Daytona 500 2012: 8 Drivers Who Could Be This Year's Trevor Bayne
The Daytona 500 is a month away and as teams prepare for the Great American Race, and another Cinderella story is about to be written.
Restrictor plate racing in NASCAR has become more difficult to predict each year. This style of racing allows anyone in the field to have a chance to win the race. The winner is determined more by the driver who is in the right place at the right time than the team with the best car or driver.
In the past many drivers who were not household names have won the Daytona 500.
In 2001, Michael Waltrip won his first Daytona 500. The name Waltrip was associated with Darrell Waltrip, not Michael. Michael went 462 races without a win, so it was a surprise to see Michael win the Daytona 500.
In 2002, Ward Burton won the Daytona 500. Dedicated NASCAR fans knew of Ward Burton as Jeff Burton’s brother and the driver with the awkward accent. The common fan who tuned into the Daytona 500 probably had no idea who Ward Burton was.
The last two Daytona 500 winners came from nowhere to win the race.
In 2010, Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500. McMurray finished No. 22 in the point standings in 2009. He was expected to improve in 2010, but no one thought he was going to win the Daytona 500. He found himself in the right place at the right time and came away with the victory.
Last year, most people had never even heard of Trevor Bayne. During the Daytona 500 practices Bayne proved that he had a good car and luckily for him, Jeff Gordon noticed. As the race came down to the final laps, Jeff Gordon latched onto the bumper of Bayne and pushed him to victory.
So, who will be this year’s Trevor Bayne?
If a team has a driver in the field, they have a chance to win the race. Just make sure the driver is in the right place at the right time.
Here is a list of eight drivers who are not favorites to win the race, but could surprise people and make it into victory lane on February 26 at Daytona International Speedway…
A.J. Allmendinger has been improving in each of his four full seasons in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. This season, Allmendinder will be in his best equipment in his career.
Allmendinger will drive the No. 22 Penske Dodge at the Daytona 500. The No. 22 team has been a contender at Daytona for the past four years while driven by Kurt Busch. I do not see any reason the team should drop off with Allmendinger behind the wheel.
Paul Menard is quietly becoming one of the top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Menard proved he could win one of NASCAR’s elite races when he won the Brickyard 400 last season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Menard’s team, Richard Childress Racing has had a lot of success at Daytona. His teammate Kevin Harvick has two wins in Daytona and his other teammate, Jeff Burton, won the Gatorade Duel Race at Daytona in 2011. During the NASCAR test last week, Menard had the fastest cars in the field. He will be a driver to watch in the Daytona 500 this season.
Aric Almirola is another driver on a new team in 2012. Almirola takes over for A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
Although the Richard Petty Motorsports cars have not had much success lately at Daytona, the restrictor plate racing gives every driver in the field a chance to win. Almirola may be the lucky driver out front at the end of the race and how exciting would it be to see the No. 43 car back in victory lane at the Daytona 500?
Marcus Ambrose is the teammate of Aric Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports. The two drivers will be draft partners for much of the Daytona 500.
Ambrose is known as one of the best road course racers in NASCAR. I would not be surprised to see him end up in victory lane at Daytona. Ambrose’s best finish at Daytona was his sixth place finish in the July race in 2008. If he is able to win the Daytona 500, he will become the first Australian driver to be in victory lane at the Great American Race.
Regan Smith is not a household name in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but he is known as one of the better restrictor plate racers in NASCAR. Smith lost a race at Talladega in 2008 when he drove past Tony Stewart on the last lap to take the lead, but was ruled to pass out of bounds. Smith was given a penalty and lost the race.
There is no doubt that Smith will be on the bumper of Kurt Busch for much of the Daytona 500 this year. The two have made a great team in the past at Daytona and worked together for much of the testing session last week. In order to win the race at Daytona, a driver must have a dance partner. Smith has his in Kurt Busch and that will give him a good chance to will this year’s race.
Ricky Stenhouse won the NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship last year. He is one of the most talented young drivers in NASCAR. Stenhouse will only drive a limited schedule in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012, but one of the races he plans to enter is the Daytona 500.
Stenhouse will be driving the last car to go to victory lane in Daytona, the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford. Last season David Regan drove the No. 6 car to victory. This year Stenhouse will get his chance. If he is able to win the Daytona 500 he will be rewriting the script played out last season by Trevor Bayne.
What would happen to the sport of NASCAR if Danica Patrick were to find her way to victory lane in her first Daytona 500? It would be the biggest story in NASCAR since the death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.
The idea of Patrick winning Daytona 500 is not as far-fetched as some people may think. Patrick will be driving the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Chevy. Her crew chief, Greg Zipadelli has two Daytona victories on his resume. She will most likely be drafting with one of the greatest restrictor plate racers in NASCAR, her boss/teammate Tony Stewart.
In last year’s Nationwide race at Daytona, Patrick and Stewart drafted together and Patrick was able to lead some of the laps in the race. She finished the race in 10th place. Patrick looked fast in last week’s testing session at Daytona. I would not be surprised if she became the first female to lead laps in the Daytona 500 and it is not hard to imagine her winning the race as well.
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