Daytona 500: Stars Who Will Use Great American Race to Spark Strong 2013 Seasons

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Best Buy Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Doing well in the Daytona 500 would be the perfect way for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to begin his inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign.

The two-time reigning Nationwide Series champion has moved to the Sprint Cup on a full-time basis. At 25 years old, Stenhouse looks primed to be a major success on the circuit. He's only appeared in five races in the Sprint Cup Series, so the Daytona 500 is still a bit of a new experience for him.

Regardless, Stenhouse should have no trouble in keeping up with the best drivers. He's a confident driver and won't be intimidated by the stage the Great American Race presents.

Here are three other drivers who could kick-start their 2013 seasons with what they do in the Daytona 500.


Danica Patrick

Patrick has been all sizzle and no steak during her motorsports career. She's managed only one win across IndyCar, Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.

Patrick is no scrub on the track, but her results aren't worthy of the attention she gets off of the track. Many of her detractors have a lot of ammunition when they argue that she's nothing more than an average driver.

2013 can be a different story, though.

Patrick ran the fastest lap in practice and became the first woman to win the pole at the Daytona 500 (h/t Heather Tucker of USA Today). This is the kind of positive momentum that she needs to start working toward legitimacy. Nobody is expecting her to win the title in her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series. Maintaining strong results, though, will be a major accomplishment for her.


Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the kind of driver who can set himself up well for 2013 with an impressive performance in the Daytona 500.

The 41-year-old is one of the biggest stars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He's a four-time Cup champion, but the last time that happened was back in 2001. Gordon had a runner-up finish in 2007, and that's as close as he's gotten to reaching the mountaintop again.

His last three seasons in particular have been rather forgettable. He hasn't finished higher than eighth since 2009.

Gordon had a strong showing in practice for the Great American Race. It's the kind of forward progress that is necessary for him to become the premier driver in the Sprint Cup Series again.


Jimmie Johnson

The five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson must be going through withdrawal. It's been now two years without taking home the championship at the end of the season. For somebody like Johnson who's used to winning, that's entirely too long.

His dominance from 2006 to 2010 was the kind of run that made even non-NASCAR fans stand up and take notice. It's near impossible for Johnson to reach that level again. That doesn't mean he'll never win another championship, though.

Finishing strong in the Daytona 500 would be a huge marker for Johnson to lay down. He would be letting all of his competitors know that he's going to yet again be a major threat at the top of the standings.