DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A number of big names -- names fit for the biggest race in motorsports -- have locked in their picks for the Daytona 500.
But one of those names didn’t make a prediction. He made a guarantee. And he’s pretty good at those.
Joe Namath made a brash prediction more than 40 years ago, guaranteeing his New York Jets would beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
The upstart Jets improbably won that 1969 title game, and now “Broadway Joe” has boldly called another sporting event that will capture the nation’s attention. For the 53rd running of the Daytona 500, Joe Namath again is guaranteeing a win, and his pick is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“The No. 88 is an absolute warrior on the track and is primed to start the season on fire with a Daytona 500 win and a comeback year in 2011,” Namath said.
Other big names tapped Earnhardt, most notably Carmelo Anthony, country music superstar Jason Aldean and best-selling author Janet Evanovich. But it was Earnhardt's teammate who tallied the most votes.
With five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles on his mantle, Jimmie Johnson is this year’s overall favorite. He was selected by 18 top athletes and celebrities.
For Hines Ward, Dirk Nowitzki, soccer star Landon Donovan, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, LPGA Hall of Famer Betsy King and others, Johnson’s dedication and five consecutive titles position him as the clear favorite in NASCAR’s season opener. Johnson’s friend, Nick Lachey, may have said it best: “No driver combines talent, poise, and preparation like Jimmie does. He’s the best for a reason.”
Trailing top vote-getter Johnson, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon each notched 11 votes. Mark Martin received two votes.
Here is what the voters had to say about the Hendrick drivers:
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet (19 votes)
“How can you bet against a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion? Plus, my brother-in-law is chief engineer at Hendrick Motorsports – I have team and family loyalty!” Eliot Spitzer, CNN’s “Parker Spitzer”
“Jimmie Johnson … because you can’t go wrong with him.” Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins Goalie
“Even though I am from Canada, and I should pick a Canadian, I play in LA now so I will go with a California guy, Jimmie Johnson.” Los Angeles Kings Center Brad Richardson
“I’m picking Jimmie Johnson to win the Daytona 500! After winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship 5 years in a row, seems like a solid choice!” Emmy Rossum of “Shameless,” a Showtime original series.
“Based on last year's performance, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that – we'll go with Jimmie Johnson.” Chickenfoot – Joe Satriani (guitar), Chad Smith (drums) Michael Anthony (bass) and Sammy Hagar (lead vocals and guitar).
“Jimmie Johnson, because he’s awesome. Five NASCAR Sprint Cups in a row – you can’t go against those odds in the season opener.” Jason Arnott, New Jersey Devils forward
"I'm going with Jimmie Johnson in the 48 car. I love the way he races and I've always been a Chevy guy and a big fan of the Hendrick Motorsports team. They are first class!" Gary Levox, Rascal Flatts
“I think Jimmie Johnson is going to take it all again. He has a small dynasty right now – the best pit crew and the best cars in NASCAR, and then you throw in tremendous driving skills on top of all that. It equals...unbeatable!” Joey Lawrence, actor
"Jimmie Johnson will win the 2011 Daytona 500. I know, I know, it's a bit of a long shot because the guy hasn't figured out the "winning" thing just yet, but I have a nose for these things! In all seriousness, no driver combines talent, poise, and preparation like Jimmie does. He's the best for a reason and I fully expect the winning push for six straight titles to begin at Daytona!" Nick Lachey, singer
"Since Jimmie Johnson has won the championship the last five years, I'm going with Jimmie!" Landon Donovan, US World Cup and LA Galaxy Superstar
“I’m picking Jimmie Johnson because I think he’s going to go for six titles in a row. He’s won it five other times and I think he’s going to do it again at the Daytona 500 this year.” New York Jets Kicker, Nick Folk
“Jimmie Johnson because he is a true champion. You can’t disregard the champion of last season. I look for him to start the season off where he left off.” Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers
“There's a long list of guys who can win the Daytona 500, but I'm going to have to put my money on Jimmie Johnson. He's a five-time champion and you can never count out the champ. Besides, he's a former amateur motocross rider. I will be watching the race on the TV with my pops.” Ryan Dungey 2010 FIM World Supercross and AMA Motocross Champion
“I’m going with Jimmie Johnson. Not only is he the five-time defending champion, but he finished the season well and will build off that. The change in pit crew the last couple races of last season gave him an advantage, and them working with Chad Knaus will put his team over the top.” Wade Belak, Nashville Predators
“Jimmie Johnson is my pick. He continues to demonstrate that he is the best driver in the sport.” Betsy King, LPGA Hall of Famer
"Jimmie Johnson is a great driver, who has a consistently strong team. He's an all around great guy like the rest of the NASCAR family. I always wish him the best." Gavin DeGraw, singer
“Jimmie Johnson because he is the man and wins all the time.” Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
“Jimmie Johnson. My pick is always Jimmie Johnson.” JJ Redick, Orlando Magic
“I liked Jimmie’s attitude on ‘24/7’ and he has made me a bigger fan of the sport.” Freddie Roach, former boxer
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet (11)
"I'm going to go with Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win this year's Daytona 500. No. 88 is an absolute warrior on the track and is primed to start the season off on fire with a Daytona 500 win and a comeback year in 2011." Joe Namath, NFL Hall of Famer and New York Jets Quarterback legend
“He was the fastest in qualifying and won the pole: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “ Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
"When it comes to restrictor plate races, Dale always seems to find his way to the front of the pack." Country Music Star Jason Aldean, whose new album "My Kinda Party" was No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Album chart a week before The Great American Race
“My prediction for winning the Daytona 500 is whoever crosses the finish line first. My second guess is Dale Jr. He was leading the race last year for a while and is overdue for a win.” Rodney Atkins, country music star
“88, that's who I'm pulling for. Can't go wrong with him. He is due to win and has a great team behind him.” John Gilmore, tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“Dale Earnhardt Jr. It’s been a long time since he’s won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race and I think he’s due.” Holly Madison, Vegas headliner
“Dale Jr. performs very well in restrictor plate races and seems to find good drafting partners. He also gets to the front of the pack quite often during the race. I am hoping this is his year to get the mojo going. David Akers, Philadelphia Eagles kicker
"Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the son of a NASCAR legend so he’s got some great racing genes that combined with his pure skill and the recent changes to his crew, well, I believe he’s poised to take the checkered flag and a spot on the Wheaties box." Aida Mollenkamp, chef and host of “FoodCrafters” on Cooking Channel
"Dale Earnhardt Jr., because he is from North Carolina and drives a Chevy." Greg Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers
"I'm going dark horse with Dale Jr.!" Marc Blucas, actor in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Knight & Day”
“I think Junior will win. He's overdue for good juju.” Author Janet Evanovich
“This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt’s crash/death. It would be an awesome tribute to the fans all over the world if Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 88 Car, won the 500. Kevin Harvick would be awesome to see win as well considering he took over Dale Sr.’s spot and now drives for the same Richard Childress Racing team. In my heart though, I think it will be Tony Stewart in the 14 car bringing home the checkered flag.” Gregg "Opie" Hughes, co-host of SiriusXM's Opie and Anthony show
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet (11)
“It’s time to bring back the glory. JG epitomizes greatness and dominance in stock car racing.” Jalen Rose, former NBA star and ESPN analyst
“200 miles per hour, three-wide at Daytona…I’m going with the (No.) 24, Jeff Gordon.” Carrot Top, Vegas Headliner
“I really like Tony Stewart, but I am going to have to go with Jeff Gordon as my pick to win the 2011 Daytona 500. With his new crew chief in place, I think Jeff has a great chance to break his winless streak!” PGA Tour Golfer Larry Ziegler
“I'm picking Jeff Gordon. He's won it three times. I think this is number four!” Holt McCallany, star of FX’s new series “Lights Out”
“Jeff Gordon to win. Jeff has had a winning drought for the last 65 races, has a new crew chief and I'm told he's pumped about the chemistry of his team. Chemistry is what got Auburn through a perfect season and my teammates and me to 2011 BCS National Champions!” Nick Fairley, 2010 Lombardi Award for best lineman and Defensive MVP of the 2011 BCS National Championship
"My gut is to go with Jeff Gordon. Between his determined crew, the new track, and the teamwork and faith these guys have, it already makes them winners in my book! Add in Jeff's cat-like reflexes, and stubborn streak – I know he wants this one bad." James Harness, The Mechanical Genius on Discovery Channel's “GOLD RUSH: ALASKA”
“Like my friend James Harness said, my money is on Jeff Gordon. If there’s one thing he and his crew do right, it’s pull together and work like a well-oiled machine. Teamwork and faith in each other make it a winning situation.” Todd Hoffman, The Boss on Discovery Channel's “GOLD RUSH: ALASKA”
“After being advised by my grandmother, my answer is Jeff Gordon. Why? Because my grandma thinks he's cute and says it's high time he won another race!” Jill Wagner, Host of ABC’s “Wipe Out”
“Jeff Gordon. I have met Jeff a few times and I think the four-time champ will win this year’s Daytona 500. The Hendrick cars are strong, and Jeff is one of the best at Daytona.” Brad Paisley, country music star
“Jeff Gordon because we’re from the same hometown of Vallejo!” Natalie Coughlin, 11-time Olympic medalist
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet (2)
“Mark Martin. It would be really great to see one of the old school dudes win it.” Dierks Bentley, singer and 10-Time Grammy Award winner
“Mark Martin would be great. I think people would be flipping out if he won it. I said Jimmie Johnson last year but that cursed him. I’d like to see him win, but I don’t know if he’s going to win it this year.” Actor Patrick Dempsey