Remember the old phrase about old age and treachery overcoming youth and skill every time? It could well hold true Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, where NASCAR will play host to its biggest event of the year, the Daytona 500.
On Sunday, at least 10 drivers over the age of 40 will attempt to win the 500. Three of them have won it in the past, all more than once.
So will the venerable 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway be kind to some of the senior drivers on the circuit? As Trevor Bayne proved two years with his stunning upset victory, anything is possible in the Daytona 500, although nothing is a given.
Of the 40+ crowd, SPEED.com has identified seven drivers who have a legitimate shot to win NASCAR’s biggest prize.
Here they are:
1. MICHAEL WALTRIP, age 49 — Twelve years ago, Waltrip did what few believed was possible, breaking an 0-462 streak in winning his first Daytona 500. Sadly, Waltrip’s accomplishment was overshadowed by the death of his car owner, Dale Earnhardt, in the same race. Waltrip won the 500 again in 2003 and last year was contending for a victory at Talladega when he got wrecked at the end of the race. And, oh yeah, Waltrip is racing for a great cause, the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. He might not be the favorite, but he’s certainly the sentimental favorite.
2. MATT KENSETH, 40 — With victories in two of the last four Daytona 500s, Kenseth has proven himself to be an exceptional restrictor-plate racer, and his move to Joe Gibbs Racing has done nothing to hurt his chances at winning a third 500. Smooth, consistent and unlikely to make a mistake, Kenseth could be the man to beat on Sunday.
3. TONY STEWART, 41 — Sure, Danica Patrick deserves props for winning the Daytona 500 pole. But her chances of winning the race are nowhere near as good as those of her boss, Tony Stewart, who has won more Daytona races than anyone except the late, great Dale Earnhardt. Smoke has never won the big prize, though, and as much as he’s helped Patrick so far during Speedweeks, on Sunday, he’ll be out to win himself.
4. JEFF GORDON, 41 — Three times, Gordon has won the 500, which makes him the active leader in victories in this event. In recent years, however, Gordon has struggled: He finished 40th in the 500 in 2012, 28th in 2011, 26th in 2010, 13th in ’09 and 39th in ’08. So far, Gordon has looked great in Speedweeks, qualifying on the outside of Row 1 for the Daytona 500.
5. GREG BIFFLE, 43 — Biffle got his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory here in July 2003, and his first Cup pole here in February 2004. Although he wasn’t quite as fast as the very best cars in the Sprint Unlimited, Biffle still managed to finish second, an impressive performance.
6. MARK MARTIN, 54 — If you ask Mark Martin, he’ll tell you that he hates racing at Daytona. Hates it. But in 2007, he came within a foot of winning the 500, and if he can keep from getting wrecked by other people — something that’s happened three times already during Speedweeks, he could win it all.
7. JEFF BURTON, 45 — Richard Childress Racing is almost always stout at restrictor-plate tracks, and Burton has done well here of late, finishing fifth in last year’s 500 and second in the July Daytona race. Look out for him this time out.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.