Sunday, February 17, 2019

PixeatedPICK: 61st Annual Daytona 500

Official 2019 hero portrait for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Paul Menard. (Chris Graythen/ Getty Images)

By: Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (February 17, 2019) -- Once again the time has come to begin another Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Once again the motorsports world will place it’s focus on the “World’s Center of Racing,” the Daytona International Speedway. Also once again, I will place my pick to win the Super Bowl of stock car racing.

Going into Speedweeks I had only one word entering my head when the thought of a pick came to mind: Penske.

Over the past few seasons, Team Penske has been a very competitive force at Daytona. Leading laps and consistently putting themselves in a position for victory, it’s a real wonder as to how there have only been three wins by Penske drivers at Daytona.

In 2019, Team Penske got off to great start with a strong showing in the Advance Auto Parts Clash.

Joey Logano was poised for an excellent result but was relegated to third place after rain brought the race to a premature end. Logano is the highest rated driver at Daytona currently, with a driver rating of 84.4. He won the 2015 Daytona 500 and 2017 Clash at Daytona.

On Thursday, Logano won Duel number two after a dramatic pass on race leader Clint Bowyer on the last lap. Statistically, Logano should be the pick, but I’m not going with Logano this week.

Brad Keselowski, like Logano, has been very strong in recent years at Daytona. Unlike Logano, hei has found himself on the short end of the stick more times than not, and has not been able to capitalize on his performances. This year at Daytona, Keselowski has suffered from miscommunications on pit road, was a part of the Big One in the Clash, and lost his roof escape hatch in the Xfinity Series race. Keselowski will be strong on Sunday, but I’m not sure he is strong enough to win.

Ryan Blaney has been solid in his Daytona efforts. He ranks 10th statistically among active drivers with a rating of 90.3, but no wins. So far, his role has been that of support for his teammates, although he has led 129 laps, 66 more than Logano.

Ryan Blaney’s 118 laps led last year was the most prolific time out front in the race since Davey Allison led 127 laps en route to the 1992 winner’s trophy. Since then, Blaney is the only driver to lead 100 laps or more since Tony Stewart led 107 laps in 2005. Both Blaney and Stewart finished seventh in those races.

Blaney is sure to be strong in this year’s Daytona 500, but he’s not my pick either.

The pick instead comes from a Team Penske alliance teammate… Paul Menard, driving for Wood Brothers Racing.

Menard has had a stellar effort thus far in Speedweeks. He led the most laps in the Clash before being wiped out by eventual winner Jimmie Johnson.

He again showed tremendous strength by finishing third in the first Duel on Thursday, being edged out by Ricky Stenhouse on the final lap.

Menard has been impressive in the draft, and one of the fastest… topping the leaderboard in the next to last practice session (Menard did not participate in final practice).

Menard is driving for the famed Wood Brothers Racing team, and his carrying the heart of a racing community on his shoulders after the passing of Glenn Wood in late January.

The Wood Brothers, NASCAR’s longest operating team, have five wins in the Daytona 500 - second only to Petty Enterprises. Their latest win came in 2011 with rookie Trevor Bayne, who was the youngest Daytona 500 in history.

Menard moved over to Wood Brothers Racing in 2018, and while he and the team struggled throughout much of the season, they were always strong at the plate tracks.

In 2019, Menard seems to have an added confidence in interviews and demeanor. He has the speed, his team has the resources, and with the alliance, he has partners to draft with that have proven that when they stick together they are a true threat.

For those reasons, my pick to win the 61st Annual Daytona 500 is Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard.

The PixelatedPICK is a featured column of PixelatedSPEED showcasing the pick to win the race of the week. Usually centered on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the PixelatedPICK may also feature special events throughout the racing world. Readers are encouraged to share who they think will will the race in the comments section!

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