2023 Great American Race: Built Ford Tough
After watching the Duels on Thursday, the Ford dominance at superspeedways seems as though it is going to continue this year. In the second duel, the Chevrolets seemed to fair better than they did in the first duel after trying to short pit the short 60-lap race. Track position is going to be key for all the races this weekend.
We saw in the first duel when the Chevrolets short pitted and the Ford group went long, the Chevrolets were just unable to make up the ground due to the momentum that Ford group had. However, there was enough evidence of all the manufactures having possible winners. Let’s get into the actual race expectations and then I’ll go through possible winners by manufacturer.
The on-track racing is going to be very close side-by-side racing at the beginning and end of each stage, and a lot of single file in between. There are always going to be a few drivers that are extra aggressive the entire race and will cause some issues, but most of the field is going to be feeling their cars out at the beginning, seeing who has speed, and where they can get runs at. Then they are going to be content logging laps for the majority of the race.
The only way to win a race is to make it to the end of it. I remember when I was a kid and the “Big One” was only a Talladega thing. Now, you also have to expect it at Daytona. There will be a few drivers in mid-field equipment that are going to try and out perform their car and end up doing something stupid collecting a fifth of the field. Unfortunately, this will happen at some point. Because of this, we will see race-winning cars go to the rear of the field within the first 3-7 laps. The race will have some good moments and will finish with a green-white-checker. It’ll be an entertaining Sunday of racing.
Let’s start with Toyota. I would put my money on Bubba Wallace if I were to bet on a Toyota. If the cars riding behind him in his duel race had been able to get to the back of his car sooner in those last couple of laps, he had enough speed in his car to win that race. Don’t let his starting position fool you. That is a top 10 car, and it won’t take him long to get there. He has 2 runner up finishes in the Daytona 500 and he should be the heavy favorite for a Toyota win.
The only other driver I think has a shot would be Denny Hamlin. This is purely based on his performance in past Daytona 500s. Watching him in the duel race, it looked like he had decent speed but not race winning speed and that goes for almost all the Toyotas. However, you don’t win the Daytona 500 three times without knowing what you’re doing. I know that there are a lot of Hamlin haters out there, but the man knows how to get around that racetrack and be there at the end for the win.
This manufacturer had a lot more race speed than I thought I was going to see in the Duels. The favorite for Chevrolet has to be Kyle Busch. This man must be thinking he signed with Kaulig Racing because he has been trophy hunting ever since the green flag dropped on his heat race at the clash. In the duel he showed raw speed, good handling in the draft, and a great feel for controlling the front of the field. He does have to go to a backup car after crashing in his duel, but that was due to aggressive pushing from Suarez. Whenever we see Kyle Busch face any challenges like this, his performance goes one of two ways. He either dominates and wins, or we get the radioactive Kyle that is only good for sound bites that day.
Another Chevrolet driver is Chase Elliott. He finished third in his duel, which will get him a starting position of 8th on Sunday. He kept up in the draft throughout the entire race and showed improvement on his drafting abilities trying to make moves. He was also, second fastest in the first practice. I don’t put too much into single car speed, but if you can have great speed while also being able to handle it in the draft, you are a sure-fire pick to win.
You could take your pick of any top Ford team driver and it wouldn’t be wasted. My first pick may be a bit of a cop out, but all the Stewart-Hass Racing cars are going to be at the front by the end of race if they don’t get caught up in a wreck. They all performed well at the Duels. Aric Almirola even won his duel. These cars can absolutely get after it in the draft and if they were to all be able to hook up together, the rest of the field better watch out because there will be no stopping them.
A safe bet would be Joey Logano. He won his duel heat after staying up front most of the race and seemed very comfortable in his racecar. Logano is a former Daytona 500 winner and defending series champion. Team Penske always brings race winning cars to the superspeedways, so as long as Joey can stay out of trouble, he’ll be a good favorite to win.
Lastly, let’s go with Ryan Blaney. He is working his way to being the best superspeedway racer on the track. After being hung out to dry by his teammate last season, he has to be itching to get this win. He finished third in his duel, giving him a starting position of 7th on Sunday. I expect him to stay out front all race and waiting to make that last lap pass to get the win.
As a little bonus, let’s throw in a couple of favorable long shots. The obvious long shot pick would have to be Brad Keselowski. He is the winningest active driver at superspeedway tracks and always finds himself at the front of these races. Roush cars have always performed well at these tracks, and nothing is different so far through the duels. Brad seemed to be trying to take care of his car most of the duel, unlike last year. There is speed hidden in that car, and it’ll be interesting to see when we’ll get to see it in the race.
I promise this will be my last Ford pick. Zane Smith is flying under the radar for this Daytona 500 and he will surprise some people. He looked great in qualifying and took very good care of his car throughout the Duels race. His qualifying time wasn’t very impressive, but they are obviously more worried about the race. He just won the rain shortened Craftsman Series Truck race and coming off being the Truck Series champion from last season. He has some experience in the car after filling in for Chris Buescher when he tested positive for COVID-19 last season. If the opportunity is there, Zane could make a very big splash in the Cup Series on Sunday.
My last pick is Jimmie Johnson. This man hasn’t drove a stock car in over two years, comes back and tops the board on the first practice of the weekend. He is a 7-time champion of the Cup Series and has won the Daytona 500 twice before. This pick is definitely a long shot, but could pay out very big if all the starts align for him.
My pick for the Daytona 500 winner is going to be Aric Almirola. He was 4th in qualifying, won the second Duels race, and 5th overall in the first practice. Almirola has shown in previous superspeedway races that he understands the draft well and can control the field from the front. After a very sub-par season for Stewart-Haas Racing last season and a completely winless season for Almirola, starting this season off with another Daytona 500 win could be the start to something magnificent for them this season. We’ll have to tune in on Sunday to find out.