Budweiser Duels 2013: Drivers Who Will Impress Heading into Daytona 500

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IFebruary 21, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 16: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's 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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

With drivers still getting used to the new Generation 6 cars, the Budweiser Duels, formerly the Gatorade Duels, have an extra importance placed on them. 

The drivers still have to get used to handling these cars in a draft and reacclimate to the pack racing these cars dictate. 

This adds intrigue beyond just the fact that the two Thursday races will determine starting positions for the Daytona 500. Here are three drivers who will make a statement. 

Jimmie Johnson

For all his excellence, Jimmie Johnson has been terrible at Daytona in recent memory. Since 2007, his highest finish in the Great American Race is 27th.

Johnson has to be itching to reverse that trend, and it all starts with the Duels. 

His Hendrick Motorsports car wasn't particularly fast in qualifying, as he had the 21st-best time in qualifying runs. However, his team will make adjustments, and Johnson will do the rest. He knows how to handle pack racing and will be determined and will impress. 

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick has already made a strong impression. She earned the pole position, and, as a result, this race offers her nothing but experience. She and fellow front-row mate Jeff Gordon are the only two drivers whose starting spot is set. 

However, none of this means she won't be competing. 

Patrick not only has to get used to the new cars and the ensuing change in racing style, but this will her first full-time year in the Sprint series. 

Patrick's Stewart-Haas team has been impressive at Daytona, so we know Danica will be in a strong car. Despite having the pole locked up, she is going to be racing hard and she will finish near the front. 

Kyle Busch

Busch had a rough season last year. He won just one Sprint race and didn't qualify for the Chase. This has to have driven the hyper-competitive Busch nuts.

Busch is chomping at the bit to make a statement that he is ready to again be a factor, and the Budweiser Duels are not too early to make that statement.

Finishing with the eighth-best qualifying time, Busch has a strong car. He will push that car to its limit in his Duel, and he will do so with success.


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