Matty’s Picks 2013 – Vol. 1 Daytona International Speedway – Daytona 500 – February 24, 2013By Matt LaFlair
It’s another NASCAR season, and I’m proud to be kicking off the third season of my weekly column devoted to picking a couple drivers with the potential to make some noise on Sunday afternoon. Before I begin my outlook on the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Season and tomorrow’s 55th running of the Daytona 500, I’d like to share my thoughts and prayers for all those fans injured today at Daytona International Speedway on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ DRIVE4COPD 300. It is extremely unfortunate when fans who show up to be entertained, actually become a part of the action.
After a stellar rookie season in 2011, my sophomore season as a NASCAR handicapper saw its ups and downs, which is why I am excited for a clean slate to start off this 2013 season. We’ve got a new reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion for the first time since 2004, a few newcomers to the Sprint Cup Series, a new driver/driver relationship known as “Stenica”, a few team changes, one less manufacturer, and an entirely new race car to start off this 2013 season. With so many unknowns to start this 2013 season, selecting winners this season is looking to be my toughest task yet as a sports journalist.
Nothing to recap this week as I move out of my three-month NASCAR hibernation (which couldn’t come soon enough this year as my Buffalo Bills finished at the bottom of the AFC East standings with a dismal 6-10 record, and my fainted Buffalo Sabres currently fight to lift themselves from the bottom of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Standings) so, we’ll move into my thoughts on the 55th running of the Daytona 500.
I absolutely loathe restrictor plate racing as it tends to be more mayhem than actual racing talent, but I will not take away from the excitement surrounding the start of the 2013 campaign and reserve my comments for the time being.
Though it is said that the four restrictor plate races on the schedule are “a roll of the dice” in picking winners, but I tend to pare down the potential list of winners using historical trends. For instance, it has been twelve years since the last driver took home both the Daytona 500 and the Sprint Unlimited (formerly the Budweiser Shootout) in the same year. This feat has been claimed five times by four different drivers, but the last time a driver won at Daytona in consecutive weeks, dates back to 2000 when Dale Jarrett took home the Daytona 500 and Sprint Unlimited in the same year for the second time in his storied career. For this reason alone, I eliminate Kevin Harvick as my Winner Pick for tomorrow’s Daytona 500.
It has also been a dozen years since the winner of the Daytona 500 has come from the front row, and if you’ve ever solicited advice at the Roulette wheel, anyone with experience will tell you to never bet against the recent trends . Dale Jarrett not only won the Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500 in the year 2000, but he did it by starting from the pole position of The Great American Race. It was the second year in a row that the winner of the Daytona 500 came from the first starting spot, and for this reason I’ll eliminate Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon from contention tomorrow.
Last year’s Daytona 500 marked the first time in seven years a repeat winner took home the Harley J. Earl Trophy, the second-longest streak of first-time winners (the longest streak of new winners being seven races, from the inaugural race in 1959 to The King’s second Daytona 500 victory in 1966). Sticking with historical trends, I am making a prediction that the winner of tomorrow’s race will have taken home a Daytona 500 at least once already. This means that the winner will come from either Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., or Michael Waltrip. The two other drivers with Daytona 500 wins (Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick) have been eliminated from my list of potential race winners under previous historical trends.
So, we’ve got the list down to seven potential winners based on my historical trend formula, and out of these seven drivers, I’m most comfortable saying Dale Jr. will walk away as the second driver in two years to win their second Daytona 500 win. Dale Jr.’s first Daytona 500 win came back in 2004, giving DEI their final Daytona 500 victory before merging with Chip Ganassi Racing, forming Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. He has visited Gatorade Victory Lane more recently than 2004 as he started off his career with Hendrick Motorsports with wins in both the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel race prior to the 2008 Daytona 500. He was also the runner up in both his Duel race and Daytona 500 last season.
This year, Jr. has looked extremely comfortable in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, and the No. 88 car has looked comfortable in the pack draft. This is the style of racing the Earnhardt family is known for and the Hendrick camp has put a truly magnificent product on the track again for Dale Jr. He’s been in the mix of the faster cars all week, including winning the final practice session on Friday for the 55th Annual Great American Race. I’ll be watching the No. 88 to immediately work his way to the front from his starting spot in the middle of the pack, and for Jr. Nation to start their 2013 season off with a win.
Dark Horse Pick
It is tough to call a past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion a Dark Horse, but there is a guy making his 65th start at Daytona International Speedway this week who has shown he can keep his nose clean and finish the race strong. Bobby Labonte will be another driver starting mid-pack on Sunday, and will look to keep the nose of his Kroger Toyota clean in order to finish strong in his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota Camry.
Now, is been 324 races since his last victory, so I’m stretching here for a Dark Horse pick, but Labonte’s recent history at The World Center of Racing has be believing he might play a factor in Sunday’s race. Drivers like to draft with guys with experience, and experience Labonte has. Watch for the No. 47 to mix up the front of the field come lap 199 on Sunday.
That’s all for this week, so until we head west for the second stanza of the season, you stay classy NASCAR NATION!