Young Chase Elliott drove into the record books last Sunday, becoming the youngest-ever Daytona 500 pole winner at the tender age of 20 years, 2 months, and 17 days. On Sunday, he’ll be a week older by the calendar, but far more experienced. Elliott acquitted himself well in the Can-Am Duels on Thursday, finishing sixth in the first race which was won by his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chase will start on the pole, but the driver who was to have started alongside, Matt Kenseth, will be going to the back of the field in a backup car. Kenseth was caught up in a last-lap wreck in the second Duel race along with Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., and a few others who may also be going to the rear if their cars prove to be unrepairable.
Kyle Busch won the second Duel race, leading almost the whole way in close company with teammates Kenseth and Carl Edwards. The Gibbs Racing Toyotas are going to be tough Sunday, but the Hendrick Chevrolets of Junior, Chase, and Jimmie looked strong as well. Barring getting caught up in the “big one,” I certainly wouldn’t bet against any of the members of either team.
So, how does one go about handicapping Sunday’s big race? Well, it’s Daytona, so anything can happen. But the odds makers somehow roll the dice, cast the chicken bones, consult the crystal ball, and come up with an educated guess as to who has the best chance of standing in victory circle when the dust clears. According to Gaming Today, Earnhardt Jr. at 6-1 odds is by far the favorite to take home the Harley Earl trophy. Defending Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano goes off at 8-1, followed by Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski at 10-1. Coming out of the gate at 12-1 are Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch, with Kurt Busch starting at 15-1. Elliott and Truex are at 20-1 along with Ryan Blaney and Kasey Kahne. It goes down rapidly from there with Michael Waltrip the dark horse at 200-1. Waltrip has won the big race twice, but it was a long time ago and in far better equipment than he will have Sunday, but it might be worth a small wager.
Looking at past performances, there are nine former winners in the field for Sunday’s race. Waltrip, as mentioned earlier, has won twice, as have Junior, Johnson, and Kenseth. McMurray, Harvick, Logano, Ryan Newman, and Trevor Bayne have each been to Victory Circle once. It’s interesting only 36 drivers in the 57 year history of the race have taken the checkered flag, with Richard Petty leading the pack with seven wins. Cale Yarborough has won four, and Dale Jarrett, Bobby Allison, and Jeff Gordon three each. Nobody will ever catch Richard Petty in my opinion, but we could see another driver join the three-timers Sunday.
I have really enjoyed listening to the commentary on FOX so far this season, as Jeff Gordon brings a fresh perspective, a lot of expertise, and some real enthusiasm to the booth. His fellow commentators Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip are both pleased and amazed by his level of comfort as a relative beginner (he did get a few practice runs in Xfinity races last season). And Larry McReynolds, who Gordon replaced in the booth, and who now concentrates on technical pieces, had nothing but praise for the four-time champion in his new role. It’s the best thing to happen to FOX’s NASCAR broadcasting since it got rid of that stupid cartoon rodent, Digger.
A final reminder, Fernley 95A Speedway is holding a meeting at the track for folks interested in getting involved in racing as a volunteer. It’s how I got started in racing more years ago than I care to think about, and it’s a great way to participate in the sport. From Carson City, go east on Highway 50, take a left at the stop sign in Silver Springs, and the track is about 10 miles further on the left. The meeting will be at noon on Feb. 27