Superspeedway racing can be the ball for Cinderella stories in the NASCAR Cup Series, and Daytona International Speedway sets the stage at the start of every season.
One of the greatest underdogs was Trevor Bayne, delivering Wood Brothers Racing a win in the 2011 Daytona 500. There have also been names like Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Sterling Marlin and Derrike Cope to surprise the stock-car racing world with wins on Florida’s 2.5-mile track.
The Great American Race is known for and remembered by its underdog winners. So, with it coming up on Feb. 16, the question is not only who’s next but what exactly qualifies as an underdog? Is that a first-time winner, a smaller team member or maybe a veteran looking to break a drought?
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Merryman: It may be a stretch to consider Ricky Stenhouse Jr. an underdog at a superspeedway, but with only two wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, a win in the Daytona 500 would certainly raise eyebrows.
Stenhouse’s two previous wins came at Talladega Superspeedway and the summer Daytona race in 2017. Now three years removed from victory lane and behind the wheel of a new team, it’s safe to say Stenhouse has the motivation and skillset to win.
Stenhouse heads over to JTG-Daugherty Racing where the No. 47 car scored five consecutive top 10s at Daytona through last year’s Great American Race, three of those five coming in the season opener itself. That streak ended just last July, where the No. 47 finished 32nd.
All in all, I think Stenhouse’s aggressive superspeedway style pays off in 2020 and the No. 47 gives him the best shot at being the next underdog Daytona 500 champion.
Waack: Watch William Byron win his first career race in the first race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet enters his third full-time season after an 11th-place finish in the standings last year. He made it to Round of 12 in his NASCAR Playoffs debut. Momentum is on the young driver’s side.
Byron finished 23rd in his first-ever Daytona 500, which can be considered an accomplishment considering it’s a superspeedway. He then won his first career pole in his second Daytona 500 start last season and led 44 laps. He did, however, crash out of that race and ultimately finish 21st.
So, follow this Great American Race logic: Finish? Check. Crash? Check. Pole? Check. Win? Seems like that’s next on Byron’s to-do list.
Then, just looking at Daytona as a whole, Byron was runner-up there in the 2019 July event. It was one of his two (Martinsville Speedway in October) second-place showings last season. He had five top-five runs and 233 laps led overall.
Byron knows how to be fast and get out front. This season, he’ll figure out how to stay there come checkered flag — may as well be in the Daytona 500.