If anyone ever wondered whether an underdog could win the Daytona 500, last year reminded the world that it’s entirely possible. Winless in his first 357 starts in NASCAR’s top division, Michael McDowell made his 358th start one for the ages by seemingly coming out of nowhere to capture the sport’s biggest event against all odds. McDowell, who didn’t sniff the lead until the final lap, edged Chase Elliott at the checkered flag after grabbing the top spot when teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski tangled and crashed entering Turn 3 for the last time.
“To get a first victory in a Daytona 500 — are you kidding me?” McDowell, a Front Row Motorsports driver, said moments after the race. “We’re a Daytona 500 champion. I cannot believe this.” While it’s certainly unlikely that McDowell will repeat as the winner of The Great American Race, anything is possible. And even if McDowell doesn’t go back-to-back in the 500, there are plenty of other lesser-known drivers who could shock the world.
If you’re looking for a solid “sleeper” pick, consider rookie Austin Cindric. Although the Team Penske driver is a newcomer to the Cup Series, he actually ran last year’s 500 as part of a seven-race schedule for Penske in preparation for the full schedule in 2022. Cindric, who is the son of team president Tim Cindric, led two laps and finished 15th despite being involved in a crash. The 2020 Xfinity Series champion and 2021 Xfinity runner-up is one of just several sleepers who could do something on Sunday that few expect.