In less than a week, NASCAR's regular season kicks off with the Daytona 500. For 37 of the next 38 weekends we'll have NASCAR racing, starting with the biggest race. Daytona is always super unpredictable, even more so in the 500 because of how high the stakes are. In the least two years, Michael McDowell and Austin Cindric got their first career wins in the big race. Will we see another upset, or will a veteran snap the streak?
Ford Dominates, But Doesn't Win
In 2022, Ford was the dominate force on track despite Hendrick Motorsports locking out the front row. The RFK cars swept the duels and Brad Keselowski led a race-high 67 laps. Penske was fast as well, with Ryan Blaney leading 36 laps and Austin Cindric leading 21 laps, and obviously winning the race. However, I don't think Ford will be able to capitalize again this year.
Despite Blaney and Keselowski's impressive resumes at superspeedways, either have yet to win the Daytona 500 and I just don't trust either driver to win at the moment. They both went winless in 2022, and Keselowski caused multiple incidents during last year's race. Also, I just don't see Cindric repeating, or any other Ford driver coming through.
We Get A First Time Daytona 500 Winner
This may not exactly be a bold prediction, considering there's only 6 Daytona 500 winners in the field (Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, Austin Cindric). The two that I am most worried about getting another Daytona 500 crown is Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. However with the aggressiveness and unpredictability we have seen in this race over the last few years, it's hard to count on just a handful of drivers to get it . Also, drivers like Justin Haley and Bubba Wallace who are excellent superspeedway drivers are yet to win it so far in their career.
There Is A Flip
We saw how easily Harrison Burton's car flipped last year, so I think we could see another one this year. Last year we didn't have too many big crashes at super speedways, so I guess I feel like we're due a couple big ones this year. I know we haven't had a big sample size, but these new cars may be able to flip easier than last year's car. Also, with supply chain concerns last year, we can argue that not all the teams were being as aggressive as they wanted to, and this year they will be. There isn't much of a concrete reason why I believe this, just a gut feeling.
Uncontrolled Wheel Caution
I don't think there will be any more loose wheels this season because of the rule changes, I actually think there will be less because teams are getting better and better dealing with the single lug nut wheel. Last year we saw the No. 50 and No. 31 teams penalized for a losing a wheel, and I think we see a similar thing this year. One team out there is going to make that tiny mistake for one of many reasons - whether its a simple mistake, the high stakes of the race, or whatever it may be.
More Than 15 Cars Will DNF
This will align with most of my predictions, and that is me banking on a wreck fest of a race with a lot of unpredictability. After the aggression levels we saw in the Busch Clash, I feel like that's going to carry over to the season opener. I don't know why, but it seems like there are going to be a lot of hurt feelings this year and a lot of desperation. Not even in the Daytona 500 specifically, but through the entire season. Each year more and more of the veteran drivers are retiring or taking a step back it seems like (most recently Kurt Busch), and these young drivers are desperately trying to take their place and make a name for themselves.
This is the tough question. It's easy to predict unpredictability, or for certain events to transpire, but who actually makes it through the chaos to win? I'm going to preface this by saying I think a Toyota wins. Denny Hamlin and that entire JGR stable is in contention every year, however I think the winner comes from the 23XI shop. I think Bubba Wallace wins his 3rd career race, and he goes home champion of the Daytona 500.