The 2013 Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the NASCAR season, and Sunday’s action at the Great American Race will have even the most casual racing fans excited.
The most well-known names in the sport are ready to kick the 2013 campaign off in spectacular fashion, but the unpredictability of the Daytona International Speedway will make few of the likely outcomes actually come to fruition.
Here are my predictions for Sunday’s big show.
Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Motor Racing Network
Live Stream: RaceView
Winning the pole is a great start for Danica Patrick and the No. 10 car, but the Daytona 500 is all about where you finish.
After becoming the first woman in history to win the No. 1 starting spot in any NASCAR race, Patrick is ready to quiet the critics by not only running well throughout the event, but finishing in a respectable position on the lead lap.
Patrick has the early opportunity to get out in front of the pack and stay there for most of the day—her car is obviously fast enough—but it will be how she works with the people around her that will be imperative to her success.
If Patrick can find someone fast like Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 team to work with during the race, there is a chance the No. 10 car stays toward the front of the field all day and finishes with a respectable Top 10 finish.
Prediction: Danica Patrick finishes eighth
At the Daytona International Speedway—no matter which series or the name of the event—the track has become infamous for huge wrecks. Those enormous crashes have been dubbed “The Big One.”
The Big One happens in almost every single NASCAR event at Daytona, and as seen in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and the last-lap crash, the harder these drivers push, the worse the accidents tend to be.
All of the drivers are still learning about the new Generation-6 cars the sport is using this year, and with desperation taking over on the last lap, chaos will break loose and collect a few of the sport’s top contenders.
Let’s just hope no one gets hurt.
Prediction: 12 cars will be involved in a midpack, last-lap crash
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team are always under the microscope because of the driver’s popularity. But one of the reasons many people have grown tired of the veteran is because of the lack of on-track success.
That wasn’t the case in 2012 for Junior.
Besides being forced to miss two races in the heat of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup Series title with a concussion, the No. 88 car finished 12th in the standings, won a race, had 10 Top Five finishes and 20 Top 10 finishes.
With a previous Daytona 500 win and seven Top 10 finishes in 13 career starts in the Great American Race—coupled with his increased comfort with Hendrick Motorsports—Sunday will be Earnhardt’s time to shine.
Prediction: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishes in the Top Five
Despite starting on the outside pole in the Daytona 500 and having one of the fastest cars on the track, veteran driver Jeff Gordon hasn’t dominated the Daytona International Speedway like he did for years in the early portion of his career.
The aura that once surrounded Gordon and his three Daytona 500 victories has faded.
The No. 24 car had its fair share of success at the Great American Race, but over the last three years, Gordon has averaged a finishing position of 31.3, with his best result being 26th.
That’s not good for anyone, let alone a three-time 500 winner.
It would be great to see Gordon buck the trend and keep his car out in front and out of trouble all day, but the recent string of bad luck at Daytona has drivers avoiding the No. 24 car like a black cat.
Prediction: Jeff Gordon gets involved in last-lap wreck, finishes 22nd
No driver comes into this year’s Daytona 500 with more momentum than Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 car. While the team did not win the inside or outside pole for Sunday’s race, Harvick pulled into Victory Lane for both the Sprint Unlimited Race and the first Budweiser Duel.
Now he will look for the clean sweep by winning the Daytona 500.
In 11 career starts in the Great American Race, Harvick has a victory and six Top 10 finishes, most of which have come since 2007, when he stole the victory on the last lap.
With so many great drivers in the field and the new cars evening the playing field in terms of experience, the momentum Harvick has created during Speed Weeks will carry the No. 29 car to Victory Lane for the clean sweep of Daytona.
Prediction: Kevin Harvick wins the Daytona 500