Daytona 500 Predictions - Can Denny Hamlin Win Three Straight?

  • Denny Hamlin will try for a record three straight Daytona 500 victories.
  • Ryan Newman races in the 500 a year after his brutal crash on final lap.
  • Alex Bowman is on the pole—but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

NASCAR kicks off its Cup Series season on Sunday with its most prestigious event of the season—the Daytona 500. For those who look askance at the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing coming at the start of the season instead of the end, the Daytona 500 has been an early-season appetizer ever since the first running in 1959.

Qualifying for the 200-lap, the 500-mile race took place on Wednesday night, with Hendrick Motorsports drivers Alex Bowman and William Byron sweeping the top two starting spots. Ryan Preece (eighth fastest) and David Ragan (13th fastest) also locked themselves into the show as the two fastest drivers in unchartered cars.

This year’s Daytona 500 marks 20 years since seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt lost his life in a last-lap crash in the season opener. Earnhardt’s death proved the catalyst for safety enhancements in NASCAR racing that have proven remarkably effective. In the 20 years since Earnhardt died, no driver has been killed on a track in any of NASCAR’s top three national series.

Daytona 500 Information
What Daytona 500 NASCAR Cup Series race
Where Daytona International Speedway
When Sunday, Feb. 14, 2:30 p.m. ET
How to Watch FOX

Denny Hamlin Will Try for Unprecedented Third Straight Daytona 500 Win

It’s true that the very nature of superspeedway racing—in close quarters in an aerodynamic draft—increases the winning prospects of cars that generally aren’t contenders on open-motor tracks. Paradoxically, it’s also true that certain drivers seem to have an almost indefinable knack for prevailing in the superspeedway arena.

Where Daytona International Speedway is concerned, Denny Hamlin is emblematic of drivers who invariably find themselves at the front of the field in the closing laps. The Daytona 500 favorite at +700 from DraftKings Sportsbook, Hamlin will try to achieve something that has never been done in NASCAR’s most important race—win for a third straight time.

With his victory last year to go with wins in 2016 and 2019, Hamlin joined the group of three-time 500 winners that include Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon. Only two drivers have won the race more than three times—Richard Petty with seven victories and Cale Yarborough with four.

Ryan Newman Makes First Daytona 500 Start Since Last Year’s Brutal Wreck

Before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the NASCAR season, Ryan Newman looked to be the winner of the 2020 Daytona 500 until contact from Ryan Blaney’s Ford deprived him of the victory—as well as his memory of the wreck and its immediate aftermath.

After slamming into the outside wall, turning upside-down, and taking a vicious hit from the car of Corey LaJoie, Newman was transported to a local hospital where he was placed in a medically induced coma and treated for a head injury. Miraculously, he walked out of the hospital less than 48 hours after the wreck, with one of his daughters on each arm.

Newman, who won the 50th running of the Daytona 500 in 2008, will be back in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford when the field takes the green flag on Sunday. And he’ll be fearless when he does so. Newman says:

I don’t have any fear, because I don’t have any memory. I have no memory, therefore, I have no fear, but it’s also my passion and my love and what I enjoy doing. It’s a paid hobby. It’s the most amazing job you could ever have, and that’s where my focus is.

At +4000, Newman is a long shot to win the 500, but he’s probably a good bet at that price. After all, he was just a few yards away last year.

Alex Bowman Hopes to Break Pole Winners Jinx in Sunday’s Race

Covering the 2.5-mile distances in 47.056 mph (191.261 mph) on Wednesday night, Alex Bowman wrested the pole position for the Daytona 500 from Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron (190.219 mph). Under the unique qualifying rules for the Great American Race, Bowman and Byron claimed the top two spots on the grid, with the rest of the field to be set in Thursday night’s Duel At Daytona 150-mile qualifying races.

But is winning the Daytona 500 pole such a good thing? No driver has won the race from the pole since Dale Jarrett took the checkered flag in 2000. The news is even worse for Byron in the second starting position—no driver has won from the outside of the front row since Jarrett in 1993. Bowman said after time trials.

Well, I didn’t know that, so that wasn’t even in my head. So now I’m all worried about it. Kind of like I said before, you’ve just got to make it to the end, and I feel like, if we do that, we’re going to have a shot at it.

In the race itself, having the straight-line speed necessary to win the pole is of less consequence than having a car that can race effectively in the draft. That’s one reason why a polesitter hasn’t won the 500 in more than 20 years. If you’re trying to pick favorites, the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing (notably Hamlin) and the Team Penske Fords of Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Blaney (all +1100 at DraftKings Sportsbook) might be better choices than the Hendrick Chevrolets.

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Reid Spencer

Expert on NASCAR

Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]