The Daytona 500 favorites include a few surprises at the top of the list, which should come as no surprise. NASCAR's biggest race has not been short on dramatic upsets over the years.
Derrick Cope, who will start his 15th Daytona 500 at age 62, won his first NASCAR race in the 1990 Daytona 500. Fox TV analysts Michael Waltrip and Jamie McMurray both produced upsets at Daytona. And then there was 20-year-old Trevor Bayne’s stunner in 2011. None of them were Daytona 500 favorites.
The 63rd running of the Daytona 500 offers plenty of intrigue as a handful of underdogs have risen to the top during Speedweeks, joining some of the sport’s biggest stars as Daytona 500 favorites. Three are still trying to find their way in the NASCAR Cup Series, while one is still searching for his first career win.
They join some of the sport’s titans as Daytona 500 favorites.
Also See: Daytona 500 starting lineup
Daytona 500 Favorites: Leading contenders
Bubba Wallace — He’s fast and determined. He’s had the fastest car all week and just missed a win in the Duels. A win in his first start with team owner Michael Jordan is not out of the question. He's perhaps the biggest surprise at the top of our Daytona 500 favorites.
Aric Almirola — A former Daytona winner, he was dominant in the Duels. Only one driver passed him once he got the lead, and he passed him right back for the win. He could lead a lot of laps and emerge as one of the Daytona 500 favorites at the end.
Austin Dillon — The 2018 Daytona 500 winner hung around the front all night, and then made a spectacular move for the win. The No. 3 carries special weight 20 years after Dale Earnhardt’s death. History dictates that Dillon and his team should be one of the Daytona 500 favorites. This would be a popular win.
Denny Hamlin — He has to top any list of Daytona 500 favorites. If anyone is going to pull off a Daytona 500 upset, this is the guy they will have to beat. Hamlin is trying to make history with a third straight Daytona 500 win. He didn’t show much in the Duels, but that might have been by design, or a lack of teammates. He’ll be there at the end.
Joey Logano — He won the 2015 Daytona 500 and nearly won a Duel Thursday, so of course he is one of the Daytona 500 favorites. He’s as aggressive as anybody. If he’s close to the front at the end, look out.
Daytona 500: Six drivers forced to back-up cars
Kevin Harvick — It’s been a long time since he beat Mark Martin in a photo finish to win the 2007 Daytona 500. But he led 11 laps and pushed Almirola into the lead in the Duels, so he could challenge again. Nine wins last year showed he could win anywhere, anytime. At 45, he's still one of the Daytona 500 favorites.
William Byron — At 23, he's the youngest of the Daytona 500 favorites. He led 34 laps and had the car to beat in the second Duel before getting swept up in a wreck. He won the last oval-track race at Daytona last year. He’ll have to come from the rear in a back-up car, but he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, so it shouldn’t matter. He’s proven he can lead at Daytona.
More Daytona 500 Favorites: Don’t forget these contenders
Kyle Busch — He finished fourth in the second Duel and slipped into victory lane on the Daytona Road Course when Chase Elliott wrecked Ryan Blaney on the final lap. "Rowdy" is clearly determined to put a disappointing 2020 behind him, and his first Daytona 500 win would do it. He's never won NASCAR's biggest race, but he's still one of the Daytona 500 favorites.
Chase Elliott — He needs to make amends for wrecking his buddy and losing the race on the road course Tuesday. He’s also the series champion, so he could strike at anytime (see last year’s championship run). He's looking to join his father, Bill Elliott, as a Daytona 500 winner.
Three Daytona 500 dark horses
We rolled out six dark horses earlier in the week, and one of them (Bubba Wallace) nearly won a Duel and tops the list of contenders above. We’ll stick by two more from the previous list.
Ryan Newman — It would be a thrill to see Newman win the Daytona 500 a year after nearly dying in it. His scary life-threatening crash last year cost him three races and a long recovery. He showed in the Duels he hasn’t lost his nerve, flirting with the lead all night before finishing third. He returns as one of the Daytona 500 favorites, and the 2008 winner could write another feel-good story.
Ryan Blaney — He’s sneaky fast. He shows up at the front when least expected and has cashed in four times. He’s still perturbed over Elliott costing him the Clash and anxious for another shot. Don’t count him out.
Christopher Bell — Joe Gibbs’ next young star gave a mid-pack team a good run last year and was fast right out of the gate at Daytona. He challenged for the win in Duel 1, and then pushed Almirola back by Logano for the win. He also happens to have three of the fastest teammates on the track.