Longshot Drivers Confident Heading Into Daytona 500

Today is a golden opportunity for another underdog story to shine on NASCAR's biggest stage.
Longshot Drivers Confident Heading Into Daytona 500

Winning the Daytona 500 is at the top of every driver's bucket list. One thing that draws the casual fan every February is the unpredictability that is associated with this 500-mile event. Every driver feels that they have a shot at getting to victory lane, and the history book shows that is indeed the case.

The biggest names in NASCAR have conquered this race, but not all of them. There are many more that are one-hit wonders, with the Daytona 500 being their only career win in the Cup series. Last year it was Michael McDowell that shocked the motorsports world. Austin Dillon surprised even himself with his 2018 victory. Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, and Ward Burton are a few other names that overcame the odds.

There are plenty of underdog stories just waiting to emerge from the field of 40 drivers that will take the green flag later today. Starting positions are not as important as finding the right drafting partners throughout the race. Eliminating mistakes on pit road will also be crucial for any driver hoping to be towards the front at the end of the race.

Looking through the starting field, there is no shortage of potential storybook endings. Kaz Grala is back in the Daytona 500 after an improbable comeback in his Duel race on Thursday. He made the right moves on the final lap and got The Money Team Racing into the big show. “It went from puke to puke, puking nervous to puking excited at the end,” Grala exclaimed.

Another feel-good story is the run by Jacques Villeneuve, after qualifying his way into the race. The former Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula One World Champion is trying to add another milestone win to his impressive resume. The 50-year old is excited and grateful for his opportunity driving the No. 27 Hezeberg Engineering Systems Ford Mustang. “It’s satisfying and amazing because there’s quite a few times where I’ve been hearing, ‘OK, come on. You’re past it. Just give it up,’” the Canadian said.

“It’s not like winning the Indy 500 or the F1 championship, but at this point in my career the last time I tried to qualify here was 14 years ago, just to make the show is incredible because it’s a small team." Villeneuve will start last but the race was won from the 39th starting position in 2009 and just two years ago.

Noah Gragson will be starting alongside Villeneuve in the last row but the 23-year old is just happy to be in the race. “It’s really emotional to be able to make the race after last year,” said Gragson. “I’m very grateful for the Beard family. I wish Mr. Beard could be here, but we’re carrying on his legacy into the ‘Great American Race.”

For the first time in five years, Greg Biffle will be behind the wheel of a Cup car. The 52-year old is continuing his quest for a Daytona 500 victory, and feels as though he has a good shot from his 28th starting spot. “I feel like I’ve got as good an opportunity as anybody,” Biffle said. “It wasn’t until tonight that I feel like I got an opportunity to win the 500 for sure. There are 40 other guys, 39 other guys do, but I really feel like I do.”

It was 19 years ago at this same track where Biffle scored his first Cup win. The Pepsi 400 winner has finished 3rd in the Daytona 500 on two occasions, both with Jack Roush's team, which swept the two Duels on Thursday.

Biffle is back with one goal - to win the Daytona 500. “Makes me feel good for the 500 on Sunday that I’ve got a competitive car that I can challenge for the win,” he said. The 19-time Cup winner is confident in the program that NY Racing Team has put together, and wants nothing more than to shock the world this weekend.

Outside of these drivers, there are still several more that could find their way to victory lane this afternoon.

Aric Almirola starts 38th in his final Daytona 500 start as a full-time driver. His teammate Cole Custer is another driver to keep an eye on. Ty Dillon is back and would love nothing more than to do what his brother did four years ago. Daniel Suarez will be a popular underdog pick, as will Erik Jones driving for the re-branded Petty GMS Motorsports team.

Chris Buescher won the second Duel race on Thursday, and hopes to keep his momentum rolling. Ricky Stenhouse Jr has always been fast on the superspeedway tracks, and should be able to find his way to the front. Ross Chastain and Daniel Hemric will have upset on the mind as well. Justin Haley won the 2019 July race at Daytona and finished 6th again last summer. This will be his second Daytona 500 start after finishing 13th in 2020.

Three talented rookies will try to join Bayne as the only drivers to ever win the Daytona 500 in their first year. Austin Cindric starts 5th for Team Penske and Harrison Burton starts in 8th position for the Wood Brothers. Todd Gilliland will start 29th in the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, who will aim for déjà vu at Daytona.

March Madness is a wildly popular event in part because of the upsets. Just as anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament, the same can be said for NASCAR’s biggest race.

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