Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiles while at practice for the NASCAR Daytona 500 this week.

NASCAR Daytona 500: 5 Bold Predictions, A Surprise Winner

The 2017 NASCAR season has arrived where there is a new sponsor for the top series of racing, plus it also marks the return of the biggest race of the year in the Daytona 500. If the Daytona 500 is anything like the races on Friday and Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, get ready for a long and exciting day of racing.

This year’s Daytona 500 marks the return of two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he missed a good portion of the 2016 NASCAR season due to concussion issues. Now cleared to race again, he makes his return to the Daytona track in pursuit of his third Daytona 500 win.

Earnhardt Jr. is the odds-on-favorite to win the NASCAR Daytona 500 race on Sunday with odds of +450, followed by Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing, according to Bleacher Report. Those two have very good race cars entering the Daytona 500 and raced well during the Thursday night Daytona races, leaving many to believe that Earnhardt Jr. and Hamlin will be in the front by the time the final laps of the Daytona 500 roll around.

Also keep an eye out for Kevin Harvick in the final stages of the Daytona 500. Known as “The Closer,” Harvick will most likely be in the mix for the win at the end of the race.

That said, much can and will most likely happen on Sunday during “The Great American Race.” Even with the odds in favor of two of the top restrictor plate racers in NASCAR, the Daytona 500 has been known to throw a few curveballs and bring surprise winners and victories many will never forget over the years.

Here are 5 Bold Predictions for Sunday’s 59th annual Daytona 500, which will have a green flag start of 2 p.m. as the race airs on FOX.

• Elliott Sadler will place in the Top 5 of the Daytona 500: No longer a full-time NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series driver, Sadler is still a quality racer and would have a Cinderella story if he were to win because he starts 40th in the Daytona 500. In his Cup career, Sadler has 435 starts with five career wins.

• The Daytona 500 could bring a first-time winner in the Monster Energy Cup Series, so don’t overlook the driver of the No. 3 car in Austin Dillon. Dillon has one of the most iconic car numbers in NASCAR and Daytona history. Each year his restrictor plate racing skills improve. Tim Daniels of Bleacher Report believes Dillon is a sleeper in the Daytona 500, and many should agree with that assessment as well.

• Each year, there is a veteran driver who can sneak up and win the Daytona 500 out of nowhere, and this year that driver could be Paul Menard. He has good equipment, is the teammate of Austin Dillon and though he’s not on anyone’s radar entering the Daytona 500, he’s a veteran of this race. If a break or two goes his way, he could be celebrating in Victory Lane.

• Only one Hendrick Motorsports driver will finish in the Top 10 of the Daytona 500. That might sound crazy, but with three of the Top 9 favorites to win the NASCAR Daytona 500, and with the craziness that the race brings with each and every lap, it is tough to say that the three best drivers at Hendrick Motorsports will all be near each other once the Daytona 500 is complete. The one that will be in the Top 10 at the end of the race will be Earnhardt Jr.

• The winner of the Daytona 500 will be veteran driver Ryan Newman of Richard Childress Racing. Newman has had great success and scary moments in the Daytona 500 during his career. In the 50th anniversary edition of the Daytona 500, in 2008, he was the winner. This is the year he finally can finish in first place for a second time in the NASCAR Daytona 500.

[Featured Image by Sean Gardner/Getty Images]

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