Feb 22, 2014, 11:22 PM EDT
So, today will mark the 2014 running of the Daytona 500. Here’s the starting grid, and a brief outlook for each of the 43 drivers competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener:
- 1. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet. Rookie and big media story, but a simple top-10 will more than suffice as a realistic result for his debut. Anything more is a bonus.
- 2. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet. Will drop to rear with a backup car. Has never won a restrictor-plate race but will enjoy a methodical race as he comes through the field in his Furniture Row Racing debut.
- 3. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota. Could well have won his Joe Gibbs Racing debut here last year, and could very easily win his third Daytona 500 on Sunday. If he does, it would be the first under normal race circumstances (2009 rain-shortened, 2012 rain-delayed til Monday).
- 4. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota. The only thing holding him back from a Daytona Speedweeks sweep is history. Otherwise, the FedEx driver is odds-on favorite.
- 5. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet. Consistent and under-the-radar, with few true “wow” moments thus far in his Hendrick career. Could make a statement with standout effort.
- 6. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet. It hasn’t been 10 years since his third and most recent Daytona 500 win, but he could well pull off number four Sunday if he avoids the likely, inevitable “big one” that he’s been caught up in in recent restrictor-plate races.
- 7. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were talking about Richard Petty’s race team rather than his comments? If Ambrose runs well Sunday, we might.
- 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet. A win on his Stewart-Haas Racing debut would be a mild surprise, given it’s a new fourth team. But Busch is another who’s been too good to have not won the ‘500, and should be in contention until the waning stages.
- 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet. Big name. Ten years since his last Daytona 500 win. Winless in 2013. A win would provide a nice book-end to Speedweeks after the 3 took pole.
- 10. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet. Solid sleeper pick, with RCR engines and a tendency to hang around the lead pack if he avoids being caught up in an accident.
- 11. Josh Wise, No. 98 Ford. Underfunded Phil Parsons Racing team actually scored a top-10 here with Michael McDowell in 2013, and an encore with Wise would be a great story.
- 12. Brian Scott, No. 33 Chevrolet. Like Menard, a good sleeper for RCR. But likely to lose fractions of time on pit lane, and it’s only his second career Cup start. Although that worked out rather well for Trevor Bayne in 2011…
- 13. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford. Like Ambrose, would shift the conversation away from Petty’s mouth to his iconic number. But does he have the aggressiveness to contend if he’s in the frame late? Doubtful.
- 14. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford. The 2011 ‘500 winner is unlikely to repeat. He hasn’t done much in Cup since, and really could just use a solid top-10 or top-15 finish.
- 15. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet. New team, new engines, new motivation for the driver who finished third here in 2009. Another sleeper who could overachieve.
- 16. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet. A superstar-in-waiting, but this won’t be his breakout.
- 17. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford. Team and driver are sneaky good on restrictor-plate tracks. He could end up in the top-10 late and you’ll ask yourself “where’d he come from?”
- 18. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet. He got hit by a bike, then made the race. Small team seeks to complete the race first, then go from there.
19. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet. Of RCR’s four cars, my likeliest contender. Knows his way to victory lane in the race, has the equipment, has the motivation.
- 20. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota. The definite favorite to win if a big one happens off Turn 4 on the last lap, because he’ll somersault or flip his way to victory.
- 21. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet. Would be a sentimental favorite if he pulls it off. Starts from the rear after an engine change.
- 22. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet. Backup car set for the 2010 ‘500 winner, who has always run well on restrictor-plate tracks.
- 23. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota. Making the field was his victory, with no owner points on offer.
- 24. Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford. Happy to be in for his final ‘500 start, but will only score a result if he stays out of trouble.
- 25. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford. Has had chance to win this race before, but needs that last little bit of luck and/or movement to actually pull it off.
- 26. Bobby Labonte, No. 52 Chevrolet. Engine change means he’ll go to the rear. James Finch’s team has punched above its weight in restrictor-plate races, so that bodes well for the 2000 Cup champion.
27. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet. Engine change, and will go to the back. Always a story line, and we’re preparing in advance for the Internet exploding if a last-to-first race happens. Still, restrictor-plate races are her strong suit, and a top-10 is very possible.
- 28. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet. Famous name, but little else in the way of luck or past success that portends a big run on Sunday.
- 29. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota. Literally nothing to lose for the 20-year-old in his Cup debut, in the sport’s biggest race. Bring it home on four wheels, and a possible top-20 beckons.
- 30. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford. Like Roush Fenway teammate Biffle, close but no cigar in terms of Daytona victories. Has had a quiet Speedweeks thus far.
- 31. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota. A practice crash and bad Duel result have not been what Vickers needed in his return to a full-time Cup ride. Here’s hoping bad luck doesn’t come in threes.
- 32. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet. The defending race and series champ has had a miserable Speedweeks, and it doesn’t matter. He’ll be coming on through the field.
- 33. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford. Like JJ in the spot ahead of him, you’d be a fool to bet against hearing from Brad on Sunday. Whether it’s the lead pack or not is still to be determined.
- 34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford. Danica’s boyfriend needs something else to be remembered for this Speedweeks, other than him crashing into her at the Sprint Unlimited.
- 35. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford. Two wrecks thus far this Speedweeks haven’t endeared Logano to the competition. Another case of “here’s to avoiding three.”
- 36. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet. He’ll make his Cup debut, and has had thus far an anonymous Speedweeks. Not expecting that to change on Sunday.
- 37. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota. The lead of the most dangerous late-grid row on the grid. The Truck race winner Friday night hasn’t yet had the marquee win of his 100-plus in his NASCAR career, and is going to factor into win contention.
38. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet. Stewart-Haas debut plus extra motivation after RCR’s hogged the headlines in qualifying equals a hungry, hungry Harvick.
- 39. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet. He’s back in Cup and he’s with likeable team owner Tommy Baldwin. Otherwise, not much to report here.
- 40. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet. Like the other rookies, just wants to complete laps and potentially steal a result if he avoids trouble.
- 41. Parker Kligerman, No. 30 Toyota. Great story, a great interview and due for a bit of luck after his crazy Wednesday and Thursday.
- 42. Michael Waltrip, No. 66 Toyota. He doesn’t race often, but when he does, he’s the most interesting man to watch in the world of restrictor-plate racing.
- 43. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford. He won Talladega last year – really! And he almost won the ‘500 a few years ago! You wouldn’t know it by the fact he hasn’t gotten much coverage this month, but another of those “sneaky good spoilers” if his car stays upright.
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