Veterans Remain the Best Option for the Daytona 500

Daytona 500

Getty Denny Hamlin (left) has the chance to win his fourth Daytona 500.

The Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway is only seven weeks away, and there are countless predictions about who will win the NASCAR Cup Series Crown Jewel race. There is no clear answer, but recent history and overall stats both indicate that a veteran will be the best option.

Per Racing Reference, there are 14 active, full-time drivers that have a win at Daytona International Speedway — split between the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 — that will surely compete in the Cup Series owner. Ryan Newman also has a win, but he does not have a set schedule for the 2022 season.

Of these drivers, Denny Hamlin has the most wins with three trips to Victory Lane since the 2016 season. He also has a long run of consistency with several other top-five finishes. His most recent Daytona 500 start resulted in a fifth-place finish while Michael McDowell won.

One interesting stat that further improves Hamlin’s standing as a solid option is his recent run of consistency. Hamlin has 16 starts in the Daytona 500 with an average finish of 11.94, dating back to 2006, but he did not crack the top 15 until the 2012 season when he finished fourth. He has since only finished outside of the top five on two occasions. He finished 14th in 2013 and 17th in 2017. Hamlin has been in contention for the win every other year, showing that age isn’t slowing him down.

Only 1 Other Full-Time Driver Has Multiple Wins at Daytona

Kevin Harvick

GettyKevin Harvick and the No. 29 team celebrate the Daytona 500 win.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver in Hamlin is the only active, full-time wheelman with more than one win in the Daytona 500. Kevin Harvick is the only other full-time driver with multiple wins at the World Center of Racing, albeit in different series.

The 2014 Cup Series champion first reached Victory Lane at Daytona in 2007. He held off Mark Martin in the Daytona 500 while driving the No. 29 entry for Richard Childress Racing. Harvick then returned to Victory Lane three years later in the 2010 Coke Zero 400 presented by Coca-Cola.

Harvick has not won the Daytona 500 since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, but he has remained in contention on multiple occasions. He has four top-five finishes to his name, including the past two Daytona 500s. He has also avoided some late crashes after ending both the 2018 and 2019 races early, so there is a possibility that he contends for the win once again.

What About First-Time Winners?

The 2021 season-opener marked a major moment in the career of Michael McDowell. The Front Row Motorsports driver entered the season with 357 starts to his name but no wins. He snapped the winless streak and won his first Crown Jewel after a last-lap crash sent collected Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and several other drivers.

There are eight drivers in NASCAR history that have won their first Cup Series race by taking the Daytona 500. Trevor Bayne, Tiny Lund, Mario Andretti, Pete Hamilton, Derrike Cope, Sterling Marlin, and Michael Waltrip are the ones who achieved this goal before McDowell. Will another join the list in 2022?

There are multiple drivers that could potentially achieve this goal. Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Todd Gilliland, Tyler Reddick, Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton, and Chase Briscoe are all prominent examples. Of these drivers, Chastain and Reddick are two of the top options due to their respective speed throughout the 2021 season, but there is no guarantee that either driver will contend for the win. They will first have to avoid all of the inevitable crashes.

The Daytona 500 will take place on Sunday, February 20, at 2:30 p.m. ET. FOX will provide coverage as the drivers kick off the 2022 season and compete for the first time in a points-paying race with Next Gen cars.

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