2018 Daytona 500: Drivers to Watch
With a stacked field of entries for Sunday’s NASCAR season-opener, these are the ones to follow.
NASCAR’s 2018 Speedweeks are coming to a close which means one thing – it’s time for the Daytona 500. Stock car racing’s much-anticipated return kicked-off with an action-packed schedule of on and off the track events. As NASCAR Cup drivers got behind the wheel for the Advanced Auto Parts Clash, Daytona 500 Qualifying, and the Can-Am Duels, one thing was abundantly clear -- The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season is officially here, and the competition will be intense.
The energy and hype at the Daytona International Speedway have been nothing short of electrifying. Drivers wowed the media at Daytona 500 Media Day and fans have been thoroughly entertained by some the racing that has taken place so far at the track. Young and veteran drivers have made their presence felt, but there is one question that has yet to be answered –“Who will win Sunday’s Daytona 500?”
In less than 24 hours, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner will be crowned. As we prepare for the season opener of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and some fantastic racing at the World Center of Racing, there are five drivers I think you should watch during the Daytona 500.
Young Drivers Making Moves
The new kid on the block kicked off his first full-time season as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver with the fastest speed of all drivers during Daytona 500 qualifying. Bowman squashed any debate surrounding whether or not he deserved to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports by going out and capturing the 60th Annual Daytona 500 pole. The 24-year-old has only raced in 82 Monster Energy Cup races, but in his short career, he has captured two poles.
Bubba Wallace Jr.
It may be the year of the Bubba. As Bubba Wallace Jr. gets closer to his debut as a full-time Cup driver, one thing is clear – his personality is quickly going to make him one of NASCAR’s most talked about drivers for some time to come. Sure, he is the first African-American driver to start the Daytona 500 since 1969, but putting that aside, what everyone wants to know is, “Will he become as legendary behind the wheel as his team owner, Richard “The King” Petty?” If what we have witnessed from Wallace on the track this week during Speedweeks is any indication, we may already have an answer to that question. Wallace Jr. will start P7 at the Daytona 500 after a third-place finish during the Can-Am Duels. During the final Daytona 500 practice, he posted the fastest speed of all drivers at 196.954 mph. So far, the future is looking bright for the driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro.
Veterans Drivers to Watch
Why not Kyle Busch? Love this guy or hate him, no one can argue that the 2015 Monster Energy Cup Champion is a racer. All he does is win, so why can’t he win the Daytona 500? Busch is winless in the Daytona 500 and he has made it very clear that winning NASCAR’s Super Bowl of races is at the top of his list. With all the talk focusing on the young drivers, Busch doesn’t seem too happy so he may just go out and win to prove a point. His brother Kurt Busch took home the checkered flag last year, so maybe we will see back-to-back wins with the Busch brothers. Last year, he won 5 races and it is likely that he will continue where he left off.
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing can hold his own on any restrictor-plate track. The 2016 Daytona 500 winner will start the 60th Annual Daytona 500 from the first row in the second position. Last season, he raced to two wins, 15 top-5s, and 22 top-10 finishes. Although Hamlin has not yet secured a championship, he is a top contender each year to win the NASCAR Cup Series.
Keselowski has raced full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Series for a decade. Within that time, he has won at both Daytona and Talladega. Last season he collected wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, and Talladega. In addition to his three wins, he had 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes. The driver of the No. 2 Ford crashed out in Duel 1 so he will start the Daytona 500 from the 31st position; regardless, no one should count him out. He has a total of six restrictor-plate victories, five of those at Talladega.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse Jr. was hot at the superspeedways last year. Both of his wins in 2017 were at restrictor-plate tracks. He drove to the winner’s circle at Talladega and won the July race at Daytona. To kick off the 2018 season, Stenhouse Jr. seems to be picking up where he left off with plate racing. The Roush Fenway Racing driver finished the Can-Am Duel qualifying race in fourth. He is starting the Daytona 500 from P9.
Tune in to Fox Network television Sunday, February 18, at 2:30 p.m. EST to watch The Daytona 500. The 500-mile race around the 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway will be action-packed and is definitely not one to be missed.