The Daytona 500 – The Great American Race – will be run this Sunday, February 22nd.
Winning this race means being announced as a champion for the rest of one’s career and life.
It is meaningful. It is important. If there is only one race a driver can win, this is the one they want.
Only one driver wins every year and the competition is stiff.
As a restrictor plate race there are even more possibilities for winners than at other types of tracks. It’s truly anyone’s to win.
With that in mind, I’m putting my list of drivers I feel have the best shot to win this 2015 Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Two-time Daytona 500 Champion and defending race champion, Earnhardt Jr. tops my list. Although he has a new crew chief at the helm (Steve Letarte retired from active duty to take a broadcasting job), Earnhardt Jr. knows how to race at restrictor plate tracks, especially Daytona. Two wins means he knows how to find Victory Lane. Greg Ives, Earnhardt Jr.’s new crew chief, is untested at this level so all eyes will be on this pair. They are certainly a crowd favorite.
Tony Stewart – It’s been a very rough two years for Tony “Smoke” Stewart, but he’s announced that ‘the past is in the past’ and he has ‘let it go’. Daytona has been a fabulous track for Stewart. Like Dale Earnhardt before him, Stewart has been able to win most races he enters at Daytona EXCEPT the coveted Daytona 500. This could be the year Stewart earns his first victory at the Great American Race.
Jimmie Johnson – Old Six-Pack and his crew chief Chad Knaus know a thing or two about winning this race, they’ve done it in 2006 and 2013. The team is anxious to climb back on top and let their competition know they are running for a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup Championship this year. What better way than to win the first and biggest race of the season. Don’t count them out, ever. The No. 48 team starts on the outside pole this year.
Carl Edwards – Edwards has never won the Daytona 500 but he’s come close. With a new ride and team at Joe Gibbs Racing this season, Edwards might surprise a lot of people with a burst of speed and his driving prowess and take the win. There are a lot of fans who would love to see Edwards do his signature flip in Victory Lane upon climbing out of his car to celebrate the win.
Denny Hamlin – Edwards’ teammate at JGR, Hamlin is the ‘veteran driver’ on the team. He, too, has come close to victory at this race but has had to settle for second. Could this be the year he reaches the checkered flag first?
Jeff Gordon – Three-time winner of the Daytona 500, Gordon is facing his last start as a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series. Last year Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 team came close to being eligible to win the Cup for a fifth time. They are more than capable of winning races this season and Gordon has more icing to put on the cake of his career. Gordon is, of course, this year’s pole winner for the Great American Race.
Ryan Newman – Winner of the Great American Race in 2008, Newman is coming off of a most impressive post-season that saw him as runner-up to the Cup in 2014. Momentum is huge in this sport and Newman and his Richard Childress Racing team has it. There are many who would love to see a RCR car back in Victory Lane at Daytona.
Kevin Harvick – Harvick is the current Sprint Cup Champion so if anyone is starting 2015 with massive momentum it is him and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team. Harvick has one victory in the Great American Race back in 2007. He’s anxious to get back out there and show the NASCAR Nation he is ready to repeat his Championship.
Matt Kenseth – Two-time winner of the Daytona 500, Kenseth is no stranger to finishing the Great American Race in front. The “Silent Assassin” is never to be counted out. His win at the Sprint Unlimited is great for the team’s confidence. Kenseth has three teammates who he can rely on to draft to a win… maybe. Look for Kenseth and his No. 20 JGR team to be around at the end.
Ryan Blaney – Blaney is my ‘Dark Horse’ pick for this year’s Daytona 500. He’s making his Cup debut at the Daytona 500 in a Wood Brothers car so he automatically makes my list. Like Trevor Bayne in 2011, Blaney has the opportunity to ‘come out of nowhere’ and win the coveted race. The Wood Brothers have won five Daytona 500s and Blaney could make it six.
Ten drivers to win the Daytona 500? Yes, no less than 10 and probably far more than that who could possibly win.
Only time and the running of the race on Sunday will tell if my picks were on target or way off.
Who do YOU think will win this year’s Daytona 500? Leave your answer below.
Fox will carry the LIVE broadcast of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 22nd at 1pm ET.