The Great American Race

No football, no problem for Water Cooler Talk. Though the sadness still weighs heavily thanks to my Carolina Panthers coming up short, we’ll move from one Super Bowl to another. That means we’ll be focusing on the 58th edition of the Daytona 500, The Great American Race. The 58th year of this great race is primed to be great as we’ve already seen some history and some fireworks leading up to this Sunday’s race.

No Jeff Gordon in the 24 car, no worries. When Jeff Gordon announced his retirement last year, questions arose on whether Chase could fill the void. Now, at just 20 years old, Chase is the youngest driver to earn the pole for the Daytona 500, and any doubts have subsided for the time being. Not a bad way to start your rookie campaign, and not a bad way to help folks know that you’re driving the car and not Jeff Gordon (temporarily at least). Without running a single lap on the season, Chase is the hot topic at Daytona International Speedway.

It’s one thing to win the pole, it’s another thing to get through the Can-Am Duels on Thursday and the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Can you run 260 laps unscathed? Not only will Chase go through that challenge, but every other driver in the field as well. We’ve seen plenty of drama during the duels that build the anticipation for Sunday’s race, most recently with Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick last year.

If you watched the Sprint Unlimited this past Saturday, you may have noticed the difficulty drivers had around the 2.5-mile track at speeds nearing 200 mph. Drafting is a huge challenge in itself, it’s even harder when trying to do so with 50+laps on the tires. That’s when I anticipate good racing gone bad, when drivers take risks with old tires.

For the race itself, I have my favorites and I have my duds. Let’s start with the duds.

Clint Bowyer has had some of the worst luck at Daytona. Whether it be sliding on his roof across the finish line or just being mixed up with someone else’s mistake, Clint always seems to be on the wrong end at this track. For fantasy purposes, stay away from Clint.

Chase Elliott may be on the pole, but rookies don’t fair all too well for 200 laps for their first Daytona 500. Austin Dillon was in a similar position in 2014. He started on the pole, led one lap and finished 9th, but wasn’t the contender everyone thought he could be. In 2011, Trevor Bayne won the race at 20-years-old in what was his second career start in the Sprint Cup Series, but hasn’t lived up to expectations since then. It’s fair to say that for fantasy purposes, it’s fun taking a flyer on a rookie, but the results aren’t always great.

Greg Biffle is in the unfortunate position of being with Roush Fenway Racing. This organization struggled mightily in 2015, seemingly never being in contention for a victory. The calendar does read 2016, but I’m afraid the results may not be a whole lot better. Along with Biffle, steer clear with Stenhouse Jr. as well.

Now for my favorites.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is always a favorite at a restrictor plate race. He’s a two-time Daytona 500 winner and won at Daytona last July. Whether he starts near the front or in the back, look for Jr. to contend all afternoon.

Matt Kenseth may be the best methodical runner at Daytona. He picks his spots well, which usually leaves him in contention year in and year out. He’s also a two-time winner, so look for the 20 car, who’ll be starting 2nd, to stay up toward the front.

Brad Keselowski may not have run well in his qualifying effort, but his car is mighty strong when in the pack. If he can avoid trouble, I expect Keselowski to have a legitimate shot at winning his first Daytona 500 and for Team Penske to capture the crown for the second consecutive year.

The Super Bowl of NASCAR may not have as much hype as the Super Bowl we watched last weekend, but it’s still a great American tradition that is enjoyed by many viewers, fan or not. I think the 58th running of this race will exceed expectations, which is why I for one cannot wait to see what unfolds on Sunday. If you watch, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I will. If you don’t plan on watching, maybe you should reconsider and take some time to enjoy this great spectacle.

Have a great week everyone and enjoy this wee’s Daytona 500.