Daytona 500 preview

Photo via Daytona International Speedway

Gone are the days of no racing as today is the greatest event in all of sports: the Daytona 500

For the next nine months, NASCAR will be in full swing beginning in Daytona Beach, Florida and concluding in Phoenix, Arizona in November.

I haven’t felt this much anticipation for a 500 in years because numerous new eyes will be on the sport thanks to two popular, but highly controversial entities. Barstool Sports and their president, Dave Portnoy, will be doing pre-race coverage and President Donald Trump will be the grand marshal, which means he will give the command for the 40 drivers to start their engines.

The Daytona 500 is Christmas for me. I am writing this at 12:40 AM because I just cannot fall asleep because of the butterflies that are already in my stomach in anticipation for today’s race.

The biggest reason why I am excited for this race and why you should be tuning in is because this will be the first Daytona 500 with the superspeedway package that has received rave reviews in the three races it has been run. This package creates massive runs for drivers in the draft, which means lot of passing and lots of lead changes. However, if drivers get too aggressive when it comes to passing, it can lead to one mistake that causes drivers’ biggest fear: the “Big One”.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on the pole today and race fans know just how aggressive the man can be behind the wheel at these tracks. However, his two wins at superspeedways give him validation to be a man to pick to win the 500.

For the older generation of fans, they will be pulling for the veterans. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman each have Daytona 500 wins and will look to carry that veteran mantle for another season. Then, there are the young guns still looking to have that breakthrough season, especially the Hendrick drivers, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron. Maybe, a driver that has won stages in the last two Daytona 500s such as Ryan Blaney can finally avoid the big wreck and win his first 500.

How about the rookies? This year is going to be a wild and fun battle for Rookie of the Year as the “Big Three” of the Xfinity Series from the last two seasons get their shot in the Cup Series. Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell will be hunting for the trophy in hopes of locking in that playoff spot and taking some pressure off of their shoulders for the rest of the season. The rookie that is being left out of the conversation is John Hunter Nemechek for Front Row Motorsports, but he can be a Cinderella today.

What about the feel-good stories that journalists crave?

7-time champ and NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson will be running his final Daytona 500 and will start inside the top 10. With having two Harley J. Earl trophies to his name already, there is no reason why Johnson can’t win today and tie his former teammate Jeff Gordon with three Daytona 500 wins. If Johnson wins, it will be an emotional celebration for sure.

Matt DiBenedetto moves from Leavine Family Racing to the legendary Wood Brothers Racing number 21 car. After becoming a fan favorite last season, due to heartbreaking loss at Bristol, DiBenedetto would be the fan-friendly win of the day and a win that would take him from a cult-following to a national superstar.

This race can only play out in two ways, which I hope is the latter.

The first way is what we saw last Sunday in a hectic crash-fest in the Busch Clash that saw only 6 of 18 drivers cross the finish line at the end. Drivers throwing bad blocks and being stupid on track is how we will end up with half the field out of the race before the final stage.

The second way is the aggressive but clean racing we saw in the Duels on Thursday night. Drivers getting big runs and making necessary moves to advance their position without wrecking the field. If we get what was teased on Thursday night, we are in for quite the show.

Sentimentally, I would love to see Johnson win his final Daytona 500, but I have my eye on Blaney and DiBenedetto to win this 500. Everyone knows Jimmie Johnson, but I really believe that someone is about to become a superstar with a win today. Blaney and DiBenedetto would fill that spot perfectly. If I had to choose one of them, I am going with Matt DiBenedetto.

Stages are 65-65-70 for the race with a fuel window around 50-60 laps.

Make sure to watch the race on FOX. Coverage begins at 2:00 pm ET, with the green flag dropping around 3:00 pm ET.

Welcome back, NASCAR. Let’s go racing boys!

Starting lineup:

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