Jim Peltz, Los Angeles Times
Look for Kevin Harvick to win NASCAR’s crown-jewel race a second time. Choosing a driver to win the 500 always comes with a caveat, of course. Daytona International Speedway is a “restrictor-plate” track, meaning speeds are capped for safety and the field hurtles around the high-banked, 2.5-mile speedway in a pack. That means drivers need good drafting partners and there’s the risk of a big crash that could collect several of them. And NASCAR has introduced a new car this year, the Gen 6.
But Harvick not only is a former Daytona 500 winner (2007), the Californian already has shown he’s getting the handle of the new car by winning the exhibition Sprint Unlimited race at Daytona a week ago. The No. 29 Chevrolet should find itself in Victory Lane again.
Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel
The simplest and probably most-popular answer this week would be Danica Patrick. She posted some of the fastest times this week at Daytona International Speedway and became the first woman to ever earn the pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500. However, that may not be a good thing considering only 17% of pole winners have gone on to win the race. The most recent pole winner to claim victory at Daytona was Dale Jarrett in 2000. That’s why I believe it will be Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Tony Stewart, who will take the checkered flag Sunday.
While the three-time NASCAR champion has won just about every other race at Daytona, including the Budweiser Duels three times and the Coca-Cola 400 three times, the Daytona 500 has eluded Stewart. The trend could change this year after his team posted some of the fastest times at the track. He finished fifth in Sunday’s time trials behind Patrick and teammate Ryan Newman.
Ron Fritz, Baltimore Sun
While Danica Patrick has been gathering all of the headlines going into Sunday’s race, it’s her team owner, Tony Stewart, who is going to win his first Daytona 500. He’s saying all the right things about Patrick winning the pole and how great it would be if she won, but on Sunday when he gets behind the wheel, he’ll want to fill in one of the glaring omissions on his resume, a win in NASCAR’s biggest race.
Stewart qualified fifth for Sunday’s race and he knows how to race at Daytona International Speedway, where he has four Sprint Cup wins. He just hasn’t won the big one there, and with Patrick soaking up all of the media attention, Stewart is flying underneath the radar, just where he likes to be. So look out for Stewart, who I’m sure would like a victory as team owner. But he’d like one as a driver even more.