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Podium Preview: Daytona 500

Jimmie Johnson seeks his third Daytona 500 win.

Jimmie Johnson seeks his third Daytona 500 win.

There’s no other place like Daytona International Speedway.  Many legends have raised their arms in victory at this mammoth venue.  Others have walked away from this track in frustration.  No matter the era, the pursuit of winning the Daytona 500 remains ever so desirable and prestigious.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s columnists, Amanda Shoopman, Ashley Hobbs, Christina Bowman, Cody Shoppe, Jose Acero Jr, Kathleen Cassidy, Katie Coople, Kobe Lambeth, and Stephen Conley will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.  This weekend, we evaluate some of the driver and team changes and the potential for last lap antics in the Daytona 500!

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Question 1
So many changes, so many different pretty colors.

So many changes, so many different pretty colors.

Of the plethora of driver and team changes heading into 2019, which do you think will find immediate success in terms of contending for wins in the early going?

Acero :  Oh boy, with all the new driver, team and crew chief combos that were formed this off season, one to keep an eye on is Truex Jr. He was already making noise being a satellite driver for JGR, now being with the team in the 19 look for MTJ to win right from the get go!

Cassidy :  Not a full change but I will argue the shuffle for Jimmie Johnson will play a HUGE factor into his season. I think Chad and Jimmie got comfortable in their many years together. I think the separation will be great for both parties – as we have already seen in the first Daytona weekend.

Conley : It’s hard to bet against Byron and Knaus, but I think the addition of Kurt Busch to Ganassi will have a major impact on that team. Kurt’s experience matches with his aggressive drive style with match well with what Larson does. Those two will work well together and I think Kurt’s insight and ability’s to break down a car will do great things for CGR.

Copple :  I am keeping my eye on Jimmie Johnson. He and Chad had been the longest pairing in the garage, so this change up is HUGE. And with the Clash win, albeit rain-shortened, that will give Jimmie a huge push going into the start of the season. Plus, he has a new sponsor. He’s coming off of a winless season. He just needs a fresh start, and he’s getting it.

Lambeth :  The move to Joe Gibbs Racing will provide Martin Truex Jr. with the best opportunity to find immediate success. The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion leaves Furniture Row Racing, which ceased operations after Homestead, replacing Daniel Suarez in the No. 19 Toyota Camry. Although this particular team experienced some bad luck with Suarez, I believe that Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn will continue their winning ways. JGR made a smart move to keep this duo together.

Shoppe :  Many people are talking about Martin Truex Jr and Cole Pearn joining JGR this year but I am looking at the team that was arguably the best group of all last year and a driver who was anything but. I’m talking about Stewart – Haas Racing and Daniel Suarez! This is a pairing I see doing great things not only this year but for years to come. Similar to the situation with Joey Logano, Suarez will shine with a new opportunity and a team that is behind him and believes in his abilities!  

Sisoler :  It would be crazy, given William Byron’s pace and Chad Knaus’ proven brilliance, to not pick the former sim-racer to grab his first career Cup victory in 2019. That being said, with Hendrick’s renewed speed, Knaus’ old driver, Jimmie Johnson, is gonna be a big threat as well with new crew chief Kevin Meendering, and don’t overlook the new driver for JGR: Martin Truex Jr. He’s proven his ability to win, and in Gibbs equipment, he’ll be dangerous in the 19 in 2019.

Question 2
More last lap manic street preaching?

More last lap manic street preaching?

The past three Daytona 500s have been decided by a last lap pass.  Will this streak continue given the increased aggression in the waning laps of “The Great American Race?”

Bowman : When it comes to the Daytona 500, anything goes! Without a doubt I would expect at least one driver, if not multiple, to make a move on the last lap of the race to take the win. The question will be, when do they make the move and will anyone go with them? If they make the move early in the lap, they are dependent on other drivers to follow and push. Should the driver wait until turn 4 to jump out of line, then they would be banking on the draft to help them advance. The only thing I know for certain is that I would not want to be the leader coming to the white flag at Daytona.

Conley :  This one is hard to call. I this there is an aggressive nature with certain drivers at the end of these race. Will we see what happened in the Clash, or repeat of last year? I don’t think so. But, knowing that a spot in the playoffs, plus a Daytona 500 win is on the line. Wrecking mom mentality may still exist. Especially if they can’t pass.

Hobbs :  That depends on so many factors! Will there be a late caution, setting up a 2 lap shootout? Will the new configurations allow for more passing in a shorter amount of time? How many cars will be left at the end to fight for the win? There are also unknowns that I cannot even think of. So, in a nutshell, anything can happen and predicting a restrictor plate outcome in any fashion is almost impossible.

Shoopman : I definitely would say we will see some major action in the last few laps, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that action includes a dramatic last-lap pass. Just this week, in The Clash, we’ve already seen that drivers are more than willing to be aggressive to get the win, so I think we should expect that aggressiveness to follow into the 500.

Tiongson :  I see this year’s Daytona 500 playing out much like the 2017 and ‘18 races.  In ‘17, that finish was heightened by the fuel mileage game. Last year, we saw aggression winning over patience.  It’s no secret that the past two Daytona 500 winners are among the more tenacious drivers in the Cup ranks. Look for more of the same this year and it could be Chevy’s worthwhile that they’ve gained a now former Ford Racing talent to their side aka Kurt Busch.

Friends, we’ve just taken you around Daytona for two action packed laps!  Before we think about the win, let’s look back at how things wrapped up last year!
While yours truly chose Martin Truex Jr for Homestead...

While yours truly chose Martin Truex Jr for Homestead…

...Ashley Hobbs prevailed to win her third championship!

…Ashley Hobbs prevailed to win her third championship!

Now, let’s fast forward to 2019!  It’s never too early to consider our championship picks. With that, let’s see who the new TPF crew forecasts as the new champion.
We're nothing if not all over the board with our title thoughts!

We’re nothing if not all over the board with our title thoughts!

Tiongson :  If the No. 42 team can find consistency and close out races, Kyle Larson will win the championship.  Surely, after several disappointments where they were unable to finish the job, namely at Bristol, Chicagoland, Darlington, and Kansas, this team and driver is ready to make it happen!

Acero :  Kyle Larson! “Yung Money” gets it done in 2019!

Conley :  Kyle Larson finally puts it all together for his first championship.

Bowman :  The first name that popped into my head was Ryan Blaney, so that’s what I’m going with.

Shoopman :  Ryan Blaney, without a doubt. We saw a lot of progress from him last season, and I fully expect that to carry through to this season and the championship!

Cassidy :  Brad Keselowski.

Copple: I have my money on Martin Truex Jr. this season.

Hobbs :  Redemption for Kevin Harvick in 2019!

Lambeth :  Hendrick Motorsports will show significant improvement this season, in comparison to a disappointing 2018 campaign. After winning his first race at Watkins Glen, I am witnessing a “new” Chase Elliott. The native from Dawsonville, Georgia appears to be a more confident driver. He will have a breakout season, win multiple races and become champion.

Shoppe :  Kyle Busch has the potential to rack up so many playoff points this year and be a championship four lock. I pick Busch to win it all this year!

TPF Stats: With a little bit of math, and a little bit of science, sprinkled with a little bit of luck, the numbers point towards another championship for Kyle “Rowdy” Busch.

Sisoler :  As much as I’d like to take one of the young guns being circulated in Elliott and Blaney, Jimmie Johnson’s pace here at Daytona to start the year makes me believe this is his year to grab his record-breaking eighth Cup Series championship.

Before you consider our race picks, Ashley Hobbs, our Managing Editor and Statistician, shares some enlightening numbers for you all to crunch for Daytona!
When you realize 2004 was 15 years ago, well...

When you realize 2004 was 15 years ago, well…

It's not about how you start...if you're an aspiring champion!

It’s not about how you start…if you’re an aspiring champion!

Friends, we’ve endured the offseason and we’ve seen some preliminary races. However, the Daytona 500 is here! Let’s look and see who we’re going with for the win on Sunday at Daytona!
Well, there's at least a near 40 percent chance that one of us wins!

Well, there’s at least a near 40 percent chance that one of us wins!

Shoopman :  Paul Menard, getting the win that was taken from him in The Clash!

Acero :  Menard will find his way to the finish line first!

Conley :  Paul Menard gets redemption from the Clash.

Shoppe : Jimmie Johnson will sweep the Clash and the Daytona 500 and win his third great American race! I don’t even think he will have to wreck the whole field to do it this time!

Sisoler :  With how insane the ending of the Clash was, it is extremely hard to pick who will win this year’s Great American Race. The top four Hendrick cars are a solid pick, if they survive the mayhem that is gonna ensue when the race gets under 50 laps to go. Erik Jones got his first Cup win last time NASCAR was in Daytona, but I think Jimmie Johnson’s raw speed will lift him to his first win since 2017 at Dover’s spring race!

Bowman :  Denny Hamlin is one of the most underrated restrictor plate drivers in the series! I look for him to start the season strong in Daytona.

Cassidy :  Ryan Blaney.

Copple :  Alex Bowman!

Hobbs :  Let’s see if some Daytona magic is around for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. in his second season.

Lambeth :  The 50th anniversary season of Richard Childress Racing will begin with the team defending its Daytona 500 title. This time around, the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Daniel Hemric, will finally earn his first career victory in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions, in the sport’s biggest event by hoisting the Harley J. Earl trophy on Sunday.

Tiongson :  I’m getting the feeling that Kurt Busch is excited about racing with the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team.  We’ll never know if he could’ve passed Jimmie Johnson in the Clash last Sunday, but with a win in the Daytona 500 in 2017, I look for him to repeat his feat but as a member of the Bowtie Brigade!

TPF Stats: Kevin Harvick comes off a great season and will not slow down.

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 2019.  

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.

Lastly, we dedicate this preview to the late Sam Bass, a man who made the world of NASCAR and motorsports much brighter and colorful.  If you were a race fan at least in the late 1980s, chances are likely that Bass designed that car.  We send our heartfelt prayers of comfort and condolences to the Bass family as well as his friends and associates.

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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