Podium Preview: 2021 Daytona 500

Undoubtedly, William Byron has his work cut out for him in the 2021 Daytona 500.

Undoubtedly, William Byron has his work cut out for him in the 2021 Daytona 500.

By and large, the 2021 Daytona 500 kicks off a new era for the NASCAR Cup Series. All things considered, besides kicking off a new season of NASCAR, new driver and team combinations debut at Daytona.

Although this season is the final year for the Gen-6 cars, the vehicle that’s been on track since 2013, there’s plenty of new information worth digesting. From Bubba Wallace and the 23XI Racing team to Daniel Suarez with Trackhouse Racing, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s equivalent to the first day of school.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam Lucas, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorSean Folsom, Taylor KitchenTerra Jones, and yours truly consider the new driver and team combinations and underdog Daytona 500 candidates.

Podium Preview: 2021 Daytona 500
Question 1
Certainly, Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing seem like a promising combination.

Certainly, Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing seem like a promising combination.

Of the new team and driver combinations for 2021, which one has the most potential for immediate success starting at Daytona? Which combination will likely need time to get their bearings this season?

Sisoler : Looking at the Duels, I’d say the new 23XI Racing/Bubba Wallace combo has a shot to get a win in their maiden points outing with how well it did. In fact, Wallace and 23XI Racing came about a half-mile away from winning its Duel race. Bubba was upset with himself for not winning that. But if he learns from that, he could be in contention for a Daytona 500 win.

And don’t count out the “Melon Man” Ross Chastain in his inaugural season with Chip Ganassi in the No. 42. After all, he, arguably, came a move away from leading the 500 last year in a Spire car back by CGR.

I’d say that, surprisingly, it’s gonna be a Hendrick driver that will need some time to get up to speed. Kyle Larson hasn’t done a full-length NASCAR race since Phoenix prior to the pandemic. And in the duel, his pace didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. As the season goes on, he will get there and contend for wins. But at least for the first week or two, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the No. 5 running midpack.

Hobbs :  For those who may have lost track, here are all the new combinations for 2021:

  • Christopher Bell (moving to the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing)
  • Alex Bowman (staying with Hendrick but moving from the No. 88 to No. 48)
  • Ross Chastain (moving from XFINITY to No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing)
  • Ty Dillon (will attempt the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing)
  • Erik Jones (moving to the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports)
  • Corey LaJoie (driving the No. 7 for Spire Motorsports)
  • Kyle Larson (driving the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports, formerly the No. 88 team)
  • John Hunter Nemechek (moving to the Truck Series)
  • Daniel Suarez (moving to the No. 99 for Trackhouse)
  • Bubba Wallace (moving to the No. 23 for 23XI Racing)

If these are all on the table, Kyle Larson coming back and Alex Bowman taking Finn’s, I mean Jimmie Johnson’s ride, will be ones I would expect to have some great things happening, starting in the Daytona 500.

In terms of taking time to get adjusted, anyone who is new to the Cup Series first and foremost. It might also take time for new teams, Trackhouse and 23XI to get dialed in too.

Jones :  I’m keeping an eye on Daniel Suarez and Trackhouse Racing. Between a consistent driver in Suarez, the backing and brains of Pitbull and Justin Marks, and Travis Mack calling the shots on the pit box, it will be fun to see what this “little team that could” will do. 

Who will need some time? While I am excited to see what Live Fast Motorsports can do, I think they’ll need a little time. B.J. McLeod has yet to race an entire Cup Series season and holds zero top-10s throughout his Cup career. I am truly excited for this duo, and the opportunity for Matt Tifft to still be in the NASCAR garage in some capacity. But, again, I think they’ll need a little time.

Lambeth :  Based on what we saw in the Duels on Thursday night, I believe that Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing have an opportunity to do something special together. Honestly, Bubba is proving to be such an underrated superspeedway racer. The No. 23 Toyota Camry is the best equipment that he has ever been in.

Now, it is the perfect time for him to capitalize on this golden opportunity to become a household name on the track. He proved that 23XI is capable of winning the Daytona 500 due to his strong performance in Duel 2. I think this will be a checkers or wreckers kind of race for a driver looking to prove that he will become a weekly contender.

I’ll go with Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports needing a little time to get everything figured out. It has almost been a year since we have seen Larson on the NASCAR scene. While enjoying a plethora of success on dirt tracks all across the country, he returns to stock car racing now on a redemption tour. I think it will take him, crew chief Cliff Daniels and the No. 5 team several races to get the chemistry working properly. I have the Bristol Dirt race circled on my calendar as a possible site for his first win at HMS.

Shoppe : When you start evaluating expectations for new combinations I think you have to give at least a little time for things to gel. When you look at completely new teams starting from scratch like 23XI, Trackhouse, and LiveFast, these organizations will have to have at least this whole season under their belt before you can really judge their success. 

Drivers moving around among existing teams however, I look for them to make some statements early! I expect C Bell to impress right out of the gate taking over the 20. On the other side of that change-up, let’s see how long it takes for Erik Jones and RPM to find success as both have a lot to prove! 

Question 2
Might someone under the radar in this pack win the 2021 Daytona 500?

Might someone under the radar in this pack win the 2021 Daytona 500?

Which under the radar driver has the best chance at scoring the win for this Sunday’s Daytona 500 and why? Defend your answer.

Tiongson :  While it may seem strange to label Matt DiBenedetto as an “under the radar” driver, he’s been so close with finally scoring his first NASCAR Cup Series win. His 2019 Daytona 500 performance with Bob Leavine’s No. 95 team was one for the ages with a pair of underdogs looking like genuine contenders before a late-race crash.

Notably, last fall at Talladega, “Guido” almost won before a controversial, last-lap officiating call all but eliminated him from the picture. If the Grass Valley, Calif. native, and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team get their act together quickly in the preliminaries, look for this potent combination to mix it up for the win on Sunday.

Conley :  It’s hard to call a previous Daytona 500 winner an “under the radar driver.” But, that is where Kurt Busch likes to fly. If he can get some help from his Chevy teammates, Kurt could easily become a multi-time champion of “The Great American Race.”

Folsom : I would say Erik Jones will be one to watch especially as he’ll drive the famous 43 car this year. Jones will be a good contender this weekend in the 500. Hoping to see him in the front and going for the win!

Lucas : First of all, I am happy to be back writing my weekly contribution to Podium Preview after having a season sabbatical away. I’m ready to dive back into the sport and have some fun with you guys again!

Although he has not had a quiet Speedweeks at Daytona, I think Aric Almirola will be a factor to win the Daytona 500. Almirola is one of the quietly consistent superspeedway racers in the Cup series. He has a win from back in the 2014 summer edition Daytona race, a win in 2018 at fall Talladega, and a Duel win this week.

I truly believe this will be his year to cap off the “MacDaddy” of victories in NASCAR. But, my thinking is that if Aric is leading the final lap halfway down the backstretch, he will not win. Besides getting crashed by Austin Dillon in 2018 in that scenario, you have to be in second place. Or, you must get a run somewhere in turn 3 or 4 to have a real shot at winning this year. The package rewards those who can stick together. And it will punish you heavily if you are left alone. The numbers are in his favor!

Kitchen : Erik Jones seems to have the best shot at winning the Daytona 500 as an “under the radar” driver. Though Jones has made headlines recently after moving from JGR to RPM, I would still consider him to be under the radar. Jones won at Daytona before in July of 2018 and finished third at the Daytona 500 in 2019.

Looking at another superspeedway race, Erik Jones finished Talladega last year in second place. His recent success at these tracks in his four short years (going on five) as a young full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, shows more promise than other competitors who have more experience at these tracks.

Though it is hard to say who has the best shot at winning this race due to the unpredictable chaos at the track, Erik Jones in his new ride at RPM has the talent to get it done. 

Torres :  Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a strong No. 47 Chevy last year. I feel like he may have a chip on his shoulder to do even better in this year’s 500. Sometimes, it takes a shortcoming for motivation to arise and Stenhouse is one of those guys. If he doesn’t end up causing trouble, he may be the man to beat. He usually is strong on the superspeedways. But, he’s a complete race away from being a champion of the sport’s biggest event.

His Hendrick powered engine should be able to compete out front, but if he can pull the feat off, I firmly feel his driver reputation will change for the better. Again, that’s if he doesn’t cause trouble like he’s done in the past.

Certainly, this year’s TPF panelists can’t wait for the 2021 Daytona 500. Before we dig deeper into the Daytona 500, let’s consider how last year’s Podium Preview championship finished at Phoenix.
While Terra Jones correctly chose Chase Elliott...

While Terra Jones correctly chose Chase Elliott…

...that infernal machine won it all.

…that infernal machine won it all.

Next, here’s our preseason NASCAR Cup Series championship picks!

Sisoler:  As much as I’d want to say a shocking pick to grab your attention, I don’t think Bubba Wallace or Corey LaJoie will be serious competitors to win a championship, yet. I’d like to say Kevin Harvick because I still feel he got robbed last season. But I think the odds are finally gonna fall the way of the two-time defending Daytona 500 winner. And JGR will deliver the first championship for Denny Hamlin.

Lucas : I never pick the right guy in the preseason, but we can always hope and dream. Denny Hamlin finally gets a perfect race at fall Phoenix 2021. 

Hobbs :  Honestly, I just want Kevin Harvick to get redemption from 2020.

Shoppe :  The driver and team that has stood out in my mind as the outright strongest year after year has to be Kevin Harvick and the SHR 4. For whatever reason Harvick has missed out on the title but this is the year he puts it all together! 

Kitchen :  With five Championship 4 appearances, my pick is Kevin Harvick, who I believe has the most potential to be the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. 

Harvick is coming off of an incredible nine-win season. And he has that same race-winning team on his side this year. Though Harvick fell short of the title in 2020, I believe that he can avenge that devastating loss and win the championship this year.

Tiongson :  Since joining Team Penske in 2013, Joey Logano has been a consistent championship contender. Logano has placed eighth or better in the past eight years. Look for “Smiley” to continue his consistent ways as he makes a strong bid for his second NASCAR Cup Series title.

TPF Stats :  The math calls Joey Logano to come on down to be the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion.

Jones :  Coming off a very ‘off-year’, I look for Kyle Busch to make a run for the NASCAR Cup Series championship. He started the 2021 season on a high note. In fact, he eeked out a Clash win on Tuesday night by being in the right place at the right time. I look for this return to victory lane to be the shot in the arm the Candyman needs in order to bring back the consistency we’re accustomed to seeing throughout the regular season and into the Playoffs. 

Conley : In his return to the sport and in the best equipment so far of his career, Kyle Larson becomes a NASCAR Cup Series Champion.  

Now, let’s unveil our picks for the 2021 Daytona 500, the 63rd running of “The Great American Race!”

Tiongson : While Ryan Blaney has a middling average finish of 16.67 in the Daytona 500, he doesn’t mind taking risks and doing whatever it takes to get to the front. Blaney finally breaks through to Daytona’s victory lane on Sunday.

Hobbs : I honestly have no reason other than Aric Almirola seems to be hitting on something the last few years. And I want to see him be victorious in his home state. After all, his Bucs just won the Super Bowl, so he has to be riding the Florida wave of sports right now.

Jones : Michael McDowell has been flirting with contention a number of times at the 500. Magic tends to happen at superspeedways (albeit intense magic!) and I think this is the year that he brings FRM a long-awaited third win.

Raynor :  Denny Hamlin is my choice as he’s good at being there in the end.

TPF Stats : It’s hard to win one Daytona 500. It’s even harder to win two. But Denny Hamlin has won the past two Daytona 500 races. Why not go for a three-peat?

Lucas : Going for three conseuctive Daytona 500 victories would be a heck of an accomplishment for Denny Hamlin. It’s going to be very tough for him regardless of the stats. Here’s hoping!

Sisoler : Do you have to ask? Denny Hamlin has delivered the previous two Daytona 500 wins to Joe Gibbs Racing, and as much as it would be cool to see Bubba Wallace give Denny and MJ their first win as team owners in the first points-paying race for 23XI Racing, I think it’ll be a three-peat for Mr. Hamlin behind the wheel of his car for JGR.

Torres : It may be 23XII’s debut on the Cup tour, but who’s to say they don’t have a shot of winning the 500? Bubba Wallace has had some great performances at Daytona in the past. This time around, he’ll get that maiden win that’ll create such an incredible story for years to come.

Folsom : Bubba Wallace has been fast and consistent all week. He has a point to prove to his new team and team owner. I’m looking forward to seeing Bubba Wallace at the front in the 500!

Conley : The 23 team has shown the ability to suck and push in the draft. Plus having overall speed makes that a very dangerous and front-running combo platter for success at Daytona.

Lambeth : Kyle Busch has literally accomplished everything in his NASCAR career but “The Great American Race.” Busch has two Cup titles and wins in the Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600, and Southern 500. The Harley J. Earl Trophy is the only major accomplishment left for Rowdy. However, that will change in 2021 when he takes the checkered flag and wins the 63rd running of the Daytona 500!

Shoppe : Kyle Busch only has a few things on his list to check off and this is the biggest one, KB finally wins the 500 this year

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the 2021 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

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

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com