Writers from around Tribune Co. discuss Sunday's Daytona 500. Check back throughout the day for more responses and join the discussion by leaving a comment of your own.
Shawn Courchesne, Hartford Courant
Stuck trying to pick a winner of the Daytona 500? Put the names of the 43 drivers that will start the race on a wall, put on a blindfold and throw a dart.
Don’t let anybody try to fool you with some expert opinion on picking a winner. There’s nothing expert when it comes to making a Daytona 500 prediction.
Over the last 10 years, 10 drivers have won NASCAR’s biggest event and more than half of those winners hardly fit into the typical “favorite to win” category. Those winners have included names such as Ward Burton, Michael Waltrip, Jamie McMurray and most notably, last year’s winner, Trevor Bayne.
Bayne, who didn’t even have a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series, was making his second career start in the division when he shocked the NASCAR world by winning. That’s restrictor plate racing. A crap shoot.
But since we have to make a prediction, here you go. The Daytona 500 has proved to be a place where it’s hardly uncommon to see a first-time series winner celebrating at the end of the day, and the prediction here is that it will happen again Sunday. Look for A.J. Allmendinger, making his first start for Penske Racing, standing in victory lane.
[Updated at 11:50 a.m.:
Jim Peltz, Los Angeles Times
Give the nod to Jimmie Johnson, the race’s 2006 winner, as he sets out to win his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship.
The key to this race, of course, is having drivers willing to pair up and draft with you around the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. Johnson has those allies in Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., his Hendrick Motorsports teammates and themselves former Daytona winners, along with Hendrick newcomer Kasey Kahne.
Johnson previously has shown a tendency to lay back in the pack during much of the race, waiting to pounce at the end. The downside to that strategy is getting caught up in a wreck. But if Johnson can avoid danger, the victory is his.]
[Updated at 12:44 p.m.:
David Teel, Newport News Daily Press
Some call the Daytona 500 NASCAR’s Super Bowl. No offense intended, but the Super Bowl isn’t the season-opener, and it’s not won by the football versions of Trevor Bayne, Ward Burton and Derrick Cope. The 500 is. It’s a restrictor-plate race that can be hijacked by anyone who ducks trouble and hangs on the lead lap until the white flag.
But rather than troll for longshots, let’s stick with pedigree. Of the eight drivers to win at least three Cup titles, reigning champion Tony Stewart is the only one lacking a 500 victory. Runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr., in 2004, he’s 0-for-13 in the 500 with nearly as many last-place finishes (two) as top-fives (three). That ends Sunday when Smoke takes the checkered flag.]