The 2013 Daytona 500 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting events of the NASCAR season, but there is a select few drivers that will falter under the pressure of The Great American Race.
Veterans like Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are under intense scrutiny this season for much different reasons, but the expectations to win and win often are the same.
That winning must start at the Daytona International Speedway.
All of the following drivers will have the pressure on their shoulders, and it may be too much for these skilled athletes to handle.
Now two years removed from his 2011 Daytona 500 win, Trevor Bayne and the No. 21 car have yet to accomplish anything remotely close to what they achieved before at The Great American race.
Including his win at the Daytona 500, Bayne only has three career top-10 finishes in the two partial seasons he has run at the Sprint Cup Series level.
There is no doubt that Bayne has the experience to steal a win at Daytona this Sunday, but the lack of success anywhere besides Daytona International Speedway and the bright lights of the sport’s premier event will have the 22-year-old overwhelmed.
Kurt Busch has become one of the most volatile drivers in the sport, and his relegation to the No. 78 car this season proves he has to step up his performance in 2013 if he wants to remain on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Busch only had one top-five finish and just five top-10 finishes all in all of 2012, resulting in the worst season of the veteran’s career and the first winless campaign since Busch was a rookie in 2001.
As solid as Busch’s track record is at the Daytona 500 (three second-place finishes), the lack of elite talent on the No. 78 team will result in a lackluster performance from the polarizing driver.
The bright lights and scrutiny will be too much for Busch to bear.
In 11 career Daytona 500 starts for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, the NASCAR veteran has one win and four top-10 finishes, but his average finishing position is 20.9 despite averaging an outstanding starting position of 8.3.
For Johnson, it’s feast or famine at The Great American Race.
While there is no question that Johnson can handle the bright lights of a big race—the veteran driver has five Sprint Cup Series Championships—the fact that he came up just short of winning his sixth title in the last race of 2012 could haunt him.
As seen by the drop-off in Carl Edwards and the No. 99 car's performance after he came within one point of winning the 2011 championship, there is a precedent for a down season for Johnson.
If the No. 48 team wants to buck the trend, Johnson must start with a stellar finish at the Daytona 500.