Bowyer the man to beat
In Fairy Tale Land, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the Daytona 500 and NASCAR Nation sheds tears of joy for the prodigal son honoring his father. In the real world, Junior has yet to prove he can measure up to Daddy Dearest in a number of ways, so we'll move on to the most likely candidate: Clint Bowyer.
In three of the four restrictor-plate races last year, Bowyer was the man to chase down at some point. He led 19 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500, and another 19 in the July race at Daytona and at Talladega in the fall.
"Clint Bowyer, he'll go down in history as one of the greatest restrictor-plate racers, just like Kevin (Harvick)," team owner Richard Childress said last year.
Yes, this Daytona 500 will have a poignant ending. Another RCR Man — just like the elder Earnhardt — will be in Victory Lane.
If not Bowyer, it will be Harvick.
McMurray steps up again
Restrictor-plate racing at Daytona is always a crapshoot. Having the fastest car or being the best driver can mean nothing if no one on the track will help or if the right lane doesn't open up.
But sometimes unexpected drivers and teams seem to show a bit extra on the big tracks and in the big events. That has been the case of late for Jamie McMurray and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team.
McMurray's victory in last year's Daytona 500 was considered a huge upset. Then he went on to win the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis and the October race at Charlotte. The possibility of McMurray rising to the occasion when the lights are brightest can't be discounted.
Don't be surprised to see McMurray become the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95 to win consecutive Daytona 500s.
It's time for Stewart
Los Angeles Times
As noted, the unpredictable nature of restrictor-plate racing at Daytona makes it tough to pick a favorite, which is why we've had nine different winners in the last nine years.
And to complicate matters, a repaved surface has introduced a new style of racing at Daytona that puts an emphasis on two-car drafting as opposed to the packs of cars we've seen barreling around the 2.5-mile speedway.
But while 2010 winner Jamie McMurray is as good a choice as any, let's stick with the notion that back-to-back wins aren't likely and go with Tony Stewart winning his first Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Stewart, a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and co-owner of his team, is a three-time winner of Daytona's July race. So he knows how to hustle around the track and will have no problem finding requisite drafting partners for his No. 14 Chevrolet.
Harvick a fitting choice
The Morning Call
When we last left the Sprint Cup series, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin came apart at Homestead and handed Jimmie Johnson his fifth straight title.
It's hard to go against Johnson or any member of the Hendrick Motorsports family, but no one has come on stronger in recent years than Harvick.
It's an odd year, which brings out the caution flag on predicting success for the fiery Harvick, who finished 14th in the series in 2005, 10th in 2007 and 19th two years ago. But Harvick led the most laps in last year's Daytona 500 before finishing seventh and came back to win the Coke Zero 400 in July at Daytona.
He's the one who replaced Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing, and other than Junior, there's no better sentimental choice on the 10th anniversary of the legend's death.