So far, Daytona International Speedway has produced a string of them. An unknown driver survives the crashes and wins the Camping World Truck Series race. A little-known Nationwide Series driver survives the crashes and wins the Nationwide Series race.
Will it happen again in the Daytona 500?
A late-race crash seems a near-certainty based on how races have unfolded in recent weeks. However, who will rise above the field and win under these circumstances?
Just look who has won points races so far this week:
John King literally came out of nowhere to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway on Friday. King started driving Late Models on dirt in 2006. In 2007, he ran a full slate of Crate Late Model races. In 2009, he raced as part of the Bill Elliott Driver Development Program and has also run in some UARA-STARS Series races. He made his NASCAR debut in 2010 and had run seven races in the series before winning in his 2012 debut — and eighth career Truck start.
James Buescher shocked the Nationwide Series crowd when he picked his way to the victory in the season-opening race. Buescher, 21, had 73 Truck and 34 Nationwide starts to his credit. Driving for team owner Steve Turner, he ran well throughout the Nationwide race, but was 11th heading to the flag when the field ignited in a massive crash. Buescher narrowly steered clear of the carnage to take the win.
With that in mind, which drivers could pull off a stunner along the lines of Trevor Bayne’s 2011 victory in the Sprint Cup race?
We take a look:
Aric Almirola has one points-race start at Daytona, and is coming off a Gatorade Duel in which he was bumped by Jamie McMurray then spun into Danica Patrick. Almirola finished 30th in his first race here, has moved back up to the Cup ranks full-time for the first time in his career and is part of the rebuilding Richard Petty Motorsports arsenal. Still, he’s in a Ford with Roush Yates horsepower and, as wild as things have been at Daytona this week, anything is possible.
Landon Cassill only landed a full-time ride a short time ago. He’s with the new BK Racing team, a group that has purchased the assets and points of Red Bull Racing, and is preparing to make his second career start at Daytona. Last July, he finished 26th here. But with the right timing and the right partner, he could hoist that trophy.
David Gilliland finished third in the Daytona 500 a year ago. While that’s somewhat forgotten, he has led 18 laps at the track. With an average finish of 20.857, he’s another Ford driver that would need quite a boost in performance to end up as a winner at Daytona — and would certainly be a surprise victor.
Terry Labonte made the race by virtue of using the past champion’s provisional. He’s with a small team with no major backing, trying to help a new group succeed and excel in the sport. Certainly Labonte knows how to win. A two-time series champion, he has 22 career victories, though none of those have come at Daytona.
Bobby Labonte has two pole positions at Daytona but, like his brother, has yet to win here. He was fourth in the Daytona 500 a year ago. The former champ is helping JTG Daugherty Racing try to build for the future as the team has moved to a new facility, ending its alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing, and brought crew chief Todd Berrier on board. A Daytona 500 win would certainly spark the group’s 2012 effort.
Mark Martin might be a surprise candidate on this list, but restrictor-plate racing simply has not been kind to him over the course of his lengthy and productive career. Martin has slimmed his schedule this season and will not be competing full time, but has moved over and joined Michael Waltrip Racing for the year. He has not only never won the Daytona 500, but also has gone winless at Daytona. In fact, he has an average finish of 18.3 at the track and has 12 DNFs here.
Michael McDowell has been one of the feel-good stories of the week after racing his way into the field with his Phil Parsons Racing Ford. In three starts at the track, he has a top finish of 25th and an average finish of 33.3. McDowell winning would keep this team going to quite some time.
Joe Nemechek has truly dedicated his life to racing. Now competing as an owner/driver, he raced his way into the field for the Daytona 500. Nemechek has made 34 starts at the track. He’s led 13 laps here. What a story it would be if one of NASCAR’s most loyal supporters could top the field in the 500.
Danica Patrick is obviously among the fan favorites to take the victory here. She’s also run exceptionally well in her recent outings at Daytona. To see Patrick at the front of the field would not be all that surprising. To see her win, though, would certainly put her in that category.
Tony Raines raced his way into the field quickly — posting a qualifying time fast enough to lock him in ahead of several other drivers who also had to make the 500 on qualifying time or through the qualifying races. He’s been careful with his car ever since, protecting it for the main event. Now, what can he do when he races it?
David Stremme is another driver who raced his way into the Daytona 500. Locking in on qualifying time, he’s preparing to make his seventh start at the track. He has a career-best finish of 11th at the track, has paced the field for three laps and has an average finish of 26.0. Stremme is driving for Inception Motorsports this season. How far would a Daytona victory take this team?