The 2013 Sprint Cup Series season kicks off with the 55th running of the Daytona 500, and with a newcomer on the pole. Danica Patrick became the first woman in NASCAR history to earn a pole in the Cup Series, but no one should be surprised by the rookie’s speed: she won the pole for last year’s Nationwide Series opener at Daytona as well. Here are a few other drivers to watch on the track in the “Great American Race.”
Five to watch in the Daytona 500:
- Tony Stewart – as stated previously, Daytona is to Stewart what Daytona was to Dale Earnhardt: he can win everything but the “big one.” Stewart has four wins at Daytona – all in the July event – as well as three wins in the Sprint Unlimited. Stewart’s best 500 finishes: second in 2004 and third in 2008.
- Matt Kenseth – Kenseth is the defending champion of the Daytona 500, but both of those wins came with Roush-Fenway Racing. This year, he’s the newcomer at Joe Gibbs Racing, but had strong test sessions at Daytona and a fifth-place finish in the Sprint Unlimited.
- Jeff Gordon – Gordon has three wins in the 500 and three wins in July, but had a rough time of it last year with a 40th-place finish. In 40 career races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Gordon has 19 top 10 finishes and three poles.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Earnhardt Jr. has 14 top 10 finishes in 26 races at Daytona, including a 500 win in 2004 and an emotional July win in 2001 after his father’s passing. Last season, he was runner-up to Kenseth as he began a turn-around season that included a long-awaited win at Michigan.
- Dark horse: Dave Blaney – Blaney has been strong at restrictor-plate races since joining Tommy Baldwin Racing, and this year has some experience on the pit box: Tommy Baldwin Jr., crew chief for Ward Burton’s Daytona 500 win in 2002, returns as crew chief for Blaney’s new No. 7 – a tribute to Baldwin Jr.’s father and his Modified career. Blaney was leading the 500 last year when Juan Pablo Montoya hit the jet dryer, and has led laps and been competitive at both Daytona and Talladega.
The Daytona 500 takes the green flag at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 24th on FOX. Stay up-to-date at www.nascar.com.
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