The NASCAR Cup Series will kick off its 2021 season with the 62nd annual Daytona 500. As we near this year's edition of "The Great American Race," two teams appear to have an upper hand on the rest of the field.
The first is Hendrick Motorsports, who had a strong showing in the NASCAR Busch Clash. They followed that up in qualifying, with Alex Bowman and William Byron locking up the front row for the Daytona 500, which is another huge nod for the young Hendrick Motorsports group.
Then there's Joe Gibbs Racing, whose cars were second, third, fourth and fifth fastest in Wednesday afternoon's practice session. While the fastest time went to Bubba Wallace Jr. in the 23XI Toyota, Martin Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and newcomer Christopher Bell were all running pretty strong behind him.
Now, it's worth mentioning that Toyota will have the least amount of cars in Sunday's Daytona 500 field, but the Gibbs group might just be better off sticking together. They have already proven they are the fastest cars in the draft, which forces the other teams to play catch up unless NASCAR makes a last-second change.
As for Hendrick Motorsports, they had less than stellar practice results, but who knows how hard they were really pushing at that point? Hendrick teams have been known in the past to save their best for qualifying, which could be the case here. Furthermore, they almost dominated the session, making them a potent threat for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Bubba Wallace is another strong Daytona 500 contender
Then there is Bubba Wallace Jr, who led Dayona 500 practice on Wednesday and secured fourth place on the starting grid after qualifying. While he will have to defend that spot in the upcoming qualifying duels, what are his chances of winning? Certainly, if fellow Toyota squad members from the stout Joe Gibbs Racing lineup decide to work with him during the race, his chances could be pretty high.
In the end, winning the Daytona 500 is going to come down to preservation and figuring out the car as the race goes on. Which lane is best for the car at different points of the race? Which drafting partner is best for the car, and how long does it take to set up a move for the lead? What adjustments need to be made during pitstops to keep up with track evolution and changing weather conditions?
Whoever answers these questions and manages to preserve his car till the end of the race has the best chance of winning the first NASCAR race of the season.
And this year, it seems like Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are the favorites.