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Horsepower Fantasy Racing: Picks for the Daytona 500

A lot has changed over the years when it comes to NASCAR’s biggest event.  For a while, it never was the first race of the season, but rather the second.  The field of cars went as high as 59, while this year’s line-up is at 40.  The fan capacity has grown, and has since been overhauled.  The look of the track from the outside has an entirely different eye appeal, and the racing surface even has been changed out.

But when it is late February, this track still has the same appeal, and a victory in this event puts one in an elite group that spans decades.

Some drivers waited years to gain a win in this event, while others seemed to have everything fall right into place on their first attempt.  Some have won it multiple times, but each new trophy feels just like the first one.  It is the Super Bowl of racing that kicks off the season.  Two weeks is what it takes to set the field, and it is a race that is looked at more than any in the season.  Even without a championship, drivers that have this trophy on display feel they have accomplished the biggest feat in their career.

Now, it has returned.  The “World’s Center of Racing” has risen, and the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is ready to get under way for another year.

With that, the 2016 Horsepower Fantasy Racing League has also resumed to make a new run at a championship.  This season, 14 writers from across the country have descended on the league to decide a champion.  Ten writers come back from last season, one has returned after taking a year off, and there are three rookies looking to surprise everyone with their picks.

Now, without any more waiting, here are the inaugural picks for the league this year.  Who do our writers feel will be victorious in the big one, the Daytona 500:

 

Misan Akuya:  Jamie McMurray

I was doing a process of elimination I decided that there will be a repeat winner in the Daytona 500.  Back to back winners are rare so nix Logano.  Three time winners are rare so nix Jr, Kenseth, and Johnson.  That leaves a few options.  And out of those options I am going with Jamie Mac.  It might be time for a Big Mac.

Rob Blount:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No reason given.

Mary Jo Buchanan:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No reason given.

Stephen Conley (The Podium Finish):  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No reason given.

Billy Fellin (Richmond Times-Dispatch):  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I’m really happy to be back picking among all these awesome writers. It’s great to be back and I hope to add another championship to my one I got in 2014.

Anyway I’m going with the 88 at Daytona. He’s looked so strong and he’s running his favorite car.

Ashley Hobbs (The Podium Finish):  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I’m sticking with my stats and my gut!

Ashley Hull (The Podium Finish):  Denny Hamlin

He looks like he has a strong car. Thank you so much for letting me join your panel!

Kara Martin:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No reason given.

Ashley McCubbin:  Jimmie Johnson

He scored three top-fives in the four restrictor plate events last season. That is set to continue after showing speed thus far during practices, and Hendrick Motorsports proving that their drafting game is still on par.

Klarissa Mitchell:  Jamie McMurray

No reason given.

Dustin Parks:  Kyle Busch

This typically would not be who I pick for this race, but unfortunately my go-to choice is sitting on the sidelines healing up from an off-road accident.  So, I decided to stick with the injury idea and go with the guy that didn’t race in this event a year ago.  He’s not running any Xfinity nor Truck races at the plate tracks this year, so what occurred a season ago will not take place.

But, look at the momentum he has at this moment.  It literally carried on through the off-season.  His leg…completely healed.  He now has a championship as a driver, and won the final race of 2015 to get it.  Now, one thing remains to make it a full circle…a Harley J. Earl Trophy.  It is time for Daytona to get a little Rowdy!

Patti Rodisch:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No reason given.

Sal Sigala Jr:  Kyle Busch

Gotta with the champion. After coming back from his injury his outlook is a lot different. More focused and relaxed. Talked to him after his win at Sonoma and his demeanor was that of a changed person.

Rob Tiongson:  Denny Hamlin

It’s a hunch but I recall how strong he was in the 2014 Daytona 500 and Daytona Speedweeks in general. Thinking he finally scores that first “Great American Race” win for himself and for Toyota!

 

Final Thoughts:  Achieving a win in this race will make a career.  It launched Trevor Bayne into stardom in one instant.  No one expected Derrike Cope to win a race, but had it not been for a cut tire, it happened.

It brings about moments that everyone can relate to, and some of the stories behind the wins often mean more than the win itself.  Just ask the Jarrett family, because when Dale took the lead in 1993 on that last lap, CBS producers keyed the headsets to the booth, saying “Lay out.”  In media terms, that meant, “Be quiet.”  The next sentence was the main reason why.  “Ned (Dale’s father), call your boy home.”  It was as if his father had suddenly became the spotter, and did exactly that.

There’s the “Allison Wonderland” with Bobby and Davey finishing 1-2, Hendrick’s sweep in 1997, and the emotion of Earnhardt’s great achievement in 1998.  That is what this race means to everyone in NASCAR.

Someone will add to the legacy of Daytona on Sunday, and one man, or woman, can say at least for one season, they are the winner of “The Great American Race.”

 

Summary of Picks:

Dale Earnhardt Jr-7

Kyle Busch-2

Denny Hamlin-2

Jamie McMurray-2

Jimmie Johnson-1

 

About Dustin Parks

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