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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Volume 5: Daytona Picks

Today’s question: The 2021 Daytona 500 is this Sunday, Feb. 14. Who will win NASCAR’s biggest race?

Curt Cavin: The Daytona 500 will be held for the 63rd time Sunday, and remarkably, a driver has won in consecutive years only four times and never three times in a row. But I’ll say Denny Hamlin defies odds and three-peats, something Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) weren’t able to do.

And if Hamlin pulls it off, he’ll become one of only three drivers to have won the race at least four times. Petty won it seven, Yarborough four.

Zach Horrall: I’m a sucker for history, so a part of me wants Curt to be right about Denny Hamlin. However, I’m picking Ryan Blaney.

YRB, as us youngsters like to call him, is a strong superspeedway racer that has finished second in the Daytona 500 twice, including last year. Don’t forget that his last two wins, which account for half of his NASCAR Cup Series career win total, came at fellow superspeedway Talladega. I think Blaney is one of the more underrated drafting drivers currently in NASCAR. Maybe after this weekend, he’ll get some credit to his name.

Who rounds out the top three? It’s Blaney’s friend and the defending Cup Series champ Chase Elliott in second and his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano in third.

Paul Kelly: Man, don’t you two know that Daytona is an aerodynamic lottery? You’re sticking way too close to the form book for my taste.

Just look at the list of past winners. Alongside the Petty’s, Earnhardt’s, Johnson’s, Gordon’s and Yarborough’s, you also have Derrike Cope, Ward Burton, Michael Waltrip and Trevor Bayne. This is anyone’s race because playing the drafting game and timing are so important.

So, knowing that, my pick is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And I don’t think he would be nearly as shocking of a winner as Cope in 1990 or Bayne in 2011.

Stenhouse is one of the most underrated “big track” drivers in NASCAR when he keeps his aggression in check. He has a win in the July race at Daytona and two career top-fives and three top-10s at the track.

It’s been 10 years since we had an upstart winner at Daytona, Bayne in 2011. It’s time for another this Sunday, and it will be Stenhouse.

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