DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Denny Hamlin will try to become the first driver in 25 years to win consecutive Daytona 500’s this weekend. But the race is full of unknowns.
The first four events leading into the Daytona 500 have produced four different winners. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. put his new team on the pole, while Erik Jones outlasted a crash-fest to win a qualifying race. Joey Logano and William Byron won the qualifying races.
No clear favorite has emerged for “The Great American Race.” No single manufacturer has a demonstrated edge going into NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl. It was a Toyota 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing last year, in part because of mandated manufacturer alliances for drivers to work together, but there’s so far been little indication the race will play out the same way Sunday.
Instead, this is a wide-open field of 40 drivers and all believe they have a shot at the life-changing victory and the record $23.6 million that will be divvied by among the drivers. And why not? The unpredictability of Daytona allowed Justin Haley to gamble on rain strategy last July and shock the field with a win in his third and final start of the season.