As pit crews, drivers, and teams tinker with the newest and improved versions of their cars, and fans eagerly anticipate the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup series, stock car racing will slowly rev its engines for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 21.
And with a little more than three weeks left until NASCAR’s biggest event of the year, one of the sport’s most famous and decorated names has already made his pick.
The now-retired Jeff Gordon, who’s tied for second all-time with three victories at Daytona, told Fox Sports this week that two-time Daytona winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. must be the favorite to take the checkered flag and start the season on the highest of possible notes. Gordon claims that the Daytona 500 is Earnhardt's to lose.
"I think the focus and the storyline has got to be on Dale Earnhardt Jr.," Gordon said of his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
"Hendrick dominated the restrictor-plate races in 2015," Gordon added. "With very few changes, I would expect for their dominance or their strength to still be there," said Gordon.
"And, of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and restrictor-plate racing go hand-in-hand. If you look at how he's raced, he's been aggressive, he's worked really hard to maintain track position. He's had a fast race car, which helps."
That might be difficult for defending Daytona champion and sixth-place Sprint Cup finisher Joey Logano, who managed to climb ahead of runner-up Denny Hamlin and a third-place Earnhardt Jr. for his first victory in NASCAR’s seminal race.
But Gordon’s prediction falls well in line with Earnhardt’s overall success the last few seasons. The 41-year-old has tallied seven victories between 2014 and 2015, including the latter’s Daytona trip, and he boasts 28 top finishes and 42 more in the top 10.
Earnhardt’s also considered the odds-on favorite by most book makers across the country, but as there are several contenders standing in his way.
Two-time Daytona and six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is nipping at Earnhardt’s exhaust with the second best odds, followed by last year’s Sprint Cup runner-up Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch.
Both Harvick and Johnson have entered Daytona’s winner’s circle before, the former in 2007 and the latter’s latest coming in 2013, while the outspoken Hamlin and Busch seek their first wins.
Here are the drivers with the best and latest odds to win the Dayton 500 and the full list can be found via SportsBook.ag.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6/1
Jimmie Johnson 7/1
Joey Logano 10/1
Kevin Harvick 10/1
Brad Keselowski 12/1
Denny Hamlin 12/1
Kyle Busch 12/1
Carl Edwards 15/1
Kasey Kahne 15/1
Kurt Busch 15/1
Martin Truex Jr. 15/1