Column by: SHANE CARLSON / RPW – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Sunday’s 60th running of the Daytona 500 is a sellout for the third consecutive year, and for good reason.
The quality of racing has improved with the installation of segment racing last year, and the intensity level ratcheted up every lap last season. Expect more of the same this year. There’s no bigger race for stock car drivers to win than the Daytona 500, and based off the racing seen in Speedweeks leading up to the big dance on Sunday, it’s going to be wild.
With a culmination of youth and veteran leadership, the draft on Sunday is going to be a melting pot. It’s been well-documented the fresh faces coming into the sport, so they will be a factor, no doubt. Just because a driver has no experience on Daytona’s 31 degrees on banking in the corner, doesn’t mean they can’t win.
Prime example: Trevor Bayne, 2011.
Speedweeks has been laden with a lot of multi-car (and truck) wrecks. The infamous “big one” has occurred in the Can-Am Duels, the Truck race, and the XFINITY race, so don’t expect the trend to change. There are 40 cars running at 200 mph, and they’re not just going to be patiently riding around all day.
The big one always has a way of taking out some contenders, but it also creates an opportunity for those who manage not to be swept up in the wreckage. Drivers who don’t normally get the opportunity to run at the front of the field will have the opportunity to do so Sunday afternoon, and just maybe, they’ll be in a position to pull off an upset victory and etch their name into NASCAR lore forever.
The bottom line: Daytona International Speedway serves as the great equalizer. Having experience does not always translate to success, whereas sometimes what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
My pick to win is…
No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Chip Ganassi Racing
Statistically-speaking, Daytona is not a great track for Kyle Larson in the Cup Series, in eight starts, (including the July race) Larson has failed to finish in four of those races. His career-high finish is sixth, which came two years ago in the July race, and his average finish is an underwhelming 25.1. On top of these long odds, he starts deep in the field in 38th position. Matt Kenseth won the 2009 Daytona 500 from the 39th starting position, so the task is not impossible for Larson. He was the leader at the white flag last year before he ran out of fuel on the final lap, and no one would love redemption more than Kyle Larson. As they say, it’s not about where you start; it’s where you finish.