One of the signature events on the NASCAR docket is upon us, and the Daytona 500 should prove to be must-see TV.
While fans are probably pulling for Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Matt Kenseth to win one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR schedule, an under-the-radar driver has just as much of a chance to win.
Trevor Bayne came out of nowhere to win in 2011. Jamie McMurray surprised observers when he won in 2010.
If we were to survey the field, could we find another surprise driver to not only contend but perhaps even win?
Yes. This field is actually full of drivers who have the potential to surprise.
Of course, not everyone can surprise. The star drivers will still have a say. So who are the drivers most likely to surprise?
We do the work for you. Read on to find out.
Austin Dillon has the pole at the Daytona 500. While that's not a guarantee of success, it's certainly a good start.
And Dillon, the grandson of racing legend Richard Childress, is driving the famous No. 3 car. He is certainly honoring Dale Earnhardt when he drives, according to Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star:
"The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to live on forever,” said Austin, who as a 7-year-old participated in the victory lane celebration of Earnhardt’s only Daytona 500 victory in 1998.
"Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number. He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody’s mind, including myself."
Dillon has had a lot of success in the lower levels, with five wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and two wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In his last race, Dillon finished 22nd at the AAA Texas 500.
Obviously, Dillon will have a bit of a head start and should be able to stay in contention. But given how fast his car has been and his success in the lower levels, it seems like the perfect time for Dillon to break out on the biggest stage.
At just 20-years-old, Alex Bowman is poised for a long and storied career, and it could start at the Daytona 500.
Bowman finished 15th in the qualifying races to secure a spot in the big race. He had two poles and six top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
His rise is pretty remarkable.
“When Alex was racing quarter-midgets a few years ago, he’d go to NASCAR races when we’d get access and was a huge fan of Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin,” his father, Sean Bowman, told Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star. “Now he’s going to race against those guys every week. It’s hard to put your arms around.”
It would be a huge shock if Bowman won this race, but he's a Cinderella story, and he's racing with nothing to lose.
Will he win? Probably not.
But is a top-10 finish out of the question? Not at all.
Far from a household name, Paul Menard has an outside shot to not only surprise at Daytona but also win.
Menard has fared well at superspeedways in his career. He has two top-five finishes at Talladega and three consecutive top 10s at Daytona. He also earned his only pole at Daytona in July of 2008.
“I think we’re definitely capable and our goal is to make the Chase,” Menard told Jerry Bonkowski of MotorSportsTalk. “And to make the Chase, we have to win races. That’s what we’re going for. That’s what we do every week.”
There's a stacked field at Daytona, so Menard has an uphill battle ahead of him. But given his track record at superspeedways, Menard has a great chance of winning.