The field at Daytona is packed with potential victors. Lee Spencer lists the drivers you should keep a very close eye on come Saturday night.
Keep an Eye On: AJ Allmendinger
AJ squeezed out a third-place finish in the rain-shorted 500 in February. Allmendinger led the charge among the three Richard Petty Motorsports drivers who finished in the top 10. Given that RPM has improved its equipment substantially in the last four months, expect 'Dinger to make the most of his opportunity.
Keep an Eye On: David Reutimann
Reutimann considers Daytona his hometown track. The Zephyrhills, Fla., native scored a career-high 12th-place finish in February and topped the speed chart in Happy Hour. Reutimann's rain-shortened victory in the Coca-Cola 600 and last week's fourth-place finish at a drenched New Hampshire plays into his favor with the forecast Saturday night.
Keep an Eye On: Michael Waltrip
All three of Waltrip's Daytona wins came behind the wheel of the No. 15 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet. However, Waltrip finished seventh in this year's 500 in his own equipment. His 45 Daytona starts have been marred by 10 DNFs. However, Waltrip's four career victories were scored at restrictor-plate tracks.
Not the Usual Suspects: David Ragan
Ragan has finished sixth or better in his five Daytona starts. His average finish in his last two starts on the 2.5-miler is 5.5 but his overall average of 14th is admirable. Ragan topped the speed chart in the first Daytona Cup practice and in the Nationwide Series Happy Hour.
Not the Usual Suspects: Kevin Harvick
If NASCAR doesn't call the February race for rain, Harvick likely collects his second Harley J. Earl Trophy. In addition to his 2007 Daytona 500 win, Harvick has posted four top fives and six top 10s in 16 starts.
Not the Usual Suspects: Clint Bowyer
Bowyer has finished every lap attempted in seven starts at Daytona and has posted one top five and five top-10 finishes on the 2.5-miler. Although Richard Childress Racing hasn't had its A-game this year, the company's equipment has always been stout on restrictor-plate events. Not surprisingly, Bowyer's average finish at Daytona is 11th.
Not the Usual Suspects: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt had a top 10 going at New Hampshire before the rain arrived. No doubt Daytona is a track where Junior can find redemption. Although both of Earnhardt's Daytona wins were earned in the 500, he's also posted six top fives and 11 top 10s at the track overall, including ninth and eighth in last year's races.
Blue Chip: Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch won this race last July. He's finished in the top five in three of the last four events and led 88 laps in February before he was collected in the big one. In nine starts, Busch has four top fives but his average finish of 18.4 includes two DNFs. If Busch can avoid the big one Saturday, his will again be the car to beat.
Blue Chip: Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart shines under the lights at Daytona, where Smoke has won two of the last four summer events. His average starting position of 10.4 is his best qualifying effort at all tracks except the two road courses. In 21 Daytona starts, Stewart has scored six top fives and 11 top 10s. Three of his four DNFs were posted in the 500.
Blue Chip: Jeff Gordon
Gordon's six Daytona wins are twice as many as any other full-time driver on the tour. Only Richard Petty (10), Cale Yarborough (9) and David Pearson (8) have more victories. In 33 attempts, Gordon has finished in the top five in every third event and in the top 10 in more than half of his races. His four poles equal his four DNFs, but despite being sidelined by two crashes and two mechanical failures, Gordon has completed a remarkable 96 percent of all his attempted laps.