Podium Preview: Daytona 500

By all means, Sunday's Daytona 500 provides intense action! (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By all means, Sunday’s Daytona 500 provides intense action! (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Without a doubt, the 62nd Daytona 500 truly serves as the NASCAR Cup Series’ most premier event.  Despite recent races featuring checkers or wreckers finishes, the prestige and pageantry remain with “The Great American Race.”  Whether it’s 1959 or 2020, the objective remains the same – emerge as the winner of stock car racing’s ultimate crown jewel.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley Hobbs, Cody Shoppe, Isabelle Beecy, Jose Acero Jr, Kobe LambethMatteo Marcheschi, Matt Sisoler, Sean FolsomStephen ConleyTerra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.  This weekend, we consider the plethora of changes for teams and drivers along with the level of aggression in store for Sunday’s Daytona 500!

Track Talk
Topic 1

Certainly, Ryan Blaney may benefit from the Team Penske shakeup. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Following the checkered flag at last year’s season finale, various changes took place in the NASCAR Cup Series with teams.  From the revised Chevrolet Camaro body to Team Penske’s crew and pit crew changes, which change seems most intriguing in terms of immediate impact?

Tiongson :  I almost view this season as a defining year for Brad Keselowski with Team Penske.  With this being a contract year along with the recent crew chief and personnel changes, the regular season likely dictates what direction Keselowski goes with his Cup Series future.

We’ve seen glimpses of frustration from Keselowski already at Daytona which hasn’t been the case in recent years.  However, Keselowski and crew chief Jeremy Bullins worked together in the NASCAR XFINITY Series from 2012 through ’14 and they compiled 14 wins together.  If they’re off to a hot start, I’d say that Keselowski sticks with Team Penske and the personnel swap will be the most brilliant change of the year.

Hobbs :  Man, there was so much that happened in the off-season, and even before the season ended. Something big that stands out to me is Matt DiBenedetto moving over to the famous Wood Brothers Racing 21. DiBenedetto has really worked his way through the ranks of the series and this ride should pay off quite well for him. I know I am looking forward to seeing how he does this season.

Another piece I will be watching closely is this year’s rookie class. It is one of the largest, and probably most competitive, classes we have had in a long time. These rookies have raced closely with each other for quite some time, and watching them continue that into the top series in NASCAR will certainly be a good time for everyone.

Sisoler: Geez, just one huh? Not sure if that’s possible given the scope of changes for this year. If I’m allowed, I’ll take two. My first one is all of the Penske/Penske affiliate changes (all Penske teams switching & fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto jumping into the 21). Swapping all the crew chiefs around is a big move for arguably the best Ford team in NASCAR (sorry SHR) to make, and only time will tell how well/bad these play out, and fans will see if Matty D can live up to the hype driving that iconic Wood Brothers car this year.

Secondly, I feel I have to look at the new aero packages for the short tracks and road courses. Will it bring back the old rough and tumble races we have in our memories from the 80s and 90s that were so great, or will it not really have much impact? Again, only the steady march of the season will be able to answer those questions. 

Jones :  I hope it is okay that I have two I’m watching. First and foremost would be the Team Penske changes. While yes, Jeremy Bullins and Brad Keselowski have worked together in the Xfinity series, I am curious to see how that plays out in the Cup Series. Keselowski and Paul Wolfe, as well as Joey Logano and Todd Gordon, have been paired together for so long, and to break up those dynamics – it’s sure to be interesting. They are all professionals and will handle whatever is thrown their way, but there is bound to be a transition period in the early weeks. 

The second thing I’m watching is the reduction in the number of road crew members from 12 to 10. I’m curious how teams will decide who doesn’t join them for the weekend, how those decisions will be made, and of course, the gray area – how teams will work around this rule (i.e.: Can they have one crew member at track for the practice sessions then swap them out for someone on race day?). It is definitely not a change the casual fan would notice, or maybe even care about, but I’m definitely watching. 

Shoppe :  I am really excited, like many, to see how the crew shake-up works out at Team Penske! I would never doubt the Captain’s decisions especially when it comes to the organization of people. What I am excited to see about it is will it change the dynamic at the team. Could we see Ryan Blaney emerge as a front runner within the team instead of the third wheel he has been?

Let’s also take a moment to not the strongest rookie class we have seen in many years for 2020. The “big three” of 2019’s Xfinity title fight all move to the Cup series and will be sure to add something to the field in the top series for years to come! 

Beecy :    I’m interested in seeing what happens on the Team Penske front. When I think of crew chief/driver pairings, one of the ones that always comes to mind is Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe. I’m also very used to seeing Todd Gordon with Joey Logano. Seeing how each driver and crew chief does in the new pairings will be interesting to say the least.

I’m also looking a bit at how Ricky Stenhouse Jr does over with JTG Daugherty Racing. Given how strong of a showing they did at the 500 qualifying, I’m wondering how it’ll play out for the rest of the season. It’d be so easy to write it off as just a fluke or weird one-off since it’s a former restrictor plate race, but it’d also be interesting to see if they can keep it up for the rest of the season. 

Topic 2

In this case, one wonders if we’ll see checkers or wreckers for the Daytona 500. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Last Sunday’s Busch Clash saw aggressive blocks and pass attempts that resulted in carnage.  While there’s more laps in the Daytona 500, might we see some of the same aggression and manufacturer alliances prevalent in the Clash?

Conley :  More cars could potentially bring out the same thing, but with the closing rate being what it is and how hard it is to throw a block, plus what is on the line, I don’t expect it to be the same as the clash. What I do think we will see is more “tandem drafting.”  The Toyotas showed it could be done. Also, Johnson and Byron were working on how to align the bumpers a little in practice. 

Lambeth : Without question, I expect to see much of the same in Sunday afternoon’s Daytona 500. Manufacturers have been working together in the past few superspeedway races. Therefore, it should not be a major surprise to anyone. Expect them to work together for a while, but I would not anticipate manufacturer loyalty with 10 laps to go. At the end of day, every driver will try their hardest to win “The Great American Race.” 

There will definitely be some aggressive action, given the nature of the current aero package. Lots of aggressive side drafting, pushing, passing and blocking attempts should cause the fans to bite their fingernails. Superspeedway racing is intense. I expect aggressive racing at various points of the Daytona 500, but it’ll ramp up significantly as we get closer to the checkered flag. 

Acero :  Sunday’s wreck fest, I mean Busch Clash, was a slight preview of what’s to come this Sunday! We will witness from team alliances to manufacturers hooking up to be the one to take the checkers. Worth keeping an eye on is that Logano/Keselowski “feud.” Interesting to see if they hook up will they help one another. 

Marcheschi : I would look to last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 for answers. Despite being rain-shortened, the race saw several multi-car wrecks, with the final pileup involving 18 cars. I don’t expect anything different from Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Sunday’s Clash only reinforced what we already knew, with numerous wrecks and only five cars on the lead lap. Erik Jones’ beaten and battered winning machine tells the story of that event. The 500 mile race will likely start out a bit calmer, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, expect chaos.

Manufacturer alliances will be harder to predict. Surely they’ll try to work with each other, but we’ve seen how that has failed, and even made things worse at times. In Sunday’s Clash, Chevy’s strategy almost destroyed their race. While planning to work with your own manufacturer looks nice on paper, the chaotic nature of Daytona simply won’t allow it to get very far.

Sticking together in the pack also isn’t a terribly good idea. One wreck could easily take out most, if not all, of a manufacturer’s fleet. So, while alliances will be in effect, as usual, they will also inevitably fall apart.

Folsom : I definitely think there will be manufacturers working together for pit strategies and drafting partners in the early stages of the race, But when it comes down towards the last few laps of the race I think it will be every driver for themselves. I also feel like after seeing the Busch Clash that there will be some aggressive blocking and passing. I’m hoping for a good race and not alot of torn up race cars like what we saw in the Clash.

Friends, that’s two laps around “The World Center of Racing!” Now, let’s review last season’s action in terms with the Homestead race and points reports!
A quarter of panelists believed in Harvick.

A quarter of panelists believed in Harvick.

However, the machine rules heading into Sunday's Daytona 500.

However, the machine rules heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Next, we predict the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion!  Sure, the task may seem lofty, but that’s why we’re The Podium Finish!
Six different title picks could make things interesting!

Six different title picks could make things interesting!

Folsom :  Kevin Harvick.

Hobbs :  Kevin Harvick.

Jones :  Kyle Busch.

Sisoler :  Kyle Busch.

Lambeth :  Martin Truex Jr.

Marcheschi :  Denny Hamlin.

Shoppe :  Joey Logano.

Tiongson :  Kyle Larson.

Back by popular demand, Ashley Hobbs, our Managing Editor and Statistician, considers the stats that’ll blow your mind for the Daytona 500.  In typical Floridian fashion, she’ll start “Crunching the Numbers: Daytona 500” style!
First, take a gander at how your favorite team fared in 2019.

First, take a gander at how your favorite team fared in 2019.

Since 2004, the Daytona 500 winner has an average starting spot of 13.9, led an average of 26.1 laps, started inside the top-five 18.75% of the time, and started inside the top-10 56.25% of the time.

Since 2004, the Daytona 500 winner has an average starting spot of 13.9, led an average of 26.1 laps, started inside the top-five 18.75% of the time, and started inside the top-10 56.25% of the time.

Logano thrives at Daytona.

Logano thrives at Daytona.

In the meantime, here's the trends in the past 10 Daytona 500 races.

In the meantime, here’s the trends in the past 10 Daytona 500 races.

Now, here's your trends at the Daytona 500 since 2015.

Now, here’s your trends at the Daytona 500 since 2015.

Ultimately, the machine digs Hamlin for the Daytona 500.

Ultimately, the machine digs Hamlin for the Daytona 500.

OK, admit it, you’ve waited for this moment since last year’s season finale.  Regardless, the TPF panelists reveal their Daytona 500 picks!
The Daytona 500 proves unpredictable with our many different picks.

The Daytona 500 proves unpredictable with our many different picks.

Beecy :  Ricky Stenhouse Jr does well at tracks like Daytona and is starting up front this year. And if the Duels are any indication, he’ll likely be just as aggressive in the 500.

Conley :  Tyler Reddick.

Folsom :  Kevin Harvick has been fast the past few years and looked really fast during the duels. I think if he can avoid any and all wrecks and keep it up front he will do great.

Hobbs :  The Daytona 500 is always an interesting race to find a winner. The pressure to win this race is incredibly high and most drivers will do whatever it takes to win the trophy. While Clint Bowyer doesn’t have the best starting position this Sunday, that won’t impact him from taking home the trophy.

Jones :  Michael McDowell is pretty decent at superspeedways and has been toward the front in recent years, with six top 10s at Daytona. I think if he can avoid the Big One(s), he will have a decent chance to snag his first Cup win!

Lambeth :  I think Willy B (William Byron) is ready for the next step of his career. The wait for his first Cup victory will end with the No. 24 winning the 62nd running of the Great American Race, beginning a breakout season for the young driver.

Marcheschi :  Ryan Newman has been stellar at superspeedways since joining Roush Fenway Racing last year. At Talladega last fall, he lost to Ryan Blaney in a heartbreaking photo finish. It’s redemption time for the Rocketman.

Shoppe :  As aggressive as he is either blocking or making moves at superspeedways, Joey Logano is my pick to stay ahead of the wrecks and hold off the field to win “The Great American Race” again!

Sisoler :  Denny Hamlin showed just how good he is in the draft last year when he won this race, and proved that talent level for avoiding trouble and being at the front again in the Duels. Expect Car No. 11 (as Ken Squier would say) to take the checkered flag again at Daytona.

Tiongson :  Savvy, aggressive, but patient, Denny Hamlin knows his way around Daytona. Look for Hamlin to win his third Daytona 500, becoming the third racer to win back-to-back Great American Races.

TPF Stats :  The machine believes the defending Daytona 500 champion will keep the crown once more. Outside of the numbers of the past, his 2020 Speedweeks performance has been top notch!

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Daytona 500!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2020.  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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