Race: Daytona 500
Date: Sunday February 18, 2018
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 2:30 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
Welcome back to the 2018 NASCAR season! This is a year of many changes, much like in the years past. There are many changes in drivers, teams, rules, cars, etc. There are really too many changes to name. I am optimistic, though, this year compared to the last couple of years. We have a lot of new names, new faces, and a lot of new talent coming on to the track. This is reminiscent of the new crop of drivers that came out quite a while ago with Kenseth, Busch, Johnson, etc. With a wave of retirees, its about time that NASCAR sees a solid group of young guns. Thats definitely what weve got coming into the Daytona 500.
The thing about Daytona is that it is, by far, the least predictable race there is. Aside from Talladega, Daytona is simply a crap shoot race. From the pure horsepower that these cars have to have to race here to the dicey drafting, theres no telling whats going to happen on the track. More often than not, we see The Big One, as its been so named, before the end of any super speedway race. Typically, a third or more of the field is eliminated in a demolition derby style crash after one slight move from a single driver, signaling a domino effect. Control of the car is paramount here, but trust in other drivers is also key. With these guys having to form drafts, alliances will be made, but the closeness of the racing doesnt always go as planned. Regardless, its just one of those factors that drivers have to account for and do their best with while here.
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This monstrosity of a track is a 2.5-mile asphalt tri-oval. It has 31 degree banking through the turns, 18 degree banking in the tri-oval, and 2 degree banking on the backstretch. The backstretch itself is 3000 feet long, while the frontstretch is 3800 feet long. My favorite comparison, as Im sure you all know, is to Martinsville, which has a frontstretch of only 800 feet. Martinsville, by comparison, is the smallest track on the NASCAR Monster Cup Series. Daytona isnt even the biggest. Thats pretty crazy. Regardless, its pretty clear with those numbers and that configuration that the drivers are going to need massive horsepower and a lot of sets of Goodyears. The interesting thing about the Great American Race is that we already have our pole winner. Last weekend, these guys qualified for one position and one position only. Alex Bowman, the new driver of the #88, took the pole for this years inaugural race. The rest of the field will be set by the Can-Am Duels, which are being run this Thursday night.
When it comes to picking a winner at Daytona, were typically at an impasse. There are drivers who are notoriously good at super speedways, but then there are those wrecks where it makes any sort of prediction absolutely useless. That being said, its still my job to pick a logical winner. When it comes down to it, Im looking at equipment and history here. In my opinion, we have a very solid Penske team this year. Brad won the Clash this past weekend, and Im seeing him up front when the checkers fly at the 500. Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch are all solid contenders as well, but the horsepower from those Yates motors is going to set the
Penske stalls apart from the rest of the field. Heres a look at your complete rundown for potential winners on Sunday:
My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Chase Elliott
Dark Horse Prediction: Ryan Blaney
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So, dont ever count out the Hendricks drivers, namely Chase Elliott on this one. Bless his heart, I sure do appreciate the talent that is Jimmie Johnson, but he struggles on the super speedways most of the time. I do think that hell show up strong and give a fight, but his teammate Chase Elliott really has the best shot out of these guys. With his experience on super speedways coupled with his dads knowledge and skill, Elliott is going to be one to watch. Another guy to not count out just so happens to be another Penske driver. Ryan Blaney is a young gun that has a win checked already. Hes sure to have a very promising year this time around. I think that Blaney will show more consistency. Being that hes running the same equipment as Logano and Keselowski, theres no reason why he shouldnt be at the front of the pack at some point on Sunday.
Im really looking forward to the racing this season. From the looks of it, NASCAR has taken some consideration to what the fans have requested. I understand the money machine that any business turns into, but NASCAR has strayed a little too far away from its roots for a lot of us. Im excited to see if NASCAR reins it back in a little this year and allows some better racing. They have already made some better changes by extending the time allowed to repair a car on pit road and also by not eliminating a driver for having too many men over the wall. Hopefully, NASCAR sees how impractical and unreasonable some of these rules really are. Oh, and Im excited about the Camaro coming to the track this year to represent Chevrolet. Thats a very welcomed change in my opinion. This season is sure to be exciting nonetheless. Stay tuned for the opening race to this seasons NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series! The Daytona 500 is sure not to disappoint!