Daytona 500 preview: five cars to watch

This upcoming Sunday will mark the 61st running of the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing, as the best racers in the world will once again take on the banks of the 2.5-mile track at Daytona International Speedway. Common household names such as Earnhardt, Petty, Allison and Gordon no longer dot the massive racetrack, but several current and future superstars will be taking the green flag in hopes of emerging victorious in The Great American Race. Without further ado, here are five drivers that I believe have a great shot of taking home the Harley J. Earl Trophy this Sunday afternoon.

  1. Brad Keselowski

The 2016 Coke Zero 400 winner and 2012 series champion has accomplished more in 10 years than most drivers will accomplish in a career. Keselowski has been one of the top racers at Talladega the last several years, winning five races and registering 11 top 10 finishes since his series debut in 2009. Succeeding at one superspeedway is usually a recipe for success at others, I see Brad Keselowski as the man to beat this week.

  1. Kyle Busch

“Rowdy,” as he is affectionately known by his fans, is the epitome of a winner. Between the three major NASCAR divisions, he has won a combined 194 races, which is only behind Richard Petty, the seven-time champion and winner of 200 races. Busch has won once at Daytona and finished in the top 10 eight times during his career. Picking against the younger Busch always seems to blow up in my face, but for this week I believe that Kyle is in prime position to be a factor toward the end of the race. With a win, the future Hall of Famer will cross off yet another significant milestone off his already extensive resume.

  1. William Byron

The reigning Rookie of the Year put the rest of the NASCAR world on notice as he laid down a blistering lap time of 194 miles per hour to put his car on the pole. His car has been extremely fast so far in during Daytona Speedweeks and he has proven in the Xfinity Series that he can run strong at this track. Combine that with the fact that he has one of the greatest crew chiefs of all time in Chad Knaus talking in his headset, and the young Hendrick Motorsports phenom could very well be the first driver to pick up their first career win in the Daytona 500 since Trevor Bayne in 2011.

  1. Erik Jones

Jones, the Michigan native, is the reigning winner of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona after he held off a hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. this past summer. Jones has been one of the best and most consistent NASCAR young guns ever since he took over for Matt Kenseth in the Joe Gibbs No. 20 car. Perhaps this Sunday, Jones will pick up his second career win at the same place where he earned his first.

  1. Kevin Harvick

The replacement for perhaps the greatest restrictor plate racer ever has blazed his own path throughout the annals of NASCAR the last two decades. Since his move from RCR to Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick has been a model of consistency on a weekly basis. He has ridden this ability to win on every kind of track to a championship, as well as key wins in other marquee NASCAR races, such as the 2014 Southern 500 and the 2018 All-Star Race. Harvick is the only driver on this list who was won a Daytona 500 before (2007) and if he is able to win on the hallowed grounds of NASCAR once more, he will join a select club of elite drivers who have won multiple Daytona 500’s. This list includes Richard Petty, Jimmie Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.