Predicting anything in NASCAR is always a gamble. Half of it is speculation, and the other half is pure luck.
But that’s also one of the favorite pastimes for NASCAR fans—well, other than watching the races and their favorite drivers behind the wheel, of course.
As we prepare to kick off the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, predicting, speculating, hypothesizing—whatever you call it—is in full bloom. And we'll finally see if our favorite drivers live up to our preseason expectations.
How will this year's 500 play out? Expect more of the same of past 500s (and that's not a bad thing whatsoever) with lots of excitement, likely a big wreck or two and a thrilling last-lap finish.
Here's how we see this year's Great American Race winding up. Do you agree? Let's get your thoughts afterward.
There is almost always a dark horse that comes through with a great finish at Daytona.
Look at Trevor Bayne in 2011: Would anyone have predicted him to win the 500?
While rookie Austin Dillon will start from the pole, we will see another rookie, Kyle Larson, driving a stronger and smarter race, with Dillon fading to around 20th for a final showing.
If he stays out of trouble—namely, doesn't start or get caught up in a wreck—and gets a lot of help on track from Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray and others while drafting, Larson should be able to bring home a top-10 finish.
Look for him to continually challenge the lead, if not downright have it for numerous laps, and stay near the front of the pack for the entire race.
Unfortunately, Gordon will come up short, but ninth place in the sport's biggest race is nothing to be ashamed of.
To me, Greg Biffle is one of the most underrated drivers in NASCAR.
If his equipment were a bit more consistent, Biffle would be even higher in the Sprint Cup ranks than he is in terms of performance, competition and ranking.
I've always said The Biff had at least one Daytona 500 win in him.
While he could be a surprise this Sunday, the weight of other drivers put them slightly ahead of him. It still leaves Biffle with a very respectable eighth-place showing.
While he kicks off his bid for a seventh Sprint Cup championship—which would tie him with Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most titles by a driver in Cup history—Jimmie Johnson will not repeat as Daytona 500 winner.
I have to admit, there's a bit of concern on how Johnson practiced and the issues he had during pre-qualifying inspection with his car being one-10,000th of an inch too wide, and then it was too light.
Sure, he had a decent run in the Sprint Unlimited—until he wrecked, that is—but Johnson is likely going to come up short in the Great American Race.
Much like Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards is another driver who has at least one Daytona 500 victory in him.
He just hasn't gotten it yet.
And he won't get it this year, either.
Although he will challenge for the top five throughout most of the race and ultimately end up with a still-very-strong sixth-place showing, it'll once again be "wait until next year" for Edwards and 41 other drivers.
Ryan Newman could potentially be one of the biggest surprises in this year's Daytona 500.
He has looked awfully strong throughout Speedweeks—as have his Richard Childress Racing teammates, including 500 pole-sitter Austin Dillon.
There would be no better way for Newman, a former Daytona 500 winner, to ring in the start of the newest chapter of his racing career with RCR than to come home with a top-five finish.
And that's just what he'll do.
While he's gone through a lot over the last two seasons, Kurt Busch has never forgotten how to drive a race car.
Just what he did last season—becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to qualify a one-car team for the Chase for the Sprint Cup—says a lot about Busch's ability.
Now that he's with one of NASCAR's super teams, Stewart-Haas Racing, he has everything he needs in terms of tools, support and the like to go out and make some major noise in this year's 500.
And that's exactly what the elder Busch brother will do Sunday. Look for a top-five finish. You can pretty much take that to the bank.
He came so close to winning the 500 several years ago but settled for second as he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman across the finish line to take the checkered flag.
Who knows—with a few breaks and some good luck, this very well could be Busch's year to win the 500. But even if he doesn't, he'll be among the top finishers.
Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch could be the early stars out of the Stewart-Haas Racing camp in 2014.
Harvick was very solid during practice last week and always seems to bring his game up a few more notches for the Daytona 500.
I don't expect anything less in this year's edition of the Great American Race.
Harvick has already won the 500 once in his career. (Who can forget the thrilling finish with Mark Martin?) He has the potential to win No. 2 if he gets a few last-lap breaks.
But if not, a top-three finish should still be pretty fulfilling.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make it three runner-up finishes in the last four Daytona 500s this Sunday.
While it would be great to see him win his second 500—his first was 10 years ago in 2004—it'll be hard for Junior to hold off the onslaught of a number of competitors, most notably Kyle Busch.
Still, another runner-up finish would be the perfect way for Junior to start what promises to be potentially one of the best seasons of his career—if luck is with him.
Much like the way Jimmie Johnson started his championship-winning season last year at Daytona, Kyle Busch kicks off his own 2014 Sprint Cup championship run with a win in the season-opening Daytona 500.
There's no disputing that the younger Busch brother has some of the best natural talent of any driver in Sprint Cup today. But for whatever reason, when it comes time to win big races like the Daytona 500 or to go for the Sprint Cup championship, he invariably falls short.
Not so in 2014. This will be Kyle Busch's year.
And it will all start with a win on Sunday in the season-opening Great American Race.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski