Daytona 500: Breaking Down Top Contenders for This Year's Race

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IFebruary 19, 2013

Feb 16, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the 2013 Daytona 500 on Sunday, the world of NASCAR is buzzing, wondering who will pop the champagne at Daytona International Speedway.

Matt Kenseth won his second Daytona 500 in five years in 2012, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing a heart-breaking second. Earnhardt has come close to winning his second Daytona 500 the past few years, but has ultimately fallen short.

But we also have some other prime contenders this year, including a former Sprint Cup Series champion. 

Here's a breakdown of my top five candidates to emerge victorious in Daytona Beach.

5. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth has won the Daytona 500 twice in the past five years, including last year, when he edged Earnhardt. He's the only driver to win the historic race twice in the past 11 years.

But Kenseth causing a wreck on the first day of Daytona practice last Friday wasn't exactly a great omen. He'll need to be more on point to win "The Great American Race" this year.

4. Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart has never won the Daytona 500, but he's a three-time Sprint Cup champion, capturing the title as recently as 2011. That speaks to the caliber of driver Stewart is. 

Last year, he finished a disappointing 16th in the event, but there's always a chance the NASCAR veteran pulls it off. He's certainly talented enough.

3. Kevin Harvick

As the 2007 Daytona 500 champion, Kevin Harvick has certainly shown that he can win the historic race.

The 37-year-old placed seventh last year, which is definitely respectable, and he has the experience to emerge victorious on Sunday. He also finished strong against Stewart and Greg Biffle in last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited for the win. 

2. Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is a three-time Daytona 500 winner, but he hasn't won the race since 2005. He also finished a disappointing 40th last year. That was after finishing 28th in 2011.

Still, he's a veteran on the track and he always has the potential to win "The Great American Race." Poor finishes like in the past two years will only fuel the 41-year-old to have a strong showing in 2013.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Since winning in 2004, Earnhardt has had five top-10 finishes at the Daytona 500, including placing second last year.

One of the favorites to win this year, Earnhardt certainly has the ability to emerge victorious at Daytona International Speedway. It's just a matter of whether he can finish strong and actually win after some tough losses in the past few years.

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