Daytona 500 Picks – Predictions to Win

Race: Daytona 500
Date: Sunday February 24, 2013
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 1pm ET

Well, well, well! Welcome back, fellow NASCAR fans! I am so excited to share another season with you all. This one is looking up with an incredible amount of changes from new drivers to new teams to new cars. As you all should already know, we have moved onto what NASCAR is calling the “Gen-6” car this year. Essentially, we are seeing bodies more in line with the street models of the Fords, Chevys, and Toyotas. Dodge is excluded since they unfortunately pulled sponsorship from the big league. That being said, it’s a whole new ball game with these cars from the spoilers, grills, and even the tires and how they are run. We are going to see what I would call virgin racing because these cars are brand new to these tracks this year.

As per usual, there’s no place like Daytona to start off the new season. We are going to see the running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday to ring in the new season. This past Saturday night was the Sprint Unlimited, formally the Bud Shootout. Kevin Harvick took the checkers after a wreck on lap 15 took out a good portion of the field. Tony Stewart ran strong and is going to be one to watch. Now, that being said, driver Danica Patrick is making her debut pole start as the first female pole winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. She was able to beat out Jeff Gordon for the starting position for Sunday’s race. Prior to the big race, we are going to see the duels on Thursday, which will set another portion of the field.


Daytona is going to be a wild one. While the Unlimited was a bit uneventful, we have to consider that only 19 cars were running the field as opposed to the usual 43. Between the new cars, new drivers, and new teams, we should have a very exciting start to the season. We have Danica Patrick on the pole competing against fellow competitor and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the Rookie of the Year title as well. It should be interesting to see how their chemistry on and off the track affects performance. That being said, let’s move on to the big race.

Daytona International Speedway is a bit of a monster in the sense that it’s huge with some pretty crazy banking. The track itself is a 2.5 mile superspeedway with 31 degree banking in the turns and 18 degrees through the trioval. The frontstretch comes in at a whopping 3800 feet with the backstretch not too shabby at 3000 feet. The apron on the track varies greatly here too, which is important as some guys try to use it to pick up speed, momentum, and track position. If a driver crosses the line to gain position, though, he is penalized because NASCAR has ruled this as an illegal move. The apron spans anywhere from 12 to 30 feet wide depending on what part of the track you’re looking at.
This is a track where skill means a lot because of the drafting element here. Despite years past and perhaps because of the changes in the cars, we will more than likely see drafting lines instead of drafting pairs. The drivers will hook up bumper to bumper and essentially push each other around the track. They are able to get momentum and pull away from other packs this way. It’s all aerodynamics here. If a driver loses the draft, he can easily fall 15 spots back in the blink of an eye. That’s essentially why we don’t see track position as that important here. Guys can go from 20th to 5th in one lap depending on the movement of the draft lines. Speed is important, without a doubt, but the draft has to be maintained for the drivers to have a shot at the top spot.

That being said, we are going to see fuel mileage as a major factor here. Tires are important, most notably when guys lose the draft. If they are on old tires, they are just going to get blown out of the water in terms of speed here. Fuel mileage will more than likely be the name of the game this time around though. I think that we are going to see some serious pit strategy, so the most important factors are no mistakes on pit road and those all important pit strategies down to the wire by the drivers and crew chiefs.
Coming to what everyone wants to know, I think that the ones to really watch on Sunday are going to be the Stewart-Haas driver Tony Stewart and also the winner of our Sprint Unlimited, Kevin Harvick. Those guys clearly locked in what they need at Daytona to be up front. They and handling and speed worked out better than the rest of the field. While Danica Patrick has the pole, I think that she may continue to struggle the navigation of driving with 42 other cars. It’s one thing to have a fast car on the track alone, but it’s totally another to have that many other competitors trying to claim one spot at 210 mph. I think this will be a good year of development for Patrick, as she spends her first fulltime year on this circuit. She will definitely gain a lot of experience that will help her in the long run. One other name to watch is Jeff Gordon. He is sitting 2nd next to Patrick and you just can’t ever count him out. He said after the Unlimited that handling was not an issue for him and that only speed was something that they needed to work on. Clearly, they worked that issue out by snagging the 2nd starting position.

Here’s a rundown of your potential winners on Sunday:

My Pick to Win: Tony Stewart
Middle of the Road Prediction: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Pick/Longshot: Danica Patrick

Bowyer may have won the championship last year had it not been for a late-year confrontation with Jeff Gordon. He’s got a lot he personally wants to prove and I think that he will definitely make his presence known. While Patrick is a dark horse, it is possible that speed may be all you need to take the win. If she can manage to stay out of wrecks and the potential “big one”, then she may have a chance so long as her race trim is as fast as her qualifying trim.

Stay tuned for an exciting start to the season as we get ready for the Daytona 500 this Sunday!