Podium Preview: O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona

By all means, Michael McDowell wants to sweep the Daytona races this month. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By all means, Michael McDowell wants to sweep the Daytona races this month. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Following an exciting Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Daytona for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253. While the racetrack looks familiar, the drivers return to the road course iteration of “The World Center of Racing.”

Undoubtedly, one of the favorites for today’s race has to be Chase Elliott. Sweeping last year’s road course races at Daytona and Charlotte, the defending Cup champion looks prime for another victory. However, the likes of Michael McDowell, Martin Truex, Jr., and Ryan Blaney look ready for battle.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorSean FolsomTaylor KitchenTerra Jones, and yours truly ponder about the next first-time Cup race winner and a driver and team ready for a rebound after a tough Daytona 500.

Podium Preview: O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona
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Question 1
Certainly, this looks like NASCAR's best season after Michael McDowell's exciting first Cup win.

Certainly, this looks like NASCAR’s best season after Michael McDowell’s exciting first Cup win.c

After Michael McDowell’s feel-good win in the Daytona 500, which Cup Series driver is most capable of pulling off their first career win this year?

Sisoler: I’d have to say Bubba Wallace has to be up there. He ran well in the 500 until that issue forced him to pit road and took him out of contention to win. Also, his car at 23XI is effectively the fifth Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. So, he has to be a contender to break through with that team sooner rather than later.

Also, you cannot count out Matt DiBenedetto. He’s proven in front-line equipment that he can be at the front of the field on short tracks (Bristol with LFR). Also, last year, DiBenedetto showcased strength at intermediate-length speedways and superspeedways with the Wood Brothers.

Lucas : Experience over youth will be the song sung by our next first-time winner. I think I speak for quite a few people with my choice. “The People’s Champion,” or Matt DiBenedetto, will finally get to victory lane this season! Wood Brothers Racing has all the resources and faith to achieve this feat.

I know we haven’t been to any intermediate tracks this year. But Las Vegas will be a big gut check for the team. If they are able to contend and be a threat to the top-10, I think, later on in the season, they can get the job done. Also to note, the superspeedways have been very fortunate for the rest of the Penske-backed Fords. Maybe a “surprise” win at Talladega this spring could be in the cards.   

Raynor :  I think Christopher Bell. He was able to race with a lot of the cup guys last year and now he’s in better equipment so I feel like he wants to prove just how good he is now. He’s determined and is putting so much pressure on himself that hopefully, he doesn’t overthink his driving. 

Jones :  I think it will be tough for another first-time winner this season (I’d love to see the stats on that in recent years!) but if anyone has the equipment and talent, I think it’ll be Chase Briscoe. I know, I know. The Xfinity Series is different from the Cup Series. But, the kid can drive and once he gets settled in, I think he will be the one to watch.

Conley :  A rookie shall lead them. Chase Briscoe’s success and growth in 2020 as he evolved from that “road course” driver to an all-around driver. Even with the road course prowess and a win at Road America as well as the Indy road course, I think Briscoe is at the top of the list of first-time winners. 

Torres :  Quite honestly, I don’t really see anyone else scoring their maiden Cup win in 2021 just yet. While we have a couple of drivers that can get it done such as Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain, it’ll take a lot for them to win this season. 

The No. 14 team is in a rebuild and hasn’t shown much consistent strength in a long while. As for the No. 42 team, they’re also in a rebuilding year after Kyle Larson’s exit and Matt Kenseth’s underwhelming return. I just think it’ll be too much for both young guys. Great runs are coming, just a race win isn’t on the cards at this time.

As far as Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace are concerned, I’m still iffy about them. Reddick may be promising due to the fact the RCR squad are returning to be a top-10 team again, but it may not be until 2022 I see him winning. I’m not ready to put Wallace in the win column because his true tests are forthcoming. If they deliver strong results, then Wallace is certainly my pick to win next over the other three. As the old saying goes, time will tell.

Question 2
In this case, Bubba Wallace hopes for a quick rebound after a tough Daytona 500 finish.

In this case, Bubba Wallace hopes for a quick rebound after a tough Daytona 500 finish.

Of the drivers who had a tough Daytona 500 finish, which one will make the most noise in these upcoming races?

Folsom : Well with the way the Daytona 500 went, there were a lot of drivers with a tough finish! I would say Joey Logano will make some noise cause he has a point to prove after his bad Daytona 500 finish.  

Shoppe :  Well we are pretty much talking about half the field here! There shouldn’t be much of any panic for those who didn’t get a good result in Daytona as most of the field crashing out of the season opener has become the expectation. I expect guys like Bowman, Blaney, Truex, Byron, and Harvick to make up ground early. Just one win is all it takes to put the past behind you! 

Lambeth :  After winning the Daytona 500 pole and crashing out of the race, I think Alex Bowman will bounce back from an early exit in “The Great American Race.” He is certainly capable of putting together consistent runs during the first few weeks of the season and building momentum with his Hendrick Motorsports team. Plus, Bowman will want to prove to everyone that Mr. H made the right choice to make him the new driver of the iconic No. 48 Ally Financial Chevrolet, replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson

Hobbs :  It’s always interesting when talks begin after a rough Daytona 500. Sure, it is the first race of the season, but it is just 1 of 36 (or 1 of 26 to make it into the Playoffs). It’s not consistency that will help those who fell out very early – aka those who started the Daytona 500 in the morning and didn’t return in the evening. A few of those drivers who fell out early have a chance to make some noise like Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, and even Matt DiBenedetto.

Kitchen :  Ryan Blaney is always in arms reach of scoring stage and race wins, but they seem to slip through his fingers at the last minute. This is the pattern I saw for him in the 2020 racing season, making a reappearance in the Daytona 500 when “the big one” ended his race early. 

Though Blaney seems to have some bad luck, I cannot ignore how well he runs in these races prior to those tragic moments, especially at the road courses. 

He has great average finishes on the road course tracks and won at the ROVAL in 2018. He was also inches away from winning in the Clash this year but wrecked with Chase Elliott for the win on the last lap: leaving another box unchecked.

So, if he can finally seal the deal, I think Ryan Blaney has the best chance of winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 after a tough Daytona 500.

Tiongson : I would venture to go with Ryan Blaney as Ashley and Taylor mentioned. He’s become a solid, all-around racer. Moreover, we saw him showcase some speed and might in the Busch Clash ran at the Daytona road course. As Ashley pointed out, it’s not like the old format where you have 35 more races to make up ground. It’s 26 to make the Playoffs which means you can’t afford many bad days. However, a win between Daytona this weekend and Daytona in August could be pivotal.

Without delay, our panelists drove their way around the Daytona road course quite impressively! Next, we review last Sunday’s Daytona 500 with our race and points reports!
No doubt, Jones kicks off this year in style.

No doubt, Jones kicks off this year in style.

Meanwhile, that machine and a trio of humans lead the points.

Meanwhile, that machine and a trio of humans lead the points.

Now, Ashley Hobbs provides her numbers which she thinks will help you become the next Larry McReynolds!

Last but not least, here’s our picks for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona!
In this case, this quartet has the swagger for a Daytona win!

In this case, this quartet has the swagger for a Daytona win!

Tiongson :  I’ll try again with Ryan Blaney. I think he’s got the makings to be a winner at the Daytona road course on Sunday.

Torres :  Before Chase Elliott went on a monstrous tear on the road courses, Martin Truex, Jr. was the top road racer. While it’s nearly been a season since his last win on the weeknight race at Martinsville, MTJ still know how to get it done on the road races. If there’s a time for him to bounce back from a rather disappointing 2020, Daytona is a neat way to kick off the strong runs folks have been used to the past five to six years.

Conley :  Truex has a lot of success on his own at road courses and he’s one of the few guys that has been able to keep Elliott honest. This time, he dethrones the champ.

Lambeth :  I have a feeling that most people will avoid betting against Chase Elliott. However, I am willing to take a gamble here. This driver ran well at the Daytona road course last year and had the speed to win the Busch Clash until he crashed out at the Bus Stop exit. Martin Truex Jr. will get the job done this time around!

Hobbs :  Defending race winner – check. 38.5% win race on road courses – check. Started off the season almost winning the Daytona 500 – check. He’ll even start this race on the Pole, and it will be hard to knock Chase Elliott off the top at Daytona.

Jones :  Chase Elliott is no doubt ready to make some noise. After being “this close” in the Clash and equally as close in the 500, I expect him to take charge from the green flag and dominate to the checkered flag on Sunday.

Raynor :  I’m going with Elliott as he’s good at road racing.

TPF Stats :  I mean, does Chase Elliott really need a reason to be the number one pick for a road course?

Lucas :  Plain and simple, Chase Elliott is this era’s road course ringer. I can’t go against the stats with him!

Folsom :  With Chase Elliott being the 2020 Road course champ, I think he’s got the Daytona road course in the bag!!

Sisoler :  This race falls into the wild card category for me with how few times (one) that Cup has had a points-paying race here. Michael McDowell has proven to be an above-average road course racer. And during the last time at Daytona’s road course, he went up twenty spots. McDowell climbed from 30th to take 10th at the end of that race.

He has the momentum after his Daytona 500 win. And he is starting from outside the front row with Chase Elliott. I think McDowell joins Ben Rhodes from the Truck Series as drivers to sweep the early Daytona races this season.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona International Speedway.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into 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

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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