Daytona 500 Predictions
Racing writers Cory McCartney, Lars Anderson, Tom Bowles, Bruce Martin, Brant James and Tim Tuttle make their predictions for this year's Daytona 500. (Send comments to siwriters@simail.com)
 
Rivalry that could flare up at Daytona
 
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR
McCartney
Brad Keselowski vs. (fill in the blank)- Brad Keselowski's (pictured at right) many feuds last season were both spectacular (the Carl Edwards incident in Atlanta) and quotable ("Kyle Busch is an a**") and according to him, they're far from resolved. He recently told reporters that there's no "reset button" that wipes away all past transgressions. So basically, anyone who's feuded with Brad K. in the past should have their spotter on the lookout.

Anderson
Kyle Busch vs. Tony Stewart - These two already accidentally "banged into" each other during a wreck they both got caught up in during the Shootout. Bad blood remains on both sides, Logano's had a frustrating week and Montoya is, well, Montoya. Things could get dicey...

Bowles
Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Joey Logano - Both veterans should have cars capable of winning the race, and they seem to tangle at Daytona more than at any other track. One other feud to keep an eye on: Carl Edwards versus Brad Keselowski.

Martin
Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch - This rivalry has been brewing for quite some time and it flared up in last year's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Harvick put a wheel into Busch, spinning him out of the fourth turn. Although both drivers said at Daytona they are beyond their latest incident, neither has forgotten about it. In fact, at Media Day Busch said he has yet to pay Harvick back. At some point in the Daytona 500 tempers will flare but at high speeds and the increasing risk that comes with this form of restrictor-plate racing, there won't be any beating or banging. They will save that for the next race at Phoenix.

James
Brad Keselowski vs. The Field - He's had feuds and forays aplenty with his peers in parts of three Sprint Cup seasons and drivers, he said, just don't forget. Sometimes practice at Daytona provides the first slight, perceived or otherwise, of the season.

Tuttle
Brad Keselowski vs. Carl Edwards- Neither driver is going to give an inch to the other and in the close-quarter racing at Daytona, that's a recipe for disaster.
 
Dark horse contender for Daytona 500 win
 
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
McCartney
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Anytime we're discussing restrictor-plate race, Junior has to be part of the conversation. It's long been his bread-and-butter with seven career wins and 24 top 10s between Daytona and Talladega. The last of those wins came back in '04, but let's not forget he was second in this race last season and it would certainly seem poetic on the 10th anniversary of his father's death that Junior returns to Victory Lane.

Anderson
Michael Waltrip - The reason Dale Earnhardt hired Waltrip before the 2001 season was that, despite riding a 462-race winless streak, Waltrip was one of the best in the sport at finding and riding the aerodynamic draft at plate tracks. He's won twice at Daytona -- 2001 and '03 -- and he's smart enough to steal this race late even though his car likely won't be the class of the field.

Bowles
Regan Smith - He spent his Duel race pushing Kurt Busch to the win, is part of a single-car team - with no allegiances to anyone - and has his best starting spot in two-and-a-half years. On the 10th anniversary of Michael Waltrip's gargantuan upset, how appropriate would it be if this little team that could reached Victory Lane ?

Martin
Kurt Busch - It's hard to call Kurt Busch (pictured at right) a dark horse, but he didn't win on a restrictor-plate track until his masterful victory in Saturday night's Bud Shootout. By figuring out the new two-car style of racing in the Shootout, Busch could find himself in Victory Lane in the Daytona 500, which would be his first "official" restrictor-plate victory in a NASCAR points paying race.

James
Kurt Busch - The 2004 Sprint Cup champion has a series-best seven top-10s in the last 10 restrictor plate races, but has never broken through with a victory at Daytona or Talladega. He's finished second in the Daytona 500 three times. He made his Daytona 500 debut 10 years ago. It's almost meant to be.

Tuttle
Clint Bowyer - He's usually under the radar and what everybody remembers about Bowyer at Daytona is him finishing the 2007 500 on his roof and on fire going across the line. He's been fourth the past two years and was sixth as a rookie in 2006 and won the Nationwide race at Daytona in 2009. Bowyer knows how to get it done in restrictor-plate races and he's driving for a front line team in Richard Childress Racing.
 
Storyline fans should keep an eye on during Daytona
 
Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
McCartney
Expect the unexpected. The smooth asphalt is sure to make for compelling viewing as it results in higher speeds, bunched driving and will force teams to learn all new strategies as they throw decades of research out the window. But let's not forget the other uncertainty of this race: Who will win? Over the last nine Daytona 500s, there have been nine different winners.

Anderson
The obvious one is whether Dale Earnhardt Jr.(pictured at right), on the 10-year anniversary of his father's death at the track, can honor his dad with a win. Earnhardt has downplayed the anniversary so far during Speedweeks, but know this: He very much wants to win this race for his father, his father's fans and his family. Look for him to make a charge late like he did last year when he finished second in the 500 to Jamie McMurray.

Bowles
Two-car drafting. Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it boring to watch? Now that drivers have figured it out, with Daytona's new pavement this style is bound to dominate plate racing for the next decade. So that means fan opinions are more important than ever; if the ratings go down on Sunday, no matter how much drivers love the tweaks - and they do - NASCAR will need drastic changes to make Daytona and Talladega watchable in the future.

Martin
How often will NASCAR change the rules before the start of the race? In past years, the cars could form long drafting lines, but the shape of the cars this year has created a unique situation where two cars are optimum, but more than two cars in a line simply won't work. Also, due to the possibility of cars getting airborne in a crash, NASCAR wants to keep them under 200 mph, which means an adjustment or two to the rules could come before Sunday's race.

James
Fast and furious: The 2.5-mile surface is freshly paved, so racing should be fast, nose-to-tail and ... boring? Thrilling? What's your flavor? The one variable, driver Jimmie Johnson said, is the possibility of a massive wreck that could reduce the field by a drastic amount.

Tuttle
All eyes will be on Dale Earnhardt Jr., trying to win in the 10th anniversary race of his father's death. A victory by Earnhardt might evoke the most emotion in Daytona 500 history. Junior needs it for himself, too. He's gone 93 straight starts since his lone victory for Hendrick Motorsports in June 2008.
 
Who will be most disappointed coming out of Daytona?
 
Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
McCartney
Mark Martin - This is the race that has eluded him his entire career and it's his last go-round in the 500 in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, which is bound to be superior to whatever the then-53-year-old will have wherever he lands next season. Anything other than a win for a driver who has six top 5s and 11 top-10 finishes would be a major disappointment

Anderson
Jimmie Johnson - Whoever gets caught up early in the first of several Big Ones at Daytona this year. The track was repaved this winter, which made it smoother and-therefore-faster. I'm forecasting that this will lead to more big wrecks than usual. Who will be the big name taken out early? Here's a wild guess: Jimmie Johnson.

Bowles
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - There's so much riding on the son of the Intimidator, the 10th-year anniversary of his father's death sparking up memories and raising expectations. Winning the pole on Sunday seemed like the perfect start, but Wednesday's wreck plus open rumors of conspiracy theories have made Daytona a pressure-packed, unpleasant distraction. Running a backup car, from the rear of the field in the 500 means winning is unlikely at best - and when it comes to this race, especially this particular one even second place will leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone this time.

Martin
Denny Hamlin - Denny Hamlin's (pictured at right) woes on qualifying day, when his crew had to change the engine and transmission of his Toyota, destined him to starting at the back of the field in one of Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona races. If he starts mid-pack or lower, that could doom his efforts before the Daytona 500 ever begins. A slow start in the season-opening race can be a hindrance to a championship effort, but not necessarily doom it to failure.

James
Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans/romantics - He won in 2004, was a charging second last year. He is capable. But anything short of a storybook charge to the checkered flag will fail to resolve the plot and fulfill the wishes of a sentimental fan base stoked emotionally on the 10th anniversary of his father's death.

Tuttle
Tony Stewart - Among active drivers, he has one of the longest lists of remarkable accomplishments and notably missing is a Daytona 500 victory. Stewart has three victories at Daytona in July, but only three top-fives in 12 500s. He's been fast and a contender, but wrecks and the wrong decisions late in the race have cost him chances. Is it possible Stewart could win Sunday? Yes, but it doesn't seem likely.
Will Daytona, along with recent changes, be enough to draw fans back to NASCAR?
 
Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
McCartney
Daytona has long drawn casual fans, just for its Super Bowl atmosphere, and that's not going to change. Of course the question is: Will they stick around? The latest points change, while helpful to those who cover the sport, isn't exactly a game-changer. Outside of shortening the races or shortening the season, what NASCAR needs is a transcendent figure to captivate in a way that, unfortunately, it hasn't had since Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Anderson
It won't happen overnight. Many reporters following the sport have strongly opined that NASCAR didn't make enough changes in the offseason, but I disagree. If you keep changing a sport, I think, you begin to lose credibility with your fan base. The biggest thing that draws fans back to NASCAR? Easy: A major uptick in the economy.

Bowles
No. This race is just one of 36, and with the new pavement and extensive testing we haven't heard enough about how NASCAR's redesigned front end will affect handling at other tracks around the circuit. Even if the 500 is the best ever, we'll need exciting finishes at tracks like Phoenix , Las Vegas , and beyond along with new faces up front to help win fans back.

Martin
If Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wins, perhaps. But fans continue to struggle with all the changes that have taken place in this sport in such a short period. And with the instant gratification mentality of today's society, the schedule remains too long and the races take too much time to complete. As for constantly changing cars (anyone remember the "Car of Tomorrow?"), toying with the points system, etc. it has left many fans disenchanted with the product.

James
No. The economy has not yet released its grip on the workaday pillar of sport's fan base. Constant tinkering with the product has also likely led to some disillusionment. Things aren't fixed yet.

Tuttle
No. Daytona will be a huge event, but it always is. Changing the point system, qualifying order and Chase-qualifying procedure won't help either. NASCAR needs stars like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win races again and revive their fan bases. Sprint Cup was built on drivers who won races with personality and style and it needs more of it to bring back fans and the television ratings.
 
Daytona 500 Predictions Part 1: SI experts weigh in onthis year's Daytona 500

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