Forget odds, performance charts, quantitative analysis and star power.

There’s no rhyme or reason to who wins the Daytona 500.

No logical explanation for why it took Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 37 combined years to win the thing, yet Derrike Cope, Ward Burton and Pete Hamilton ended up carrying the checkers by accident.

Nothing sensible about the last three winners — Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray — getting nowhere near the Chase for the Sprint Cup at season’s end.

You’re best off closing your eyes, visualizing what you think will happen on Lap 200 … then clearing your mind with transcendental meditation and predicting the polar opposite.

In honor of this, I will forecast today’s race winner in the most obvious, natural way.

Working backward.

No chance: Terry Labonte, Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Travis Kvapil, David Gilliland, Andy Lally, Steve Wallace, J.J. Yeley, Robert Richardson Jr., Brian Keselowski.

Long list, isn’t it? Yup, it’s the not-so-big-secret that NASCAR — Motto: “Best (snicker) 43 (belly laugh) drivers in the (cross fingers) world” — hopes you’ll be too captive an audience to ignore.

Most of the drivers in that group are part of the disturbing start-and-park trend that has overtaken the sport. Some have neither the money nor the pit crew to make it through the first green-flag pit stop, never mind the finish.

Others wouldn’t be recognized at their own family reunion. If you’re a once-a-year NASCAR viewer, you probably thought Robert Richardson Jr. was lead singer of Kool & the Gang.

Wallace is the exception. He’s in the race on his dad Rusty’s name and bank account and on Roger Penske’s 2010 car owner points. He’ll be financed fabulously enough to cause The Big One with 40 laps to go. If more than three other guys on this list are on the lead lap at halfway, I’ll buy you a beer.

Snowball’s chance in Florida: Robby Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Trevor Bayne, Brian Vickers.

Gordon stays off the dreaded first roll call because of his knack for staying out of trouble and running in the top 10 at restrictor plate races. Labonte, like his older brother, gives the sorry impression that he’s a former series champion merely marking time.

Bayne is a 19-year-old rookie with a ride fast enough to get him in trouble, as evidenced by his wreck on the last lap of the Gatorade Duels. Vickers’ return from potentially fatal heart and circulatory issues is a nice story, but Hollywood won’t be calling after the race.

Better chance than you think: Bill Elliott, Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann.

In addition to his status as a two-time winner, Elliott is in the Phoenix Racing ride that has taken Geoff Bodine, Mike Wallace, Mike Bliss and Brad Keselowski to the front in recent years.

Smith still won Talladega two years ago, as far as I’m concerned, and was a few feet away from taking Thursday’s qualifier. Kahne is poised to surprise everyone who thinks of his Red Bull gig as a “transition year.”

Allmendinger and Ambrose are in the King’s equipment, and Richard Petty Enterprises has led laps and threatened to win the race each of the last two years. While Menard is mooching off his father’s millions and Ragan is running out of time to be The Next Big Thing, both are pretty solid in plate races. Truex and Reutimann will have the benefit of a drafting partner in the person of a boss who knows how to win here. Speaking of which …

Past champion’s chance: Michael Waltrip, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth.

I’ve seen too many weird things happen involving people connected with the elder Earnhardt to count out Waltrip on the 10-year anniversary of No. 3’s death and No. 15’s first of two Daytona wins.

Newman and Kenseth have been deft in the draft since they rolled off the trailer.

Puncher’s chance: Mark Martin, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brad Keselowski.

Martin hates this type of racing. You’ve probably heard him say that once or twice. But if you’re in a Hendrick car at Daytona, you can win. The other four guys are in equipment capable of going to victory lane. Due to their past misfortune (Stewart) or reputation for being in the middle of mayhem (Logano, Montoya, Keselowski), I don’t see them prevailing in a race that’s sure to be rough.

Legitimate chance: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle.

Not sure why everyone else is going to show up, since Tony Kornheiser already broke the news that Earnhardt will win.

Gordon and Earnhardt would fit under the recent umbrella of drivers winning the 500 in their first go-round with a new chief mechanic.

Hamlin seems to do his best work when everything around him is a complete disaster. His Speedweek qualifies in that regard.

McMurray has emerged as a master of the draft the last two years.

For all of Roush Racing’s shortcomings at superspeedways, Edwards and Biffle always manage to run up front. Don’t forget that Biffle led at Mile 500 last year before the race rolled into overtime.

Johnson and Li’l Busch, based on sheer percentages, have a combined one-in-three shot of winning this baby like they do everything else.

Best chance: Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch.

Burton and Bowyer have made Richard Childress Racing the favorite in race trim. Their teammate, Harvick, has been disarmingly quiet this week. Big Busch has a golden opportunity to go an unprecedented 3-for-3 in new colors to match.

The winner: Harvick. He is the big-game quarterback in the sport right now. Somehow it just feels like a black Budweiser car belongs in the Daytona USA museum this year.

And gut feelings trump common sense at Daytona.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.