It’s the most anticipated time of the year; the beginning of a new NASCAR season is upon us and it all gets underway with the 55th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Over the course of speedweeks, drivers and crews have been faced with the challenge of figuring out NASCAR’s new Generation 6 racecar that they will compete in to claim the most prestigious race on the 36-race marathon known as the Sprint Cup Series season.
Thus far, the stock-car feel has raced just like a real stock car would at Daytona. Tough to pass, yet very fast.
However, there are still many, many unknowns and more questions have been asked this week than have been answered. There hasn’t been a full field of 43 on the track at one time, and in the “win or take all” races so far this week, there have been either too few cars in the field to really make anything happen or the risk was greater than the reward at the end.
So, with all the unknowns, I present the 8 drivers I think you should have on your fantasy lineup for this weekend’s Daytona 500.
Kevin Harvick- This is the clear-cut favorite to win the 55th Daytona 500. After winning the last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel qualifying race Thursday, Harvick has the chance to become the first driver in 55 years to sweep the three races.
Harvick has shown that his No.29 Chevrolet is fast, maybe the fastest car in the 43-car field. And, with his experiences and dominance thus far in speedweeks, it’s tough to bet against the 2007 Daytona 500 winner this year.
Matt Kenseth- The two-time and defending Daytona 500 champion is back making a run at it this year. This time with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Throughout speedweeks, Kenseth has appeared to have one of the few cars that has the ability to make passes, even when he’s without much drafting help behind him.
Kenseth has a chance—a very good one at that—to become the first back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995.
Greg Biffle- After two runner-up finishes in the Unlimited and his qualifying race on Thursday, surely Greg Biffle has to be one of the favorites for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
This shouldn’t come as much of a shock. Biffle finished third in last year’s Daytona 500 and ran well at the the three other restrictor plate races in 2012. The Fords don’t seem to have as much speed as the Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s, but they do handle awfully well in what has proven to be a finicky draft for drivers to adapt to.
Kyle Busch- The No.18 of Busch was the beneficiary on Thursday as he won the second Budweiser Duel race after Jeff Gordon, who led every lap of the race before a speeding penalty on pit road, fell out of the mix.
Busch has been close in the Daytona 500, most notably in 2008 and 2009 when he finished top-five down the stretch and crashed out the later year after leading the most laps.
We know how fast the Toyota’s have been in the draft, seemingly being the few cars that can actually make passes. Starting fourth, Busch doesn’t have far to go.
Joey Logano- Although his Duel finish doesn’t show it, Joey Logano has a very capable car of contending for a win on Sunday.
Like Biffle, Logano is in a Ford that hasn’t shown that it’s one that can pull out and pass at will, but he does have a car that is more than capable of sticking with the fast cars.
If you’re up front in the closing laps at Daytona, you have a shot to win it.
Paul Menard- You got to give it to Paul Menard. He tried to make the bottom lane work in Thursday’s Duel race with very little help. He actually found some success in doing it before he was shuffled out of line late.
Like Harvick, Menard is in the fast, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and surely will be more than capable of running with the front runners. And although he’s not considered a favorite, many forget or don’t realize that Menard has one of the best average finish marks in recent races at Daytona.
Austin Dillon- The 2012 Nationwide Series rookie of the year has been impressive in his first go around in the Sprint Cup Series at Daytona. After posting a third place finish on Thursday, Dillon could be considered the front runner of the underdogs.
He has a fast Chevrolet and could pull out an upset if a few breaks fall his way.
Trevor Bayne- You have to wonder whether or not this No.21 Ford will be as fast as the car we saw on Thursday that led a good majority of the first half of the first Budweiser Duel race before it was collected in a crash late.
We all know the story of Bayne and his Daytona triumph. Could it happen again?