hoping a more experienced team would give him a ride. His practice times have not shown a lot of speed, but he did well in the duels to earn himself a 20th starting spot.
Chastain is one of those drivers who could be a superstar if he had the right ride, so being at Daytona where even the small teams have a chance, I believe he’ll have a strong showing barring he doesn’t wreck.