Saturday, February 21, 2015

Daytona 500 Post-Practice Driver Ratings: Hendrick and Gibbs cars top the list

Not sure what to think of Keselowski, but I'm stuck with him already
LAS VEGAS -- Between eight practices, the Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duels, there is more than enough information to make an educated guess on who will win Sunday’s Daytona 500. It’s almost information overload, to the point where you have to throw out a few of those practice sessions, especially considering practices mean less at restrictor-plate tracks and some of the teams didn't participate in them all.

Perhaps the best source of information is how teams performed at restrictor-plate races last season because it’s apparent not much has changed. The Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports cars look fast -- just like in 2014. Their performances over the past week have just strengthened a belief most of us already had.

While my thoughts from last week haven’t changed too much, it’s fair to say I’m not as high as I once was on Brad Keselowski and I’m not as down as I was on Jimmie Johnson.

Initially, I had Keselowski as a driver who could break through the JGR/HMS stranglehold, but after watching him not do much of anything the past week, I have to back off a bit. I’ve already placed some wagers on him, and there’s nothing I can do about that now, but I’m in a position where I have to bet a little more on some other candidates than I would have liked.

Johnson isn’t one of those drivers I’ll be looking to get new wagers on, but I definitely won’t be picking on him anymore. I already made a few matchup wagers against him, but watching the second Budweiser Duel race – where Johnson hung onto the lead for the final 23 laps by masterfully erasing any momentum from either line chasing him – gave me the nauseous feeling that I had made some bad bets by going against the No. 48.

More on Daytona 500: Props posted at Westgate

Johnson still has some poor recent history at Daytona, as he’s finished 20th or worse in seven of his past 10 starts. But the way he battled in the Bud Duel – when he was already locked into the front row – was impressive.

Although these cars are almost identical to last season, I don’t remember it being as hard to pass at Daytona. Between the Sprint Unlimited and two Bud Duel races, it was as though every driver behind the leader was stuck in quicksand. They couldn't propel themselves past the leader. Matt Kenseth held his grip on the Sprint Unlimited lead for the final six laps, Dale Earnhardt Jr. held on for the final 17 laps in the first Bud Duel, and then Johnson for the final 23 laps in the second Duel.

In all three cases, an experienced driver knew how to derail an oncoming rush by manipulating the air flow – that skill figures to be huge on Sunday.

Also in all three cases, the winners came from JGR or HMS and the drivers chasing them came from from JGR or HMS as well.

The biggest breakthrough to matching class with JGR and HMS was Martin Truex Jr., who was second in the Sprint Unlimited and fifth in the second Bud Duel. He’s had only one top-10 finish in 19 points-paying Daytona races over his career, but it’s clear by his performances over the last week that he’s up for the challenge of slaying giants on Sunday.

Here’s a look at our final ratings for the Daytona 500, which project each driver’s chance at winning. As with any plate race, it’s a crap shoot. Up to 35 drivers have a legitimate shot to win, as opposed to next week at Atlanta where maybe only 15 have a chance.

Enjoy the race and 2015 NASCAR season!

Read More Here.........Final Daytona 500 Driver Ratings

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