[Dear Readers: Please in the comments below tell me your winner picks and why. If I get enough responses, I will put a piece together and post it. Thank you.]
I am going to put the odds aside and pick the winner for the Daytona 500. My focus is the Elite Eight, which I define as drivers with expected winning chances twice that of the field average. I defined this group in a prior post. Within this group, Tony Stewart is really a great choice. He had a phenomenal run in 2011 and has shown very good form so far in the Shootout and the Duel. He has not won the Daytona 500 in his career (second in 1999 and third in 2008), which I am sure adds to his motivation to win. But I won't pick him. Prior to last year, his track record is very good but not great. Plus how much longer could he sustain this momentum?
Carl Edwards has had a stellar run of consistency and he has the pole, but he doesn't seem to have the finishing instinct to come up top. He shockingly won only once last year out of 19 top five finishes.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the emotional favorite of many, but there isn't a clear reason to pick him. I think his winless streak will extend to 130 after this race.
Jimmy Johnson was a power house up until last year. He lost something and nothing seems to indicate that he has regained the spark. Still an excellent driver and a good choice, but not the best. Jeff Gordon is also a good selection but not the best. Same goes for Kasey Kahne. Nothing jumps at me that these guys should be picked to win.
This leaves two Elite Eight drivers: Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Both are great choices. Between these two drivers, I pick Kevin Harvick. In terms of average position finish of all races, Kevin Harvick ranked first in 2010 and second in 2011, just behind Carl Edwards. He has also found a strong ability to finish races. In 2011, he won 4 races (his career high was 5 in 2006) out of 9 top five finishes and 19 top ten finishes. He was third in terms of Sprint Cup points last year behind Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. He has already won the Daytona 500 in 2007 starting at the 34th spot. This year, he will start at the 13th spot.
So there you have it. My top pick for the Daytona 500 this year is Kevin Harvick.