Daytona 500: Ford or The Field?
The time has finally come! Football season is over and now it’s time for the Super Bowl of NASCAR, the Daytona 500. This Sunday will be the 65th running of the Great American Race and there is not a more prestigious race to win all season. Drivers put everything on the line each week, but the Daytona 500 brings out something more. So, what should we expect this week, and will Ford continue its superspeedway dominance? Let’s dive in.
After single car qualifying, the top 2 cars are guaranteed their spots and everyone else must race for their position. One race determines the odd numbered positions and the other determines the even. With no practice before qualifying this year, the duels should be very interesting. Each duels race is 60-laps, so they will have to pit at least one time during the duels. Drivers are probably going to use the first 20-30 laps just to get a feel for their car and hopefully be able to make enough adjustments on pit road to get a good qualifying spot.
With how aggressive superspeedway races are run, we’re seeing drivers go to the tail-end of the field early in the race to try and avoid the big crash and then swoop in at the end to get the win. Most of the cars in the field have charters, so they are guaranteed a spot in the race. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few drivers use the entire duel as a practice and not worry about the starting spot. The last 20 laps will be exciting from the teams that think they have their car dialed in and want to get a better starting spot. Other than that, it will be somewhat laid back and used as a test session.
The race is going to be completely different. Since NASCAR has changed the superspeedway packages for less horsepower and more downforce to create closer racing, all superspeedway races have been exciting from start to finish. With this package, drivers can follow closer and push cars more aggressively. This makes action packed racing throughout the race and even watching drivers try to break off to pit road can be a thrill.
This does have a drawback to it though. With how close the cars are when there is a wreck, it tends to involve at least a fifth of the field and we see competitive, race winning cars get taken out. A lot of these big wrecks are cause by someone pushing too hard into a corner or trying to pull a late block on a line with a run. I call it a drawback, but some people want that kind of excitement. All in all, the race is going to be very exciting and intense. Let’s just hope that everyone stays safe.
Whenever NASCAR goes to a superspeedway, Ford cars always seem to be at the front. At Talladega, a Ford has won at least one of the races each year since Matt Kenseth won in 2012. Last season 7 out of the top 10 finishers in the Daytona 500 were Fords and 3 of the last 6 Dayton 500 winners drove a Ford. The Fords work very well in tandem on the track which has led to the last two winners of the Daytona 500 being Ford drivers.
One of the reasons they tend to work better is the flatness of their front ends. With how flat the front end is, they can push squarer and get a more controlled push. Let’s not forget that they also have some of the best superspeedway drivers on their teams as well. Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and Brad Keselowski are easily some of the top superspeedway racers on the track. Between the experience of the drivers and how well their cars work in tandem, Ford is very hard to beat.
The Rest of the Field
While Fords may work in tandem very well, Chevrolet and Toyota both tend to have single car speed at these tracks. A Chevrolet has sat on the pole of the Daytona 500 for the last decade and Toyota has won 3 Dayton 500s in the last 7 seasons. This race tends to end after a late race caution, so having that single car speed comes in handy when trying to make a last lap pass after the driver behind you stops pushing.
Hendrick Motorsports has a lot of experience winning this race with eight total wins. However, none of those wins are with any of their active drivers. They haven’t had a winner since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2014. Richard Childress Racing tends to run well at Daytona, even getting a win with Austin Dillon in 2018. With Kyle Busch moving their, maybe he’ll finally be able to get that Daytona 500 win that has eluded him throughout his career. Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has been taking the fight to the Fords in their Toyotas as of late with Denny Hamlin having all three of Toyota’s Daytona 500 wins. Outside of Hamlin though, JGR doesn’t have a good track record at superspeedways. Amazingly, Martin Truex, Jr. has never, won on a superspeedway and Christopher Bell only has one top 10 in all his superspeedway starts.
If Trackhouse Racing can bring the same speed they had last season, they could contend for a win for Chevrolet. Chastain won the spring race at Talladega last season and finished 4th in the fall race. 23XI could be a sleeper pick to win with Bubba Wallace. He has finished 2nd twice at the Daytona 500 and has a win at Talladega. His superspeedway racing is improving, and he just needs the right opportunity to be able to get that win.
It’s very hard to not give the edge to the Fords. They have a proven track record of dominance at superspeedways and until Chevrolet or Toyota can be more consistent with wins, I’m going to go with Ford. The efficiency of how their cars work together and the talent that they have behind the wheel for superspeedways is too much for the field to compete with.
After seeing the aggression level that the drivers had last season with the Next Gen car, I don’t see the drivers pulling back at all. All the drivers are going to be aggressive from the green flag to the checkered. We’re going to get to see a very entertaining race on Sunday and most likely a Ford winner. Come back later in the week after the Duels to see my thoughts on them and my driver predictions for the Daytona 500.