Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
February 23, 2017
The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season will kick off with the biggest race of the year Sunday in the form of the Daytona 500, and all 40 drivers in the field will have a chance to set the tone for a long and arduous campaign.
The first row of starters was determined through qualifying, as Chase Elliott secured the pole and Dale Earnhardt Jr. grabbed the No. 2 spot. The rest of the field will be set by the results of Thursday’s Can-Am Duels.
Although only the top two finishers count for starting position purposes, here is a full rundown of the Daytona 500 qualifying times, along with a look at the current betting odds and which drivers stand out as the biggest threats to take the checkered flag.
|Daytona 500 Qualifying Results|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||46.665|
|5||Martin Truex Jr.||46.8|
|13||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||46.874|
|Daytona 500 Driver Odds|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||9-2|
|Martin Truex Jr.||14-1|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||66-1|
Drivers to Watch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Despite missing the final 18 races of 2016 due to a concussion, Earnhardt seemingly hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the track with a second-place qualifying run to his credit.
Junior is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, and with four Cup Series wins at Daytona International Speedway to his credit, he is the winningest active driver at the track.
Earnhardt also has the second-best average finish at Daytona among active drivers, and that makes him the favorite to enter victory lane.
According to Chase Wilhelm of FoxSports.com, however, Dale Jr. is well aware that he needs to drive with complete confidence in order to prevail: “I know when I get in the car, I can’t have any concern or worry, or I’ll drive completely different. I know what result I can get by driving without fear and I know what kind of result I’ll get if I drive with even a sliver of apprehension. I just won’t be able to go out there and win the race.”
Once you second-guess yourself one time, it snowballs and it just continues throughout the rest of the race. To be able to win the qualifying race and win the Daytona 500, you’ve got to race with no fear.
Earnhardt has been an aggressive driver over the course of his career, and that has served him well at restrictor-plate tracks such as Daytona.
Although the environment will be completely different when the race begins, Earnhardt’s performance in qualifying suggests he is ready to vie for his third career Daytona 500 triumph.
As the defending Daytona 500 champion, Hamlin enters this year’s Great American Race as one of the top drivers to beat.
Last year’s 500 marked Hamlin’s first win at Daytona International Speedway, and he did so in dramatic fashion over Martin Truex Jr., as seen in the following tweet courtesy of NASCAR on NBC:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
One year ago today @dennyhamlin won the #Daytona500 after the closest finish in race history 🏆🏁 https://t.co/UrbksL25FP
2/21/2017, 4:10:14 PM
After winning the 2016 Daytona 500 and running well at a number of restrictor-plate tracks, Hamlin has a great deal of confidence on his side, per ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass:
We’ve run up front at every superspeedway race and over the last four years. I feel like we’ve been a team to win just about every restrictor-plate race.
I feel as confident as any that we can go out there and do it again. … I feel like I’ve learned a few things over the last few years that have increased my odds of winning these races.
Hamlin is still in search of his first NASCAR Cup Series championship, and winning the Daytona 500 for the second year in a row would go a long way toward establishing him as a contender.
There is an element of luck involved with succeeding at Daytona since avoiding crashes is a big part of the equation, but in terms of tactics and execution, Hamlin has everything needed to win.
While Austin Dillon has yet to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, he has been more consistent than anyone at Daytona.
With an average finish of 11.7 in seven career Daytona starts, Dillon is tops among active drivers in that department.
He has five top-10 finishes and one top-five result to his credit, but he believes he is ready to take the next step.
According to Tom Jensen of FoxSports.com, Dillon has been exploring every avenue and has an idea of what he has to do in order to contend for a win: “To take it to that next level, I’ve watched a lot of tape. Seeing what it’s going to take. I sat down with our engineers and crew chiefs, and I think the biggest thing is just getting a little bit more aggressive in the side-drafting department.”
It is easy to look past Dillon due to the star power in the field and his lack of a victory, but he has been trending in the right direction at Daytona and has a golden opportunity to make his first win a memorable one.