Daytona 500 2013: Favorites to Claim Checkered Flag at Season's 1st Race

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIFebruary 18, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 16: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet,  during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Oddsmakers may have their favorites to win NASCAR’s 2013 Daytona 500, but so do we.

Drivers, for one reason or another, seem to grasp some tracks better than others. Every turn and different surface presents a new challenge as they attempt to navigate through to the checkered flag.

Looking at historical records at Daytona International Speedway is just the beginning. Momentum from the 2012 season, qualifying performance and overall handling skills also come into play.

So, who will leave the pack in their exhaust and win the first race of the year? Take a look at three of our favorites.

Matt Kenseth

Formerly of Roush Fenway Racing, Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag at the Daytona 500 in both 2009 and 2012. The defending race champion finished seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings last season.

This year, he has taken a step up by joining Joe Gibbs Racing along with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. The trio are all excellent performers and will undoubtedly aid one another in their hunt for a points championship this season.

It all begins at Daytona, though, where Kenseth has to be considered a favorite due to his talent, experience and success at the track.

Tony Stewart

Stewart-Haas Racing was wildly impressive during Daytona 500 qualifying on Feb. 17. The team took the first- and fourth-place finishes with Tony Stewart rounding out the group in fifth. Danica Patrick made the biggest waves by winning the pole, but Stewart’s experience and knowledge of the track will come into play to aid him throughout this marathon race.

Last season was a bit of a disappointment for Stewart, but he still finished ninth in the Sprint Cup standings. He won three races while also recording 12 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

Overall, Stewart’s teammates are solid, and he has some of the best in the business working for that team behind the scenes. His aggressiveness and experience driving gives him an edge to earn his first-ever win at the Daytona 500.

Jeff Gordon

The 41-year-old veteran driver from Hendrick Motorsports is one of only three drivers to win the Daytona 500 three times during their career. That’s good enough for the most among all active drivers. Cale Yarborough (four wins) and Richard Petty (seven wins) were the only two to score more than three victories there in the 54-year history of the race.

Gordon also has three other wins at the track, giving him the most in that category among active drivers, too.

Hendrick Motorsports, like Joe Gibbs Racing, is a team full of highly talented drivers. Jimmie Johnson, Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the standouts that will be helping each other during the 500-mile race.


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