If there is a true sentimental favorite among the 43 drivers who will compete for NASCAR glory in Sunday’s 57th annual Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon is the obvious choice.
Make his final appearance in the sport’s marquee event, the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion will lead the field to the green flag after capturing the pole in dramatic fashion.
But will he be the one celebrating in Victory Lane at day’s end?
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In 22 Daytona 500 appearances, Gordon has three wins — most among all active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. One of those victories — in 1999 — came from the pole.
Throughout the course of his legendary career, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has collected six points-paying wins at The World Center of Racing, on top of leading 623 laps and netting 20 top 10s over the course 44 outings.
If you believe in good karma, Gordon would seem to have plenty of it this weekend. It’s his 23rd and final start in a race that is by far the biggest on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
How fitting would it be for the Hendrick Motorsports driver to open his final full season by winning an event he’s vowed to never attempt again?
After capturing the his second career Daytona 500 pole for his final start in The Great American Race, the stars already seem to be aligning in Gordon’s favor.
And you can believe that just about everyone — NASCAR’s top brass included — wouldn’t mind seeing Gordon spray champagne and hoist Daytona’s coveted Harley J. Earl trophy come Sunday afternoon.
3. HELP IS ON THE WAY
More than any teammates in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsports drivers have a history of helping each other and drafting together at Daytona and Talladega — particularly in the closing laps.
While the elimination of tandem drafting makes the opportunities for Hendrick drivers to hook up not as numerous as they were just a few years ago, having a reliable drafting partner remains crucial to success at the 2.5-mile Daytona tri-oval.