5 drivers who could be another surprise Daytona 500 pole-winner

The Daytona 500 is not a race underdogs or long shots win very often.

In fact, Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 500 in only his second start in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is the exception that proves the rule.

The last five Daytona 500s have been won by top-notch drivers on four of NASCAR’s elite teams: Matt Kenseth (2012, Roush Fenway Racing); Jimmie Johnson (2013, Hendrick Motorsports); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014, Hendrick Motorsports); Joey Logano (2015, Team Penske); and Denny Hamlin (2016, Joe Gibbs Racing).

That’s the race itself.

But the Daytona 500 pole is something else entirely.

Three times in the last four years, the No. 1 qualifying spot in the Great American Race has been claimed by a rookie: Danica Patrick in 2013, Austin Dillon in 2014 and Chase Elliott last year.

That begs two questions: 1. Will there be another surprise pole-winner during Sunday’s time trials (3 p.m. ET, FOX) and, 2. If so, who will that surprise pole-winner be?

Here are five possibilities:

5. Clint Bowyer

With only 2 poles in 397 Cup races, Bowyer clearly isn’t a qualifying demon. But he’s with a new team that’s with a new manufacturer and everyone’s got something to prove. That means they will be pushing it hard.

 

4. Ty Dillon

Now driving for Germain Racing and the No. 13 Chevrolet, Dillon ought to have equipment on par to that with which his brother Austin won the 2014 Daytona 500 pole. That means he’s got a chance.

3. Erik Jones

This would be quite the Cinderella story: Rookie Jones will be appearing in his first race for the all-new second car out of the Furniture Row Racing stables in Denver. Jones has a lot of talent and his car will be fast.

2. Ryan Blaney

The Wood Brothers always build great restrictor-plate cars and Doug Yates will make sure there’s plenty of steam under the hood of the No. 21 Ford. And the affiliation with Team Penske has been a benefit, too.

1. Daniel Suarez

For what it’s worth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that if a Hendrick Motorsports car doesn’t win the pole, he likes Suarez to do it. That’s a pretty powerful endorsement. And we know how good the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were at Daytona last year.