2013 Daytona 500 Predictions: Picking the Top 10 Finishers
The Daytona 500 is almost upon us and with it, the first points race of the NASCAR 2013 season.
With the new Gen-6 cars and several drivers already looking strong after the Sprint Unlimited race, which drivers will make up the top 10 by the time the Daytona 500 ends?
Will we see veterans like Jeff Gordon in the top 10 throughout the race, or will we see rookies manage to make it to the front?
Of course with big races like the Daytona 500, the inevitable "big one" can wipe out half the field. It can occur at any time, and even the most prominent drivers can find themselves the victims of a big wreck.
It will take both skill and luck to win the Daytona 500, and these 10 drivers have what it takes to make it into the top 10 by the time the race finishes on Sunday.
10. Joey Logano
Joey Logano made a huge decision when he signed with Penske Racing for the 2013 season. The young driver is stepping away from Joe Gibbs Racing, and is trying to make a name for himself with a completely new start this year.
He was impressive during the Sprint Unlimited race and finished in third place while managing to avoid getting caught up in the big wreck.
Logano finished ninth in last season's Daytona 500. Expect Logano to deliver the same results this year.
He will start off the top 10 when the Daytona 500 is finished, and he will start off his new career with Penske Racing on the right note.
9. Kevin Harvick
Harvick started off the 2013 season better than any other driver on this list. Winning the Sprint Unlimited was not only a great way for him to start off the new NASCAR year, but he also won the first race where the Gen-6 car was used.
Even with the announcement that he will be driving for Stewart-Haas in 2014, Harvick is clearly focused on the time he has left with Richard Childress Racing.
Harvick is known as the Closer for a reason, and will more than likely make it into the top 10 during the Daytona 500. He looks like a solid pick to win the race on Sunday, but after a poor qualifying run, Harvick is going to have to make up a lot of ground if he fails to do anything during the Budweiser Duels.
He might not have the speed that other drivers on this list do, so it will be harder for Harvick to make a run for the win by the end of the race.
Still, expect the Closer to make it into the top 10 by the time the white flag waves.
8. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch struggled last season.
This year, though, Busch is looking to bounce back and improve.
It starts with the Daytona 500. Busch qualified well, and if he hopes to improve his position, he will need to deliver at the Budweiser shootout.
He got caught up in a wreck during the Sprint Unlimited and didn't get as much time with the Gen-6 car in a racing situation as the drivers who managed to avoid the wreck, but Busch will start the 2013 season with a top 10 finish at Daytona.
Making it to the very front might be difficult for Busch since Chevy cars seem to be leading the charge so far, but expect Busch to find a way to end up in the top 10.
7. Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards held the pole for last year's Daytona 500. Outside of that, though, Edwards did relatively nothing for the entire season.
He ended up finishing in eighth place in last season’s Daytona 500, and Edwards will make the top 10 again this year.
Fords didn't seem as strong as Chevy or even Toyota during qualifying, with Trevor Bayne and Joey Logano being the only two Ford cars to make the top 10.
Carl Edwards will eventually find himself in the top 10 during the Daytona 500, but after a weak qualifying run and not being able to get in a full testing during the Sprint Unlimited, Edwards won't be able to push his car into victory lane.
He has a new crew chief in Jimmy Fennig, and hopefully they can get on the same level for Daytona. If they manage to work together well, Edwards will finish in the top 10.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the runner-up to last season's Daytona 500.
Jr. should be expected to finish this year somewhere close to his 2012 performance.
Chevy engines dominated qualifying, and with Jr. already liking the new Gen-6 car, he will more than likely run well at Daytona.
One thing that the Gen-6 has started to take away from stock car racing is the tandem racing that drivers were doing at superspeedways.
Of course they can still bump draft, as was seen in the Sprint Unlimited, but drivers can’t keep up the bumper-to-bumper driving for too long.
Dale had a solid performance during the Sprint Unlimited race, and now that superspeedway racing is moving away from bump drafting and more toward the racing that Jr. likes, expect him to finish in the top 10.
5. Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon, like Kyle Busch, had a bit of a rough season last year.
Starting off the 2013 season on the front row of the Daytona 500 is just what Gordon needs. With his experience behind him, Gordon will more than likely finish somewhere in the top 10 on Sunday.
Starting out in front not only helps him avoid wrecks, but he is locked into the front row, regardless of the outcome of the Budweiser Duels.
If Gordon has any problem to worry about, it’s the lack of any of his Hendricks teammates around him. Unless another Hendrick driver can step up big during the Budweiser Duels, Gordon will be out front by himself without his teammates to bump draft with.
Normally Gordon would just hook up with one of the many other drivers, but the Gen-6 car has proven hard to handle in the draft, so he might not want to risk wrecking his car by bump drafting with any other drivers besides his Hendricks teammates.
With his experience, though, expect Gordon to still be in the mix for the win when the Daytona 500 comes to an end.
4. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin is coming off of a solid 2012 year.
He had a successful year, one that started with a fourth-place finish at the Daytona 500.
This season Hamlin has already started off the right way. He qualified seventh, one spot in front of teammate Kyle Busch, and was the fastest of all the Toyota's during qualifying.
Hamlin seems ready to come back strong after stumbling during the final Chase races. He, along with the 17 team, will be trying to have another successful regular season in 2013.
If any of the Toyota drivers are going to end up in the top 10, it starts with Denny Hamlin. Hopefully he can keep his qualifying position once the Budweiser Duels end, but even if he ends up in the back, Hamlin will more than likely push forward during the race on Sunday.
He’s already turned out to be one of fastest Toyotas, so expect him to be in the top 10 by the time the last lap is run.
3. Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth is the defending Daytona 500 winner.
As far as superspeedways go, Kenseth not only won the race at Daytona last year, but also won the Talladega race later on in the season.
Kenseth was able to match his teammates in speed during qualifying, and looked strong during the first segment of the Sprint Unlimited race.
Even though he was fast during qualifying, Kenseth couldn't hold back Tony Stewart during the first segment of the Sprint Unlimited and failed to make a late race push toward the front.
Kenseth has been solid on superspeedways during the last couple of seasons, so if he can manage to avoid being wrecked, expect him to run toward the front.
However, if the Sprint Unlimited was a preview of what to expect, Kenseth will have tough competition to try to pass for the win.
2. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson is no stranger to superspeedways.
He ran into bad luck last year at the Daytona 500, and found himself in the garage before the race was even halfway done.
He got caught up in a wreck, and one of the most dominant drivers when it comes to superspeedways found himself missing out on arguably the biggest race of the season.
Johnson's bad luck continued at the Sprint Unlimited race this year, as he found himself yet again the victim of a wreck.
Still, while Johnson seems to be unlucky, he is one driver who knows how to handle himself at superspeedways. He didn't do anything spectacular during qualifying, so don't be surprised to see Johnson trying to move to the back in order to avoid the wreck that will more than likely happen on Sunday.
He worked a little with Stewart during the Sprint Unlimited, and we could see the same thing happen during the Daytona 500 as the two battle for the win on Sunday.
1. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart was first to qualify on Sunday, and Smoke wasn't holding back.
While he didn't manage to hold on to the Pole position, starting out toward front of the pack is greatly going to play to his advantage when heading into the Budweiser Duels later on this week.
When it comes to racing at superspeedway tracks, Smoke can be extremely aggressive. He caused the huge wreck at Talladega last season by being over aggressive, and also caused the wreck at the Sprint Unlimited as he tried to go down in front of Marcos Ambrose and misjudged how much room he had.
The new Gen-6 car might cause problems for some of the drivers next weekend, but expect Tony to be one driver who has a handle on the new car better than other drivers. As long as he can maintain a decent starting spot after the Duels, Smoke will be in the top 10 for most of the race.
Tony was fast and aggressive at the Sprint Unlimited.
Expect the same performance at the Daytona 500.