Two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he expects the stiffest competition in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX) to come from Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
Earnhardt said that while he feels good about his Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet, he sees his rivals as being very strong, based on recent performances at Daytona and Talladega.
Last year, JGR’s Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500, as Toyotas teamed up to take four of the top five spots, while Team Penske won the other three restrictor-plate races.
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And that will make both those teams tough to beat on Sunday, Earnhardt said during Wednesday morning’s Daytona 500 Media Day session.
“Watching the last several plate races, I think the Gibbs guys have the market cornered on being the favorite,” said Earnhardt. “And the Penske guys are really strong, so I think it’s their race to lose.”
As far as his own team goes, Earnhardt said he expects his car and those of his teammates to be good.
“The Hendrick cars are going to be up there trying to mix it up, but from the performance standpoint, over the last couple of years, Brad (Keselowski), (Joey) Logano, any of the guys in those Toyotas from Gibbs are going to be up there and they’re going to be working together and they’re going to be hard to beat.
“That’s where I think the standard is right now — where those two teams are.”
Earnhardt said the Hendrick operation is hard at work to be competitive.
“We’ll work on our stuff,” Earnhardt said. “I think we’ve got what we need to compete. We just got to make sure it’s driving good and we can get up there and mix it up with them.
“We were almost there last year before we spun out. We were kind of making a charge, making something work. Hopefully, we have better luck this time.”