Unlike most sports, the biggest race of the year takes place at the start of the NASCAR season. With that in mind, some drivers will be under a lot of pressure to perform early.
The Spring Cup Series is a long season. One race will not make or break anyone's chances of winning the entire championship.
However, momentum means a lot in this type of event. A good showing in the first race will give a driver confidence that should carry over for the rest of the season. On the other hand, a bad finish could set them back for weeks or months.
These competitors are the most in need of a good performance in the Daytona 500.
Last year, Brad Keselowski struggled at Daytona and finished in 32nd place. Of course, he was able to turn things around by midseason and had 17 Top-10 finishes in his last 20 races.
He was eventually able to end the year with his first career Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Still, it is obvious that the first race set him back as he was inconsistent for the first couple of months.
Keselowski will want to get off to a good start in 2013. He is now defending his title, and he does not want to put himself in a tough spot to come from behind again.
A Top 10 finish should be expected from the young driver at this point.
While Keselowski struggled at the Daytona 500 last year, Matt Kenseth excelled and he ended up taking the checkered flag.
This was the second time in his career that Kenseth was able to win this prestigious race.
While he still has a way to go to catch Richard Petty with seven career victories, another win would put him in impressive company. Only Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon have won three or more titles at this event.
In addition, the confidence from winning in the past would give him an advantage when the race begins.
However, he is now expected to do well. If he struggles, it could lead to poor performances for the rest of the year.
Hopefully, Kenseth is able to repeat last year and finish strong.
Tony Stewart has accomplished a lot in his career. He has piled up a number of wins and has finished as the NASCAR champion three times, including most recently in 2011.
Unfortunately, he has never been able to win the Daytona 500.
He started well last season and even led for two laps, but he was unable to hold on and fell to 16th place by the time the race was over.
Although Stewart does not have a lot left to prove, this race is a big measuring stick in the sport. Winning even one will really help his legacy.
In addition, a high finish will help him get back to the top of the standings after a mediocre season last year.
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