Daytona 500 Qualifying: Drivers Who Must Impress in Budweiser Duels

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IFebruary 20, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, 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

The Budweiser Duels are a chance for drivers to not only score a good starting position, but also make a statement. 

Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon already made their statements by claiming the two front-row positions with a traditional qualifying run. 

That leaves the rest of the competition to battle it out in the two Budweiser Duels on Thursday. Here are three drivers that need to have an impressive showing to get in a nice position for the Daytona 500 and set the tone for their season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a resurgent season last year. He ended his winless drought and spent the majority of the year at, or near, the top of the point standings. 

Then the Chase began and Earnhardt's season started coming undone. He got off to a slow start and then saw everything come to a halt as concussion concerns forced him out of the car. Regan Smith took over for Earnhadt and performed well. 

This puts Earnhardt under even more pressure to perform. 

He has had great success at Daytona, and he needs to show he is ready to pick up on the momentum he created last season. 

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards hasn't tasted victory lane in 69 races. This is an astonishing drought for a man who won nine races in 2008 and narrowly missed out on the series championship in 2011 to Tony Stewart

However, Edwards had a down year last year not just in terms of wins, but in overall performance. He finished a disappointing 15th in points. 

Maybe it was the hangover from coming so close to winning a championship and missing out, or maybe it was a sign of a fracturing team. 

Whatever the case, Edwards needs to prove out of the gate, to himself and his team, that 2011 was a blip on the radar in his ascent to the elite. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., you know him, he's Danica Patrick's boyfriend.

However, I'm sure Stenhouse would like to be known more for his on-track accomplishments, than who he is dating. For true race fans, Stenhouse has already been carving out his own identity as he has powered to two championships in the Nationwide series. 

He is now starting his first full-time year on the Sprint series, and he is doing so while almost all the questions he hears are about his girlfriend and her winning the pole. 

Stenhouse can call some attention back to himself and his own driving skills with a nice run in his Budweiser Duel. 


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