Motorsports immortality. It awaits one.
This time next week, one driver will be basking in the glory of being the 2023 Daytona 500 champion. They'll be taking part in the Champion's breakfast, making the late-night talk show rounds, and being front and center of a worldwide media blitz.
Who will it be? That's part of the fun. Nobody knows for sure.
RELATED: 2023 Daytona 500 Entry List
The "Great American Race" truly is great. Seemingly any of the 40 drivers that start the event have a true chance at winning the race. However, while anyone technically has a shot, the Harley J. Earl trophy typically goes to a not-so-surprising name.
That being said, who are some of the favorites?
Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, LAT Images, Courtest of Toyota Racing
It should be surprising to nobody that Denny Hamlin is at the top or near the top of every oddsmaker's list for the 2023 Daytona 500.
Hamlin, 42, is a three-time Daytona 500 winner and in 2020 he became the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to score back-to-back wins in the Daytona 500. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is a smart and methodical superspeedway racer, who has a good feel of when to push the envelope and when to hold back and let the chaos play out ahead of him.
Chances are even if he doesn't collect his fourth win in this event, Hamlin will be around near the end to go down swinging.
Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP, Courtest of Ford Performance
Another driver that seems poised for a breakthrough in the Daytona 500 is Ryan Blaney.
While the Team Penske racer went winless (in points-paying races) in 2022, Blaney has been knocking on the door of a Daytona 500 victory each and every year.
While driving for the Wood Brothers Racing team in 2017, Blaney finished runner-up to Kurt Busch. The young racer led a race-high 118 laps in the 2018 Daytona 500, before settling for a seventh-place finish. In 2020, Blaney was runner-up yet again, this time to Denny Hamlin. And in 2022, Blaney led 36 laps and looked to have enough of a charge on the last lap to score the win. Then, his teammate Austin Cindric blocked his run, and Blaney wound up in fourth.
In addition to his near misses in the Daytona 500, Blaney has scored two wins at Talladega Superspeedway and a win in the Summer race at Daytona in 2021.
Photo Credit: Tim Parks/HHR for Chevy Racing
The third driver that oddsmakers really like for this year's Daytona 500 is Chase Elliott. And while Elliott had rough luck in his first five starts in the iconic race, the sport's Most Popular Driver has really started to find his groove in the last couple of years.
Elliott finished runner-up to Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell in 2021, but had the caution not frozen the field on the final lap, Elliott very well could have beaten McDowell for the victory.
In 2022, the Hendrick Motorsports driver scored his second-consecutive top-10 in this race with a 10th-place effort. If Elliott could score the win in his eighth Daytona 500 attempt, it would undoubtedly be a very popular win.
While those are your favorites, there are other potential winners that would move the needle as well.
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen / Getty Images
Kyle Busch will be making his 19th start in the Daytona 500, and he has yet to reach victory lane in the iconic event. However, he moves to Richard Childress Racing for the 2023 season -- a team that helped another legend (Dale Earnhardt) reach victory lane in the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt.
Could this be the year for Busch? It's very possible as he has built a great rapport with his teammate Austin Dillon, who is also very good at superspeedway racing. Dillon did win the 2018 Daytona 500, and he won a wild Summer 2022 event at Daytona as well.
Being inside the Chevrolet camp also provides Busch with something he hasn't had at Daytona for the majority of his NASCAR Cup Series career -- help.
At Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch only had a handful of Toyota drivers and teams to work with in the draft. With the bowtie on his racecar in 2023, the drafting partner pairings are seemingly endless.
It feels like this very well could be Busch's best chance.
Photo Credit: James Gilbert / Getty Images
And what about seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson? Sure, the new co-owner of the newly rebranded LEGACY MOTOR CLUB team isn't locked into the show yet, but if he makes the field, what if he goes on to win the race?
Johnson revealed recently on Twitter that while he is preparing to run a part-time schedule in the No. 84 car this season, NASCAR has approved his driving license for full-time competition in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Would Johnson entertain running the full schedule in hopes of snagging an all-time record eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship? It's unlikely, but if he wins the Daytona 500, it makes the question a very compelling one.
But if Johnson is to make the field for the Great American Race, he's going to have to survive a gauntlet of other hungry and talented racers.
Who are the Open drivers and teams?
- Chandler Smith, No. 13 Kaulig Racing
- Zane Smith, No. 36 Front Row Motorsports
- Conor Daly, No. 50 The Money Team
- Austin Hill, No. 62 Beard Motorsports
- Travis Pastrana, No. 67 23XI Racing
- Jimmie Johnson, No. 84 LEGACY MOTOR CLUB
The journey for these six drivers and teams making it into the 2023 Daytona 500 begins with Wednesday evening's Daytona 500 qualifying session.
And it concludes in Thursday night's Bluegreen Vacation Duels.
Who will make the Daytona 500 field? Better yet, who will ultimately win the Daytona 500? I don't know. You don't know. But we're all going to be on the edge of our seats as we reach the closing laps of Thursday's Duels, which set the starting lineup for the 2023 Daytona 500.
And if you think your palms are sweaty on Thursday, you will not have seen anything yet. Just wait until Sunday's 500-mile suspense thriller plays out.
NASCAR's biggest prize is at stake on the sport's largest stage. This is what it's all about!
Catch the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 19th. The race will be televised by FOX and the radio broadcast will be available on the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Television coverage of the race will begin at 2:30 PM ET.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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