The 2014 Daytona 500 Starting Grid, in full

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So, today will mark the 2014 running of the Daytona 500. Here’s the starting grid, and a brief outlook for each of the 43 drivers competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener:

  • 1. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet. Rookie and big media story, but a simple top-10 will more than suffice as a realistic result for his debut. Anything more is a bonus.
  • 2. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet. Will drop to rear with a backup car. Has never won a restrictor-plate race but will enjoy a methodical race as he comes through the field in his Furniture Row Racing debut.
  • 3. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota. Could well have won his Joe Gibbs Racing debut here last year, and could very easily win his third Daytona 500 on Sunday. If he does, it would be the first under normal race circumstances (2009 rain-shortened, 2012 rain-delayed til Monday).

    source: AP
    Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Hamlin. Photo: AP
  • 4. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota. The only thing holding him back from a Daytona Speedweeks sweep is history. Otherwise, the FedEx driver is odds-on favorite.
  • 5. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet. Consistent and under-the-radar, with few true “wow” moments thus far in his Hendrick career. Could make a statement with standout effort.
  • 6. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet. It hasn’t been 10 years since his third and most recent Daytona 500 win, but he could well pull off number four Sunday if he avoids the likely, inevitable “big one” that he’s been caught up in in recent restrictor-plate races.
  • 7. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were talking about Richard Petty’s race team rather than his comments? If Ambrose runs well Sunday, we might.
  • 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet. A win on his Stewart-Haas Racing debut would be a mild surprise, given it’s a new fourth team. But Busch is another who’s been too good to have not won the ‘500, and should be in contention until the waning stages.
  • 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet. Big name. Ten years since his last Daytona 500 win. Winless in 2013. A win would provide a nice book-end to Speedweeks after the 3 took pole.
  • 10. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet. Solid sleeper pick, with RCR engines and a tendency to hang around the lead pack if he avoids being caught up in an accident.
  • 11. Josh Wise, No. 98 Ford. Underfunded Phil Parsons Racing team actually scored a top-10 here with Michael McDowell in 2013, and an encore with Wise would be a great story.
  • 12. Brian Scott, No. 33 Chevrolet. Like Menard, a good sleeper for RCR. But likely to lose fractions of time on pit lane, and it’s only his second career Cup start. Although that worked out rather well for Trevor Bayne in 2011…
  • 13. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford. Like Ambrose, would shift the conversation away from Petty’s mouth to his iconic number. But does he have the aggressiveness to contend if he’s in the frame late? Doubtful.
  • 14. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford. The 2011 ‘500 winner is unlikely to repeat. He hasn’t done much in Cup since, and really could just use a solid top-10 or top-15 finish.
  • 15. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet. New team, new engines, new motivation for the driver who finished third here in 2009. Another sleeper who could overachieve.
  • 16. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet. A superstar-in-waiting, but this won’t be his breakout.
  • 17. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford. Team and driver are sneaky good on restrictor-plate tracks. He could end up in the top-10 late and you’ll ask yourself “where’d he come from?”
  • 18. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet. He got hit by a bike, then made the race. Small team seeks to complete the race first, then go from there.
  • source: Getty Images
    Newman and Dillon. Photo: Getty Images

    19. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet. Of RCR’s four cars, my likeliest contender. Knows his way to victory lane in the race, has the equipment, has the motivation.

  • 20. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota. The definite favorite to win if a big one happens off Turn 4 on the last lap, because he’ll somersault or flip his way to victory.
  • 21. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet. Would be a sentimental favorite if he pulls it off. Starts from the rear after an engine change.
  • 22. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet. Backup car set for the 2010 ‘500 winner, who has always run well on restrictor-plate tracks.
  • 23. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota. Making the field was his victory, with no owner points on offer.
  • 24. Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford. Happy to be in for his final ‘500 start, but will only score a result if he stays out of trouble.
  • 25. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford. Has had chance to win this race before, but needs that last little bit of luck and/or movement to actually pull it off.
  • 26. Bobby Labonte, No. 52 Chevrolet. Engine change means he’ll go to the rear. James Finch’s team has punched above its weight in restrictor-plate races, so that bodes well for the 2000 Cup champion.
  • source: Getty Images
    Stenhouse Jr. and Danica. Photo: Getty Images

    27. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet. Engine change, and will go to the back. Always a story line, and we’re preparing in advance for the Internet exploding if a last-to-first race happens. Still, restrictor-plate races are her strong suit, and a top-10 is very possible.

  • 28. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet. Famous name, but little else in the way of luck or past success that portends a big run on Sunday.
  • 29. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota. Literally nothing to lose for the 20-year-old in his Cup debut, in the sport’s biggest race. Bring it home on four wheels, and a possible top-20 beckons.
  • 30. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford. Like Roush Fenway teammate Biffle, close but no cigar in terms of Daytona victories. Has had a quiet Speedweeks thus far.
  • 31. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota. A practice crash and bad Duel result have not been what Vickers needed in his return to a full-time Cup ride. Here’s hoping bad luck doesn’t come in threes.
  • 32. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet. The defending race and series champ has had a miserable Speedweeks, and it doesn’t matter. He’ll be coming on through the field.
  • 33. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford. Like JJ in the spot ahead of him, you’d be a fool to bet against hearing from Brad on Sunday. Whether it’s the lead pack or not is still to be determined.
  • 34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford. Danica’s boyfriend needs something else to be remembered for this Speedweeks, other than him crashing into her at the Sprint Unlimited.
  • 35. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford. Two wrecks thus far this Speedweeks haven’t endeared Logano to the competition. Another case of “here’s to avoiding three.”
  • 36. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet. He’ll make his Cup debut, and has had thus far an anonymous Speedweeks. Not expecting that to change on Sunday.
  • 37. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota. The lead of the most dangerous late-grid row on the grid. The Truck race winner Friday night hasn’t yet had the marquee win of his 100-plus in his NASCAR career, and is going to factor into win contention.
  • source: Getty Images
    Harvick and son Keelan. Photo: Getty Images

    38. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet. Stewart-Haas debut plus extra motivation after RCR’s hogged the headlines in qualifying equals a hungry, hungry Harvick.

  • 39. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet. He’s back in Cup and he’s with likeable team owner Tommy Baldwin. Otherwise, not much to report here.
  • 40. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet. Like the other rookies, just wants to complete laps and potentially steal a result if he avoids trouble.
  • 41. Parker Kligerman, No. 30 Toyota. Great story, a great interview and due for a bit of luck after his crazy Wednesday and Thursday.
  • 42. Michael Waltrip, No. 66 Toyota. He doesn’t race often, but when he does, he’s the most interesting man to watch in the world of restrictor-plate racing.
  • 43. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford. He won Talladega last year – really! And he almost won the ‘500 a few years ago! You wouldn’t know it by the fact he hasn’t gotten much coverage this month, but another of those “sneaky good spoilers” if his car stays upright.

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

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The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

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