Tomorrow, the first and biggest race of the NASCAR season rolls off for 500 miles in Daytona, Florida. Trevor Bayne, just 20 years old, introduced himself to the wider world with his surprising win a year ago, and although he ran a majority of his season on the second-tier Nationwide Series, he’ll be there tomorrow to defend his win. It will be an uphill battle for him to repeat, though: he starts in the 40th position.
Bovada (formerly Bodog) has a Bayne win at 16/1 and likes Kyle Busch (5/1), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5/1), and Tony Stewart (7/2). Stewart is the defending Cup champion, and after reeling off five wins in the ten-race Chase (the playoffs) to win it all last year, it’s easy to see why he’s favored in the season-opener this year. Kyle Busch has been strong in the first half of the season the last few years, so it makes sense that he would be a favorite too. Cynics might see Earnhardt Jr. as a sucker bet up there, slotted because his popularity, which outpaces his performance, will net the house some easy money, but he never can be counted out, especially at a track like Daytona, which best suits his driving style and where he has won before, and especially because he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, the best team in the sport. Roush is the next best team, and two of their drivers– Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle– are starting first and second on Sunday and have to be considered strong contenders as well.
Finally, Danica Patrick may be the biggest story going into Daytona this year, as she makes the jump from open-wheeled racing to stock cars on NASCAR’s biggest stage. She’s in good hands working with Stewart, but other successful IndyCar drivers have struggled to make the transition, and one has to expect that it will take her time to adjust as well. Still, she’s finding early success. Everyone’s focusing on a very bad wreck that was not her fault during the final lap of one of the pre-race races (I know), but she starts a respectable 29th on Sunday and has the pole position for today’s Nationwide race, remarkable for any rookie driver.
The full starting grid is here, and the top ten looks like this:
|3||14||Tony Stewart||Chevrolet||Office Depot / Mobil 1|
|4||17||Matt Kenseth||Ford||Best Buy|
|5||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard|
|6||78||Regan Smith||Chevrolet||Furniture Row / CSX “Play it Safe”|
|10||33||Elliott Sadler||Chevrolet||General Mills / Kroger|
Other stories to read before tomorrow’s race:
- How owner points deals determine who makes it into the 43-car field at Daytona – NASCAR.com
- Two-time winner Bill Elliot’s
backnot back – ESPN.com
- How Tony Stewart spent his championship offseason – FoxSports.com
- “Where have the Southern drivers gone?” – FoxSports.com
- Why Danica Patrick can win – Yahoo! Sports
- The latest on Jimmie Johnson’s “major” rule violation – Jayski
- Blast from the recent past: Ex-driver Jeremy Mayfield says he’s the victim of a NASCAR conspiracy – ESPN.com