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Head2Head: Another surprise winner in the Daytona 500?

February 20, 2012, ,

McMurray in '10, Bayne in '11 -- will Daytona 500 provide another surprise winner?

Jamie McMurray kicked off the 2010 season by leading the final two laps and winning the Daytona 500. Last year, Trevor Bayne came from nowhere and put his name on the Harley J. Earl trophy, becoming the youngest winner of the Great American Race. The past two 500's provided some amazing memories, but also vaulted some of the lesser-known names into the stratosphere.

Will there be another surprise winner in the Daytona 500?


It will be easier to tell Thursday after the Duel races if we will see a third consecutive surprise winner in the Daytona 500, but after qualifying, if you think a veteran is a shoo-in, you are crazy.

Just look at the names in the top-10 after Sunday's qualifying session: Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Trevor Bayne. Those five will start their Duel race in the first three rows and if they can hold serve, will have a phenomenal starting position in the 500.

But look a little further down the list and you see names like Aric Almirola, Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger -- drivers that also would be considered a surprise to win the Great American Race.

And look at who has come close the past few years -- David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte and Dave Blaney last year; David Reutimann in 2010; Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler in 2009 -- Daytona brings out the best in drivers and teams, and we will see that again Sunday.

I know the critics say the 500 is a crapshoot and anyone can win ... I disagree. While the playing field is more even with the restrictor plate, pack racing and the tandem draft, the car still has to have a reliable engine, a driver still has to the patience and the talent, and whoever wins will have their small share of luck.

The driver that puts it all together will wind up in Victory Lane and there is no guarantee that driver will be someone we expect.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By any sane measure, there's no reason to expect yet another new face in Victory Lane at Daytona.

Yes, Trevor Bayne's win was a heartwarming moment. Yes, Jamie McMurray's victory was an emotional one for him. But reality can be harsh, and with the front-row qualifying efforts of Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, the odds are much higher that one of the sport's more established superstars will find his way to the 500 win.

Flash back and remember who won the six Daytona 500s prior to McMurray: Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. That's some serious star power.

But instead of looking back, let's look at this season. Kyle Busch proved he can do the pack racing [i]and[/i] the tandems in his Budweiser Shootout victory. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart was right there at the end of the Shootout before falling just short in the closest finish in that event's history. Could it be his year to finally get his name on the Harley J. Earl trophy?

And, not that anyone watching NASCAR failed to notice, but Earnhardt ran well in the Shootout and had the third-fastest qualifying effort on Sunday. He could very well be in the mix this weekend. Beyond that, Gordon was among the 10 fastest cars in both 500 practices held last Saturday.

Could someone shock the world yet again? Absolutely. Anything's possible at Daytona. But is it likely? Not even close.

Jill Erwin, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

But will this streak continue? Will another surprise -- maybe a Ricky Stenhouse Jr., or an Aric Almirola, or a Casey Mears -- find his or her way to notoriety, or will a veteran like Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, or Jeff Gordon, reclaim NASCAR biggest race? Bill Kimm and Jill Erwin have their thoughts. Read theirs and weigh in with yours in the comments below. And don't forget to vote for who you agree with in the poll at the right.