Daytona 500 2018: Starting Order, Top Drivers to Watch in the Duels

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2018

Brad Keselowski crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Clash auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Terry Renna/Associated Press

The preparation for the Daytona 500 is in full swing, with the Can-Am Duels representing the next stage of action.

Alex Bowman has already won pole position for next Sunday's main event, followed by Denny Hamlin, per Reid Spencer of NASCAR.com. However, the rest of the starting spots are up for grabs in Thursday's 60-lap, 150-mile duel races.

With Monster Energy Series points up for grabs, there should be plenty of action in Daytona International Speedway.

             

Duel 1 Lineup (via NASCAR.com)

1. Alex Bowman

2. Jimmie Johnson

3. William Byron

4. Daniel Suarez

5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

6. Joey Logano

7. Aric Almirola 

8. Ryan Blaney

9. Kurt Busch

10. Brad Keselowski

11. Ryan Newman

12. Jamie McMurray

13. Darrell Wallace Jr. 

14. Ty Dillon

15. Chris Buescher

16. Brendan Gaughan

17. Justin Marks

18. Jeffrey Earnhardt

19. David Gilliland

20. Gray Gaulding

            

Drivers to Watch

Brad Keselowski

Confidence goes a long way in sports, and it seemed to help Brad Keselowski on Sunday.

The driver predicted he would win the Advance Auto Care Clash on Twitter earlier in the day:

He did just that, leading 41 of the 75 laps en route to a win in the first competition of the year.

The 33-year-old hasn't fared well in Daytona in recent years, but he is one of the best drivers in NASCAR and is coming off an impressive performance on this track already this week. He could be a serious threat to win once again on Thursday.

            

Joey Logano

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 10:  Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 10, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The second duel appears to be the stronger field, which could benefit someone like Joey Logano to grab an early spot in the lineup.

Logano won the Clash last year and finished second this year, showing he has what it takes to win short races at Daytona. Although 2017 was a bit of a disappointment for him overall, he has also been one of the more consistent drivers around with four top-10 finishes in the Monster Energy Series in the last five years.

The Team Penske driver should be able to stay near the front of the pack for much of the race before potentially making his move into first place.

If he can earn a strong finish in this event, he should be a major threat in the Daytona 500.

           

Duel 2 Lineup

1. Denny Hamlin

2. Kyle Busch

3. Erik Jones

4. Kevin Harvick

5. Chase Elliott

6. Paul Menard

7. Austin Dillon

8. Clint Bowyer

9. Kasey Kahne

10. Trevor Bayne

11. Kyle Larson

12. Michael McDowell

13. Martin Truex Jr.

14. Danica Patrick

15. A.J. Allmendinger

16. Matt DiBenedetto

17. D.J. Kennington

18. Mark Thompson

19. Corey LaJoie

20. David Ragan

        

Drivers to Watch

Kyle Busch

No one was faster last season than Kyle Busch, who started on the pole in eight of 36 races in 2017.

He finished a few spots out of first in qualifying but still had some impressive speed to help him start near the front in this competition:

The veteran should be able to make up for missing out on the pole for Daytona with a strong showing in the duels.

In a short race, Busch can stay aggressive from start to finish and cruise to a victory that could help kick-start a possible championship campaign in 2018.

         

Martin Truex Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 11:  Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour Energy Toyota, qualifies for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 11, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (P
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

After last season, it's impossible to rule out Martin Truex Jr.

The reigning Monster Energy Series champion didn't luck into his title just by winning at Miami-Homestead. He was dominant throughout the year with eight total victories, including four in the playoffs.

Although he was part of the final lap wreck that took out Jimmie Johnson and others Sunday, he should be 100 percent when he returns to the track Thursday. This is scary for everyone else because when he is at his best, there is no one in the sport who can catch him.

Kyle Larson could be a serious threat with his qualifying skill, but Truex is the real threat in this competition.

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