IMSA Drivers Cast Their Pick for the 2018 Daytona 500 Winner
Thursday, February 15, 2018

Heading into this Sunday’s 60th Daytona 500, we informally polled IMSA drivers and personalities to pick the driver they think will win the “Great American Race.”

Drivers from five continents representing both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge made their selections. Many of these drivers own significant victories in their own right, winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and even the Indianapolis 500, as well as season championships, so they know what it takes to perform on the sport’s biggest stages.

And while there was a good cross section of talent chosen, the driver who earned the most votes was Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet. Brad Keselowski, who won last week’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona and drives the No. 2 Ford for Team Penske, was another popular choice.

Without further ado, here are their choices, and the rationale behind them:

Jimmie Johnson

Joao Barbosa, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R (2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner):  “That’s a tough one! I’ve always been a fan of Jimmie Johnson! He’s fast and experienced and in a 500-mile race, that’s important!!

“But I wouldn’t forget the new kids in the field! I believe William Byron after a great season last year, he is in a great car and can have a word on the race as well! So, I’m in between, experience and new blood! But I would go with Jimmie Johnson!”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R: “Tough to pick between Jimmie Johnson and defending race-winner Kurt Busch. I’d put both at the top of the list, but I’ll have to go with Jimmie on this one. Going for eight starting with Daytona.”

Ryan Dalziel, No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi: “Well, he’s a badass and his dad is my spotter at Patrón ESM, haha.”

Nick Tandy, No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: “Jimmie Johnson. It’s been enough time since he’s been in victory lane. Hendrick and Chevrolet will be back full attack after a disappointing year by their standard. Jimmie is still the best driver under pressure I’ve ever seen in any form of motorsport and he’s coupled by a super smart and experienced team.”

Stephen Simpson, No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2: “I have always been a Jimmie Johnson fan and the NASCAR driver I have cheered for. He knows how to win races and his experience along with Hendrick Motorsports, who has been one of, if not the fastest team during practice and qualifying this year. His strong relationship with Chad Knaus means he is always a contender and my pick to win the 500.”

Chris Miller, No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2: “I’ve always admired him and his record speaks for itself. He’s also a former driver of the GAINSCO Auto Insurance No. 99 Red Dragon so maybe he can start some winning mojo that we can take to Sebring!”

Corey Fergus, No. 69 Motorsports In Action McLaren GT4 (Continental Tire Challenge): “I’ve always been a fan of his and he’s a proven winner. Time to get that third 500 win.”

Brad Keselowski

Ricky Taylor, No. 7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi (2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion): “I’m taking Keselowski. He looked strong all race long during the Clash and he is just one of the best restrictor-plate racers out there.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi: “Brad K is my pick to win the Daytona 500. He is a hell of a plate racer and Team Penske looks strong in Speedweeks so far going 1-2-4 in the Clash. I think this is the year he wins it.”

Andy Lally, No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS (2011 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year): “I think we are going to see a solid mix of old and new school in the mix at the end. I think we see veteran drivers Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Keselowski fighting with Bowman, Elliott, Blaney and Larson in the last 10 laps.

“But in the end, it will be Blaney pushing the best plate driver on the planet, Brad Keselowski, to Victory Lane.”

Ben Keating, No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: "I am going with Brad Keselowski because he is a Penske driver. And now that Penske is racing with us in IMSA, I subscribe to the philosophy of keeping your friends close and your competitors closer. COME ON BRAD!!!!"

Wayne Taylor, Owner, No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R: “I think Brad Keselowski, as he drives for the best team in all forms of motorsport and it looks like they have really fast cars.”

Jamie McMurray

Ryan Briscoe, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona GTLM winner): “He has a great record of doing well at the big races and he’s already won Daytona with Chip.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona GTLM winner): “Kyle (Larson) works hard and is a versatile driver. Jamie’s won it once with Chip already, so he knows what it takes!” (Editor’s note – Give half a vote for McMurray and the other half to Kyle Larson from Westy.)

Colin Braun, No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA LMP2: “I’m going with Jamie Mac. I think their cars have been really fast lately and he’s a great superspeedway racer.”

Ryan Blaney

Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi: “My money is on Ryan Blaney. I think it’s good story if he wins and he was pretty strong in the Clash.”

Spencer Pumpelly, No. 18 RS1 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR (Continental Tire Challenge): “I’m going with Ryan Blaney because of his Dinner with Racers episode and Robby Benton, who used to run Change Racing, is now the head of NASCAR operations at Penske."

Kyle Busch

Al Carter, No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage (Continental Tire Challenge): “What we’ve seen from the ARCA race and the Clash so far is lots of action, lots of pushing, lots of aggression. To win this Daytona 500 with the new car configuration, it looks like aggression when it counts can be rewarded.

“I don’t know anyone in the field as aggressive as Kyle Busch. He won’t be worried about points in the closing laps, he’ll be worried about the checkered flag. If I was in the race, I’d want to try and follow Kyle Busch through the traffic, ‘cause you know he’s coming through. He might even knock a few cars out of the way. Though Kyle might be a checkers-or-wreckers selection, I’m going with the aggressive driver that’s least likely to lift when the chips are down. Plus, I’m an M&M’s junkie!!!  Gonna be a hell of a race, looking forward to Sunday!”

Till Bechtolsheimer, CJ Wilson Racing driver: “Racing drivers are competitive by nature. Brothers tend to be fierce rivals too. With Kurt winning in 2017, there is no way Kyle will accept anything other than a trip to Gatorade Victory Lane on Sunday evening.” 

Kevin Harvick

Christian Fittipaldi, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R (2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner): “I’m going with Kevin Harvick. Great driver with a very strong team, Sunday could shine on him!!!!”

Patrick Lindsey, No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: “I'm going with my hometown boy of

Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield, California).  He's sneaky fast and scraps his way to solid runs at plate races.  However, that temper can get him into trouble and if nothing else, he'll be on TV - if not in the winner's circle, maybe throwing punches on pit lane.  Either way, go Kevin!!  Oh yeah, Denny Hamlin will be my backup pick if Kevin wrecks early.”

Kyle Larson

Dirk Mueller, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: “I am going to say Larson as he is on a good wave and driving for the best team, but Jamie (McMurray) is very strong in these races and he just did his first marathon, so he’s in good shape.” (Another editor’s note:  Like Westbrook, Dirk also split his vote, so let’s just give one each to Larson and McMurray and call it good. Mmm-kay?)

Joey Hand, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: “He’s on a roll still from last year and has best team! Oh, and he’s from my hometown. Gotta stick together.”

Joey Logano

Helio Castroneves, No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi: “Joey Logano will put the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane so that everyone can have a 22-cent discount on your fuel!”

Kyle Marcelli, No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: "Joey is a great personality off the track, and a tough competitor on the track. He’s usually always there when it counts. Look out for the #22!"

A.J. Allmendinger

Katherine Legge, No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3: “AJ! Because I believe in him, and if I didn’t pick him he wouldn’t speak to me again.” 

Austin Dillon

Earl Bamber, No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: “I’m a big Richard Childress fan, so I’m going for Austin Dillon. I’ve known Richard Childress personally since I was 17 and always supported them and watched many races with them. It was awesome to see them win the Coke 600, but it would be mega to see them get the 500 again.”

Justin Marks

Lawson Aschenbach, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3: “My pick to win the Daytona 500 is my IMSA teammate, Justin Marks! This race is anyone’s game, and if you find yourself in the lead pack at the end, you’ll have a shot. I think this race is going to be one to remember for the fans!”

Danica Patrick

Jesse Lazare, No. 69 Motorsports In Action McLaren GT4 (Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge): “She set the fastest time in qualifying in 2013 and she proved she is a fighter. The 2018 Daytona 500 will be her last NASCAR race so let’s wish her the best of luck!”

Daniel Suarez

Gustavo Yacaman, No. 52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier LMP2: “My pick for the Daytona 500 is Daniel Suarez. We were teammates this winter in a go-kart race in Brazil and he is a good friend and for sure. I think he has what it takes to win!”

Jeff Gordon/Fernando Alonso

Renger van der Zande, No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R:  “I have no clue. I guess I am too European on this one?”

(Jordan giving him grief in a group text: “Hahah Renger can take Alonso!”)

“Is Jeff Gordon driving? I’ll pick him... (then, upon seeing JT’s text), Alonso it is!”

Andrew Davis, No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 GT3 LMS: “Is Fernando Alonso running?”

Ricky Bobby

Jack Hawskworth, No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3:  "I have no idea about NASCAR, so I’ll say Ricky Bobby because he won Talladega!!"

Cole Trickle

John Potter, No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 GT3 LMS: ‘Nuff said.