Sunday, February 17, 2008

Daytona 500 preview

By Rick Morris

As an admitted huge open-wheel fan, I'd love to be able to make a shocking prediction that one of the invaders such as Sam Hornish, Jr. will shock the world today and show just how great these drivers are. But I can't, not yet. Maybe, hopefully, next year.

In previewing the field, I can't find much to argue with in terms of the conventional wisdom regarding projected order of finish. My initial inclination was to go with a straight-chalk Hendrick sweep of win/place/show with Jimmie Johnson, Lil'E and Jeff Gordon.

However, keeping in mind the fact that nothing ever plays out exactly as initially forecast at Daytona, I'm shaking it up a bit in my prognostications:

WIN: Matt Kenseth. I've seen many predictions that were off the beaten track in terms of deviating from the aforementioned bunch and a few others (Tony Stewart, defending champ Kevin Harvick). But EVERYONE is overlooking one of the consensus top five stock car drivers in the world in Kenseth. I know that he generally accrues points from finishing high as opposed to winning, but he's given off some statements this week that indicate that he is especially motivated by feeling overlooked in the whole media Hendrickpolooza. Plus, he's the third-best driver of the past three years on restrictor-plate tracks as determined by our standard deviation from the mean statistic (available in our free 2008 Fantasy NASCAR Draft Guide). If I'm going to go for an overlooked driver, I'll do so with a great one who has a proven track record at Daytona/Talladega.

PLACE: Jamie McMurray. In terms of past finishes, one of these three drivers is likely to be a fairly extreme longshot. McMurray won last summer's NASCAR event at this track and he is 13th over the past three years on our aforementioned standard deviation from the mean stat.

SHOW: Jeff Gordon. This one is kind of a gut instinct. It's easier for me to imagine Gordon finishing behind Kenseth and McMurray than it is The New Number 88 or Jimmie Johnson. Quite simply, if I'm wrong about Double 8 or JJ being out of the running by the end, I'd expect either of them to win. I could see Gordon being in the running but not having enough to finish. Again, I can't defend that scientifically, it's just an educated guess on my part.

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