Daytona Beach, Fla – NASCAR hasn’t done themselves any favors the last few years when it comes to qualifying for the season opening Daytona 500. Most have now considered qualifying for the big race slightly rigged. Whether it is or not, I’m not one to say as I have no direct knowledge or involvement of anything sketchy going on. But, when they qualify for the race one full week before the actual race itself, and promote the pole winner for the next seven days until the green flag drops the following week, it does make sense that they’d want a great story to promote themselves and this race leading up to their Super Bowl of the season.
In 2013, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole for the prestigious race. In 2014, Austin Dillon, a rookie that season, won the pole for the Daytona 500 as it was the first time the No. 3 Chevrolet had been back on the Daytona International Speedway in Cup action since Dale Earnhardt tragically passed away in that same number in the Daytona 500 back in 2001.
In 2015, Jeff Gordon won the pole for what would be his final Daytona 500 start. He announced that offseason that he would retire after the 2015 season, so it was fitting that Gordon would win the pole in his last ‘500 start. Then, another rookie in Chase Elliott won the pole in the famed No. 24 Chevrolet last year. Again, a great story of a second generation driver winning the pole in the famed No. 24.
So, to put it bluntly, the last four pole winners for the Daytona 500 were a female, the No. 3 in its first race back, Gordon in his final Daytona 500 start and Gordon’s replacement last year.
Who’s next then?
If I’m following the “trend” I’m going to go with Dale Earnhardt Jr. to put his No. 88 Chevrolet on the pole for next Sunday’s 59th annual Daytona 500. NASCAR’s most popular driver missed the final 18 races in 2016 due to “concussion-like symptoms.” Everyone wondered if he’d even come back from it. Now, he’s not only is coming back, but he’s returning to his No. 88 Chevrolet at Daytona, and as a married man at that.
What better story than NASCAR’s most popular driver winning the pole in his first race back from injury?
Plus, it wouldn’t look entirely fishy either. Earnhardt won the pole for the Daytona 500 back in 2011 and his organization Hendrick Motorsports has won the last two straight Daytona 500 poles. Plus, Chevy has won all four poles in this recent trend, so why not a fifth on Sunday afternoon? They’ve won it eight of the last nine years.
Put your money on Earnhardt this weekend.