When NASCAR announced the “win-and-in” format for the Chase, a few tracks were looked at as potential wild cards – Sonoma, Talladega, Watkins Glen, and this one coming up, Daytona International Speedway.
Daytona has seen its share of surprise winners, with names like David Ragan, Trevor Bayne and Ward Burton gracing Victory Lane.
So names like Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray should feel somewhat hopeful at the prospect of nabbing a first win of 2014. Oh yeah, and Ragan too.
The list of potential winners-who-are-thus-far-
Tony Stewart: Among the winless bunch, Stewart and Matt Kenseth (see below) are the favorites to add another win to their masterful careers. Stewart has four wins at Daytona, all coming in the July night race. His victories in this one are memorable (see: celebratory fence climb), but a win on Saturday night might hold the most meaning. Though 16th in points, he currently sits outside the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup bubble (Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch are lower in points, but their respective wins would push him out of the Chase Grid). Here are Stewart’s last two finishes in the night race: First and second.
Matt Kenseth: Besides a couple hiccups at Daytona during the 2013 season – finishes of 33rd and 37th – Kenseth has been stellar on the Florida high banks. One of 11 drivers to have won multiple Daytona 500s, Kenseth finished sixth in this year’s edition of The Great American Race. Fifth in points and the current highest positioned winless driver, Kenseth is seemingly safe(ish). Then again, a surprise winner here would up the winners total to 11 – leaving only five Chase Grid spots remaining based on points.
Jamie McMurray: His career has often existed on the outside looking in – right from the get-go. In 2004, the first year of the 10-driver Chase, he finished 11th. In 2010, he scored two wins in the regular season, but just missed the Chase. A year later, NASCAR instituted a “wild card” format for winners; McMurray went winless. It hasn’t worked out yet for the talented Chip Ganassi Racing diver. This could be the year. Of his seven career wins, four have come at restrictor plate tracks. Two have come at Daytona – once in the Daytona 500 (2010), another in the night race (2007).
Paul Menard: They have yet to make a radar low enough that Menard can’t fly under it. He’s 11th in points. He’s scored top 10s in four of the last six races, and top fives to two of the last four. He has nine top 10s this season; only four drivers have more. And he’s done it without much hoopla. Having said all that, this might be Menard’s toughest test; he has finished outside the top 20 in each of the last three Daytona races.
Ryan Newman: Newman comes of his best race of the season, scoring a third place finish and a driver rating of 116.7 at Kentucky – both season highs for the Indiana driver. A 2008 Daytona 500 winner, Newman has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four Daytona races.
Danica Patrick: Good vibes surround Patrick whenever she enters the tunnel at Daytona International Speedway (despite that 40th-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500). For the 2013 Daytona 500, she famously became the first female to win a Coors Light Pole, and followed it up with an eighth place finish. Daytona may be her best bet to make more history, as the first female to win a NASCAR national series race.
Kyle Larson: Currently 12th in points, Larson would lock into the Chase Grid if it began today. It doesn’t. So a win would be nice. A victory would make Larson the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate since Joey Logano in 2009 to win a NSCS race. It would also likely make him the first rookie since Denny Hamlin in 2006 to make the Chase.
Greg Biffle: Biffle seems to have righted his season over the last two races. After finishing outside the top 15 in five consecutive races, he has chipped in runs of ninth at Sonoma and 14th at Kentucky. Not earth shattering – but it did move him to 13th in points, and inside the Chase Grid bubble.