20 February 2015

2015 Daytona 500 Predictions

This Sunday will be the 57th running of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500. The 2015 Sprint Cup Series season commences with the sport's biggest event, meaning that one driver will have his or her season made and their name sketched into immortality. And not only that, with the Chase format the way that it is, the winner of the Daytona 500 will also clinched himself or herself a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. All in all, there's a lot on the line this Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

As with every edition of this race, there are a number of storylines on hand for the 2015 Daytona 500 but when push comes to shove, who will win? Here is my prediction.

If there was one organization that has been the strongest all week long in Daytona, it has to be Hendrick Motorsports, without question. Their four drivers (Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) have shown a lot of speed in practice as Hendrick drivers swept today's practice seasons as Gordon won the first and Earnhardt won the second. The team also swept both Budweiser Duel races with Earnhardt winning the first and Johnson winning the second and all four drivers all have good track positioning for the green-flag with only Kahne, who will roll off 14th, starting outside of the top three.

What also does not hurt Hendrick chances is that, also save for Kahne, all of them have plenty of experience of winning this race as Gordon has won it three times (1997, 1999 and 2005), Johnson has won it twice (2006 and 2013) and Earnhardt has won it twice (2004 and last year). Only one organization has won the Daytona 500 more than Hendrick and they are looking like the team to beat.

Of course Hendrick is not the only organization looking sharp on the onset of the 500. The Gibbs Toyotas, now adding Carl Edwards as a fourth driver to the mix, have all looked strong and they were sharp in the Duels as Matt Kenseth looked like the driver to beat in the first race before getting passed late. Stewart-Haas Racing is certainly going through some adversity with Kurt Busch being suspended indefinitely today but Tony Stewart and defending champion Kevin Harvick both now have to get around Daytona and Danica Patrick, who came very close to not making the field, has shown some plate prowess. And as we have seen plenty of times before, there will always be some surprise drivers in the mix for the win late.

But I do think the 2015 Daytona 500 champion will be driving a Hendrick Chevrolet. The sentimental favorite is, without question, Jeff Gordon given that this will likely be his final Daytona 500 as he is retiring after the season. However, history is not on his side as there has not been a winner of this race from the pole since Dale Jarrett in 2000. History is not on the side of Dale Earnhardt Jr. either as it has been 20 years since the last repeat winner, Sterling Marlin in 1995. I do not know that Kasey Kahne has shown so much speed to consider him to be a favorite come Sunday.

That leaves Jimmie Johnson who is my pick to win his third Daytona 500 and his second in three years. Johnson really had a disappointing Chase last season as he failed to make it past the second elimination at Talladega but has he has shown in past years after a disappointing Chase finish (save for in 2012 when he wrecked on lap 2), he will have a strong 500 performance. He was in the championship hunt at Homestead in 2005 before blowing a tire late on a bad pit decision, then won his first 500. He got outdueled by Brad Keselowski in the 2012 Chase and then won his second 500. I think with the speed he showed in qualifying and then in the Duels makes him the prime contender to get the big win.

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