ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Nine comers and goers to watch for the 2014 Daytona 500

Updated on February 18, 2014
The Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night featured plenty of passing and wrecks- will we see more of the same in the 500?
The Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night featured plenty of passing and wrecks- will we see more of the same in the 500? | Source
Source

After three months of waiting, the dawn of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is upon us. Drivers and cars alike are ready to get back on the track and take the green flag. As always, NASCAR kicks off its season with its biggest race, the Daytona 500. Winning can make a driver's career (ask Derrike Cope about that) while coming up short can be an unbelievable cross to bear for even a series champion (looking at you here, Smoke). So let's look at nine comers and goers to watch in this season's running of the Great American Race.


Before going any further, a quick note. We'll be looking at the statistics over the past ten races, all courtesy of racing-reference.com. Going any further back takes us into fourth generation cars and a completely different race environment in terms of competition on the track. We're also in no way advocating gambling in any way shape or form. These odds are purely for informational purposes only. Finally, you'll rarely see the backmarker teams as a sucker's bet. By their very nature those teams are unlikely to win and there's little skill in predicting a 35th place team won't win in a given week.

Highlights from the 2013 Daytona 500

Kenseth won a number of races last season but Daytona eluded him thanks to a blown engine
Kenseth won a number of races last season but Daytona eluded him thanks to a blown engine | Source

The Favorites:

Driver: Matt Kenseth

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Odds of Winning: 15-1

Over the last ten Daytona events, no driver has scored more points than last year's series runner up. He's also won two Daytona 500 races during that time frame. Just as important, he's finished eight of those ten races with six top tens. Any plate race is a crap shoot but Kenseth has shown the ability to navigate through the carnage and make the right moves come race end. Being up front helps; he's led over 15% of the laps run during that period. The JGR cars have been quiet so far through Speed Weeks and that's something that should have the competition very concerned.


Driver: Tony Stewart

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Odds of Winning: 20-1

Speaking of making their way through the chaos, Tony Stewart seems to be the master. He's finished all ten of the last Daytona races including eight on the lead lap. And like Earnhardt Sr before him, Smoke has plenty of wins at the track even if he hasn't taken the checkered flag in the Great American Race. He's won the July race twice in the last five years in addition to a variety of other wins at the track. Coming back from a broken leg to win the race that's eluded him for years would make for a satisfying conclusion and Stewart has the ability to make it happen.


Driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Odds of Winning: 25-1

And last up in the satisfying conclusion department is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He's finished as the runner up in three of the last Daytona 500 races and has finished eight of the last ten Sprint Cup races at the track. Junior's restrictor plate dominance is a decade past but the return to pack racing has served him well- so long as he manages to avoid the big wreck. His Sprint Unlimited came to an untimely end on the fender of Marcos Ambrose but the #88 will have learned from that experience and should be a force come Sunday evening.

Kenseth picked up a pair of Daytona wins running for Roush-Fenway
Kenseth picked up a pair of Daytona wins running for Roush-Fenway | Source
Ragan has twice won on restrictor plate tracks- but he's also wrecked a lot of race cars
Ragan has twice won on restrictor plate tracks- but he's also wrecked a lot of race cars | Source

The Sleepers:

Driver: David Ragan

Team: Front Row Racing

Odds of Winning: 40-1

Ragan is the epitome of checkers or wreckers at the restrictor plate tracks. Both of his career wins came on the high banked superspeedways, including a win for his underfunded team last spring at Talladega. Yet he's also ended four of the last ten Daytona races on the back of a wrecker including three of the last four. For teams like Front Row, Daytona and 'Dega represent their best chance to land in victory lane all year long and they'll put every possible effort in this race. Ragan's survival is basically a coin flip and the team is desperately hoping for a change in luck this year.


Driver: Austin Dillon

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Odds of Winning: 50-1

While it's hard to call the pole sitter a sleeper candidate to win, the restrictor plates make qualifying up front virtually meaningless in terms of predicting a winner. Cars will drift back and rocket forward all race long and Dillon may well be best served by dropping back to avoid the early chaos. But holding back is difficult for a young driver. It'll be doubly hard for team owner (and Austin's PopPop) Richard Childress, who in returning the #3 to the track will not want to see the number ride around in the back for 150 laps. Running up front is one way to avoid the wrecks and Dillon may as well do his best to stay there.


Driver: Kevin Harvick

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Odds of Winning: 60-1

In his first race for Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick will be an interesting driver to watch at Daytona. He was one of, or perhaps THE, favorite a year ago. He won the Sprint Unlimited race and his Budweiser Duel but got collected early on during the 500 itself. He's won the event previously (in 2007) and when he finishes the race he's generally near the front. Seeing Dillon win the pole with his old race team has likely provided “Happy” Harvick with all the motivation he needs. If he can survive, he'll be a factor.

The #3 team might have a rookie behind the wheel but they've shown plenty of speed so far this season
The #3 team might have a rookie behind the wheel but they've shown plenty of speed so far this season | Source
Johnson has won the last two NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Daytona- but his luck prior to then was awful
Johnson has won the last two NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Daytona- but his luck prior to then was awful | Source

Sucker's Bets:

Driver: Kasey Kahne

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Odds of Winning: 500-1

I like Kasey Kahne. I really do. But when it comes down to luck, few drivers have the kind of upside down horseshoe that Kahne seems to carry around. And at a track where luck is as important as it is at Daytona, Kahne is impossible to get behind. He has 3 DNFs over the last ten Daytona races and that doesn't include two other races where he finished well off the pace thanks to being wrecked. Restrictor plate racing just doesn't seem to be Kasey's forte and there's nothing to suggest that will change on Sunday.


Driver: Jimmie Johnson

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Odds of Winning: 250-1

Why is a guy who's won the last two Sprint Cup events at Daytona listed as a Sucker's Bet? Simple; while the dice came up in Johnson's favor in 2013, he had only one finish above 20th in the other eight races among the last ten. Those finishes included a stretch where the #48 landed on the wrecker in five out of six straight races. Johnson fans will say those finishes are in the past and the team has figured this place out; reality says his luck has probably run out and the wrecker is in Jimmie's future as he begins his quest for “se7en”.


Driver: Kyle Busch

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Odds of Winning: 200-1

Much like Johnson, Kyle Busch is on this list not because of talent or equipment but because of luck (and perhaps patience). Kyle has one one top five finish in the last ten Daytona races (a fifth place finish at the 2011 July race). He's picked up a DNF in three of those races, so while he's had his share of wrecked racecars, that's not his only problem. Plate racing requires the patience to inch forward one lap at a time and then make aggressive moves at just the right moment. Kyle's style tends to be straight ahead, 110% all the time. If he can rein in his instincts he'd be a power at Daytona. But there's no reason to believe that Kyle can do that until we physically see it happen.

Need more NASCAR news and opinion?

Another Left Turn columns on hubpages at http://anotherleftturn.hubpages.com
Contact me via email at anotherleftturn@yahoo.com
Follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/astheleftturns

Now it's your turn

Who do you think will win the Daytona 500?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.