The 2021 Daytona 500 is lower than a month away with loads of unknowns heading into what is likely to be probably the most anticipated NASCAR Cup Collection season in historical past.
Whereas drivers resembling defending champion Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin — simply to call just a few — are poised for extra success this yr, there‘s the potential for a darkish horse to steal the highlight.
As we head into what’s shaping as much as be an ultra-competitive 2021 marketing campaign, which drivers are flying underneath the radar and will click on off a win to make a major playoff run? NASCAR.com‘s Zack Albert and Chase Wilhelm provide up their finest picks.
WILHELM: After William Byron earned his first profession NASCAR Cup Collection victory final August at Daytona Worldwide Speedway, he‘s poised to have a breakout 2021 season.
Byron hyperlinks again up with crew chief Rudy Fugle. Simply primarily based on some offseason conversations between the pair, it seems they’re prepared to select up proper the place they left off, which was a title-caliber marketing campaign with seven wins within the NASCAR Tenting World Truck Collection in 2016. Byron later went on to win the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Collection championship with JR Motorsports, whereas Fugle earned a Truck Collection title with Christopher Bell that very same yr.
Fugle‘s return injects new life into Byron and the No. 24 staff. The fruits of their rekindled relationship may very well be achieved fairly shortly, as nicely. Byron returns to Daytona with a points-paying win underneath his belt, whereas additionally incomes a qualifying race victory earlier than final yr‘s working of The Nice American Race.
Another merchandise value noting: Byron can be robust on highway programs. The 23-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver earned a pair of top-10 finishes final yr — an eighth place on the Daytona Worldwide Speedway Street Course and a sixth place on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. With seven highway programs on the schedule this yr, that doubtlessly serves as seven possibilities for victory if he can undergo teammate Chase Elliott to attain it.
Byron ought to be in your radar as a multi-race winner and playoff menace this season, and rightfully so.
ALBERT: Strong choose, however let’s dive somewhat deeper into the pool of 2021 Cup Collection darkish horses, particularly the quick record of first-year drivers.
Chase Briscoe carries a profitable pedigree from the NASCAR Xfinity Collection into his rookie Cup season, shifting into the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford final pushed by Clint Bowyer. Briscoe made waves final yr by boldly predicting that he’d want no less than an eight-win complete for his season to be thought of successful. He wound up besting that preseason objective, visiting Victory Lane 9 occasions, main greater than 1,000 laps and clinching a spot within the championship finale.
Rookies usually face a steep studying course of, and the expectation right here is little completely different. However Briscoe’s expertise stage at age 26 is a bit heftier than most, and he’s a longtime winner in Xfinity, Vans and ARCA competitors over the past 5 seasons main as much as his Cup Collection debut.
The retooled 2021 Cup Collection schedule additionally performs to a few of Briscoe’s strengths, with the Bristol Motor Speedway dust monitor race this spring and a flood of seven road-course occasions offering a bonanza of alternative for the Hoosier native. Briscoe has already demonstrated his value on the circuit’s bread-and-butter ovals, however he’s additionally a former winner on the Eldora Speedway dust and the Charlotte and Indy road-course layouts.
Briscoe ranks as an odds-on favourite to turn into the second straight SHR driver to assert Sunoco Rookie of the Yr honors. You’ll get no eight-win prediction from right here this yr, however Briscoe is well among the many finest bets to lift eyebrows and outperform these first-year expectations.