The NASCAR Cup Series officially kicks off its 75th season today with the 65th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Multiple drivers are looking to break through and win the 500 for the first time in their career, including Brad Keselowski (0 for 13), Kyle Busch (0 for 17), and Martin Truex Jr. (0 for 18). Last year’s edition was won by Austin Cindric, who held off Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, and Ryan Blaney in a green-white-checker finish for his first Cup Series win in just his 8th career start.
Driver to Fade:
Making his 6th start in the Daytona 500, Daniel Suarez has had very little reason to celebrate in his Daytona career up to this point, earning a best finish of 18th here last season to go along with 4 other finishes of 29th or worse. Suarez showed some speed over the course of this week, but he will be starting in 24th place today after a 12th place finish in his Duel race. Everybody and anybody will have a chance to win at Daytona today, but Suarez just seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time every year and we predict that today will be no different, as Suarez will get caught up in an accident and finish outside the top 20.
Making his second career Cup Series start today, Zane Smith qualified for this year’s race after outlasting Chandler Smith and earning an 8th place finish in his Duel race. Smith may have limited Cup Series experience, but he is no slouch at superspeedways, winning the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona each of the last two years. Driving the 36 car for Front Row Motorsports today, Smith will have the chance to learn from fellow teammate, and former Daytona 500 winner, Michael McDowell on how to navigate their way through the draft, which will pay dividends coming down the stretch today. Smith may not necessarily be in a position to win at the end of the race, but a top 10 finish is certainly within reach if he can avoid the big one.
The defending Daytona 500 champion, Austin Cindric is picking up right where he left off at Daytona last year, showing great speed all week long and finishing 2nd in his Duel race to nab a 6th place starting spot in today’s race. Cindric also finished 3rd here during the August Daytona race and is quickly laying claim to becoming the next superspeedway ringer. Having teammates in both Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney that are as equally successful on superspeedways is going to be key for Cindric, as he will need a capable pusher coming down the stretch if he wants a chance to win. It is always a free for all at the end of the race, but we predict that Cindric will keep four wheels on the ground on the way to a top 10 finish today.
The most polarizing figure in the sport today, Bubba Wallace is one of the better superspeedway drivers in the sport today, with 2 runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500, as well as 4 top 5 five finishes at Daytona in general across 11 trips to the track. Wallace showed solid pace all week long and will start today’s race from 15th place after a 7th place finish in his Duel race. Wallace is an excellent pusher and he has quickly developed himself into a perennial contender on superspeedways, as evidenced by his success both here and at Talladega. You can make a case for at least 30 drivers having a chance to win today. Stats only mean so much; it’s all about luck, as you have to avoid the big one and you have to be in the right place at the right time on the final lap. With all of that said, we predict that Bubba Wallace will be lifting up the Harley J. Earl Trophy after winning the 65th Daytona 500!