Denny Hamlin has to be considered a front runner to win this season's opening race. As a rookie, Hamlin stunned the garage by winning last year's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. He is smart enough to be patient and aggressive enough to make things happen. Last year, he was on the pole three times, finished in the Top 5 in eight races, and ended the year third in points. He was on the lead lap in three of the four superspeedway races last year. When they hand out the trophy, have the FedEx truck standing by.
-Jerry F. Boone
Denny Hamlin will prevail at Daytona. Look at the year he had last season to see how strong the No. 11 can be. Joe Gibbs Racing has built a team around Hamlin that works as a machine. I can't think of anyone since Dale Earnhardt who ran as well as he has. Besides, he already knows how to win at Daytona, having won the Bud Shootout last year.
Denny Hamlin is my pick to win the Daytona 500. The rise of this young driver in NASCAR was amazing. In 2005, Joe Gibbs saw him as a possibility in the troubled No. 11 car and he had three Top 10s and a pole. Last season, he amazed with a Third-Place points finish and two wins. I think he can win the Daytona 500 and do a lot during the '07 season.
Jimmie Johnson will enter Speedweeks on top of the world as the defending NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion, and he will leave Daytona International Speedway still on top after winning his second straight Daytona 500. Johnson won last year's Daytona 500 without the services of crew chief Chad Knaus, who was suspended for the first four races following a penalty during pre-race inspection. To win without Knaus simply showed the depth behind Johnson's No. 48 team. When you take into account that Hendrick Motorsports teams have won six times in "The Great American Race," the safe bet for this year's Daytona 500 winner should be placed on Johnson.
Jimmie Johnson will win the Daytona 500. Why? Because we have seen that when bad luck and being in the wrong place at a critical moment are not involved, this guy is, on average, farther up the field than almost anyone. On top of that, he really shines on tracks of a mile and a half or more. Having picked Jimmie as my No. 1 choice, I would hardly rule out his car owner, Jeff Gordon, as a real contender for a win.
Jeff Gordon is my pick. He's won the Daytona 500 before (1997, 1999, 2005), and he and his team know what it takes to win the race. Gordon put on a happy face after his protg, Jimmie Johnson, won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Nextel Cup championship in 2006, but Gordon and the No. 24 team will be loaded for bear in '07. He'll want to win his fourth Daytona 500 and his fifth series championship.
With engines grumbling in the garage area, producing a throaty roar down the backstretch, and creating an explosion of sorts as they power machines under the start-finish line, Florida's winter cattle call-better known as the Daytona 500-will have a limited number of possible winners. Surely not every team that comes here to go fast, suck on a grapefruit, and bath in the sun has a vision of victory. Drivers that make up about a third of the field, at most, fall into a category of "possible winners." So I slice that down to two favorites-Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Both are experienced on superspeedways, both handle the draft well, both know the wind currents, and both know the habits of the drivers they are racing.
So I'm out of space, and what do I do? My pick is Gordon by a nose.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will win the Daytona 500. He's due, and he knows how to win at Daytona. This year I think he will have something to prove, and he'll prove it!
We've all waited in recent years for a little of that ol' Ray Evernham magic to return. And, to an extent, it did last season, as Kasey Kahne led the Cup tour with six wins. Look for this team to rebound from last year's mediocre finish to the season.