How many cars are capable of winning the Daytona 500?
Photo by Patrick Smith / NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR Media Day logo from Daytona Beach, Florida.
43 drivers will run in next Sunday’s Daytona 500, all with a possible chance of winning NASCAR’s biggest race. As ESPN’s Allen Bestwick says, superspeedway racing is “the great equalizer,” enabling smaller teams to run more competitively.
But how many cars are capable of winning the race?
Drivers during the NASCAR Media Day in Daytona Beach, Florida discussed the question with members of the press with varying responses.
No. 11 Denny Hamlin
“Everyone says ‘everyone has a shot here,’ but realistically you’ve got to have half sense to win these superspeedway races and it took me like eight years to figure out how to win one. Realistically, there’s probably 20 guys that have the mental capacity to probably win the race.
“Anyone can do it if things work out perfectly for you, but if all 43 cars are still on the race track at the end of the race, 20 are smart enough to put themselves in the position to actually win the race, I believe.”
No. 16 Greg Biffle
“Probably 35 of them at least. What happens is the closer the cars get on speed the harder it is to pass. It is funny, we have always worked to have the cars so equal, so everyone is the same, but then you can’t pass. If everyone is the same, the guy in the front has the advantage.
“You need some discrepancy in the speeds of cars in order to create passing and racing. Restrictor plate racing maybe not as much, but as guys get more educated about it and understand how the passes are created and all that and all the cars are the same speed, it does become more difficult to get up there.”
No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“I think 43 are capable and I think that is what a lot of the fans enjoy about Daytona or Talladega for that matter. I think you see it throughout years past, different winners getting to victory lane that normally wouldn’t.
“Just being able to do that—we haven’t gotten a win in the Sprint Cup Series so you could put us on that list that could get your first win at a speedway.”
No. 27 Paul Menard
“I would say half of them have a legitimate shot for sure. Qualifying is going to be a big factor because I have heard there are 53 cars trying to make the race and that could mean some big guys don’t make it in.
“We will see how it plays out, but restrictor plates are the big equalizer obviously and you hear that every time that we come to one. The little guys could win a race and it’s a big opportunity for one of them. When you see some guys on smaller teams at Texas, they don’t have a bounce in their step because they are going to race for 20th but they come here and they have a legitimate shot.”
No. 34 David Ragan
“I think all 43 have an opportunity to win but teams and equipment might take a few of them out. 500 miles is a test on your engine, your pit crews have to be flawless so realistically probably about 30 guys.
“I think we will have a good shot to win and we are going to be one of those teams mid-pack throughout practice and qualifying and we will have a shot to win if we can play our cards and strategy right and have a little luck. That is what is great about the Daytona 500. It is a long race and you have to be there at the end but there are opportunities for guys to win this race that might now have a chance to win at Atlanta.”
No. 46 Michael Annett
“That’s the cool thing about the Daytona 500. If 43 cars start, then 43 cars have a chance. We’ve seen that with a lot of superspeedway races all the way back to the Derrick Cope win.
“If your equipment holds up and if you get to the end, come that last lap everyone has a chance. That’s probably why some of the smaller teams circle those superspeedways because if you keep yourself in the top-30 of owners’ points there’s those four races where you have a really good chance of getting yourself in the Chase.”
No. 51 Justin Allgaier
“If you haven’t crashed by the end of the race then all 43 [can win it]. The really crazy thing about this race is that any strength you have are kind of muted and any weakness that you have are the same. They’re just not there. If it comes down to a car leading a pack to the checkered, it will take a good car.
“A guy that has a mediocre or bad car won’t lead a pack. That’s not to say he won’t get shoved by someone who has a better car or won’t get carried up through the field. It will make an interesting dynamic. I think we have as good a quality race car through the field as we have in a long time.
“We have a lot of teams that want to be here and run the full distance and be competitive. That’s exciting for me. I love that aspect of it and the reinvigoration of the teams and seeing more passion and effort being put into a lot of this.”