Isn’t hard to believe the Daytona 500 is nearly upon us?
It’s the biggest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule and will once again kick of the season. Last year, we saw a great race with the return of pack racing and the first ever rained out 500. They had to return on Monday night to race in primetime and as Matt Kenseth take the checkered flag in the Great American Race for the second time.
In both 2010 and 2011 two sleepers in Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 and showed that with a little patience and luck anyone can win this race. With how the preseason test went back in January in Daytona, these are my five sleepers who could win this year’s race.
Michael Waltrip didn’t test down at DIS in January due to him originally not having a ride. They announced on day one though that Waltrip will pilot the No. 30 Swan Racing Toyota for the 500 in February and hope to get this team landed on the map.
Team owner David Stremme who will take over driving duties starting at Phoenix in race two hired some good people for this car which in my mind can help Waltrip win.
Waltrip, has two Daytona 500 victories and five total wins at DIS including the Duels. He’s among the best on restrictor plates as he’s led 351 laps at Daytona and if he can stay out of trouble I can see him around in the end possibly winning it.
If there was a winner of the test sessions in January at DIS Jeff Burton would be among them. He was among the five quickest on every session and showed he’s not quite ready to walk off in the sunset yet. Burton has yet to win the Daytona 500 as his one career win in 38 starts at DIS came in the Coke Zero 400 back in the 90s.
RCR always has a strong restrictor plate program and looked among the best with Joe Gibbs Racing back in January. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Burton winning this race with some help and patience.
Like Burton, Greg Biffle was among the winner’s of the test session back in January. Biffle was near the top of the speed charts and flexed his muscle as well. Also like Burton, Biffle is a race winner at DIS and his lone win came in the Coke Zero 400 in 2003.
Biffle was strong in both races at DIS last season as he pushed his former teammate Matt Kenseth in both races. The duo dominated both races as Biffle pushed Kenseth to the victory in February and if not caught up in a late crash in July would have pushed him to the win again.
This time it’s Biffle’s turn. He’s the longest tenured driver with Roush and should be tough to beat in the 500.
The biggest sleeper on this list is Paul Menard. Menard has one win in Sprint Cup and it was the second biggest race in the Brickyard 400 in 2011. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see him do the rare feat of winning the Brickyard 400 and the Daytona 500 in his career.
Menard is always very fast and racy at Daytona. He’s a very underrated restrictor plate racer and without getting shuffled out of the draft or getting caught up in someone elses wreck he could have won by now.
People may think I’m crazy giving a guy with zero top five finishes at Daytona in 11 starts a shot to win but I think he can do it. RCR was very strong in January and always has a good restrictor plate program.
This pick would be perhaps the most popular winner in Sprint Cup history. Danica Patrick winning her first start in full-time Sprint Cup action and being the first woman to win a race in NASCAR would be huge. Mix in her first win being the Daytona 500 and you have a huge story for NASCAR.
It was no secret Patrick struggled to get a grasp of NASCAR racing in both the Nationwide Series and her 10 Cup starts last year. One type of track she is comfortable with though is a restrictor plate type of track.
Patrick started on the pole for the Nationwide race last season and has been dominant in every race she’s raced in at Daytona and Talladega. She started in the 500 last year but was caught up in a wreck on Lap 2 that wasn’t her fault. That shouldn’t happen this year with her starting out front.
If she can make it to the end and not get caught up in someone elses problems I think she wins this race and gets the NASCAR season off with a bang.
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