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ADAM ANSELL'S TOP 25 FOR DAYTONA
1. Jimmie Johnson: With back-to-back victories at Sonoma and Loudon, Johnson's "slump" has all but been erased. He's been a virtual non-factor in restrictor plate races this season, with an Average Finish of 33rd at Daytona and Talladega. But Johnson finished second in this event last July, and his victories the past two weeks at such different tracks is a sign he has taken his craft to new heights. In 17 starts at Daytona, Johnson has one win, six Top Fives, nine Top 10s and two poles. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Johnson ranks fifth in Driver Rating (91.8), second in Laps in the Top 15 (1,440) and third in Quality Passes (1,397). He leads all competitors in Average Running Position (10.9) and Average Green Flag Speed (185.637 mph). History doesn't necessarily dictate a Johnson win, but momentum certainly does.
2. Tony Stewart: Stewart won this event a year ago in dramatic fashion, out-dueling Kyle Busch on the final lap to take the Checkered Flag. In 23 Daytona starts, Stewart has three wins, seven Top Fives, 12 Top 10s and one pole. He leads all drivers in DR (104.5) and Laps Led (516). He ranks third in ARP (12.2), Fastest Laps Run (54) and Laps in the Top 15 (1,383). In 22 restrictor plate events since '05, Stewart has a DR of 96.7 and ARP of 13.4. It's difficult to pass judgment on Stewart based on his below-average 19th-place Average Finish in restrictor plate events this season. He's only now hitting his stride, with an Average Finish of 4.75 over his last four Cup starts. Stewart is a top-tier play in all formats.
3. Kyle Busch: He has an Average Finish of 11.5 in two restrictor plate races this season. Respectable, but not great, until you consider in those two races Busch has a series-best 104.5 DR and 9.3 ARP. In 11 Daytona starts, Busch has one win (July 2008) and four Top Fives with an Average Finish of 17.6. He ranks second in DR (100.6), ARP (10.9) and Laps Led (238). In fact, Busch has led at least one lap in seven consecutive starts at Daytona. Considering how last year's July 4th weekend event turned out for Busch, expect that streak to extend to eight this weekend.
4. Kevin Harvick: The Sprint Cup points leader has been phenomenal in plate races this season, finishing seventh in the February event at Daytona and taking the Checkered Flag at Talladega, his only win of the season. He has one win (February 2007), four Top Fives, seven Top 10s and one pole in 18 starts at the site. His Average Finish at Daytona is 15.2. He ranks ninth in DR (85.4) and 13th in ARP (17.3). He may be atop the Cup standings now, but once the Top 12 are reseeded for the Chase, Harvick will be shuffled down the pecking order in favor of drivers with more victories. With nine races until the Chase begins, look for him to push for the victory and focus on seeding.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt is 13th in the Cup standings, just three points out of the final spot for the Chase. An excellent restrictor-plate driver, he finished second in the first Daytona event and 13th at Talladega. In 21 Daytona starts, Junior has two wins, seven Top Fives and 12 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 14.9. He ranks eighth in DR (87.7) and seventh in ARP (15.2). Earnhardt will run double duty this weekend, driving the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet in honor of his late father in Friday night's Nationwide Series event. To say this will be an emotional weekend for Junior is an understatement. He'll do Dale Sr. proud with no less than a Top Five finish in the Cup event.
6. Jamie McMurray: He's been a restrictor-plate specialist this season, winning the February event at Daytona and finishing second at Talladega. McMurray has two wins, three Top Fives and four Top 10s in 15 starts at the site. He has an Average Finish of 23rd over his past four races, but is a near lock to score a Top 10 finish this weekend. McMurray's success at Daytona and Talladega would seem to be a testament to his talents, not necessarily the equipment he's behind. He's won two Daytona events since 2007, one with Roush Fenway Racing and the other with his current team, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. He is 13th in DR (82.1) and 12th in ARP (17.2) and is a must-start in all formats.
7. Jeff Gordon: Gordon will make his 36th career start at Daytona this weekend, where he has six wins, 11 Top Fives, 17 Top 10s and three poles. He has led at least one lap in six consecutive Daytona events and eight of the past nine. But keep in mind, his last pole at the site was July 2007, and his last win came in February 2005. Gordon has just one win in his last 91 races, and has an Average Finish of 24th at Daytona and Talladega this season. He ranks sixth in DR (91.5) and fourth in ARP (12.5). Gordon probably won't compete for the win, but as usual is a quality start in all formats other than Elimination this week.
8. Matt Kenseth: After a hot start to the season with an Average Finish of 5.4 in his first five starts, Kenseth has just one Top 10 in his last five races with an Average Finish of 17.6. He finished eighth in the February event at Daytona and 28th at Talladega, making it difficult to get a read on him. He has one win, three Top Fives and 10 Top 10s in 21 starts at the site. He ranks third in DR (93.4) and fifth in ARP (14.4). He also has the second-most Fastest Laps Run (56) since '05. Expect him to get back into the Top 10 with a solid performance at Daytona.
9. Kurt Busch: Minus a 32nd-place performance at Infineon, Busch has a 3.25 Average Finish over his last four races. He came in eighth at Talladega, and 23rd at the February event at Daytona. Busch has nine Top Fives and 10 Top 10s in 19 Daytona starts. He ranks fourth in DR (92.7) and sixth in ARP (14.4). He has the sixth-most Laps in the Top 15 (1,292) and Quality Passes (1,315). If the Chase began today Busch would be reseeded to fourth, but with a win at Daytona he'd jump up to third. He may not press for the win like Harvick will, but it's definitely in the back of his mind.
10. Jeff Burton: No driver has had worse luck than Burton as of late. Subpar results over his last six starts at Daytona that has seen him put up an Average Finish of 20.2 doesn't help matters. But the patient Burton has helmed some fantastic cars this season, and his experience at Daytona is second-to-none. In 33 starts at the site, he has one win (July 2000), six Top Fives, eight Top 10s and one pole. Burton is 12th in DR (82.5) and nine in ARP (15.9). He leads all drivers with 2,319 Green Flag Passes. He'll take his frustrations out on the rest of the field, cleanly I might add, in the form of a Top 10 finish.
11. Juan Pablo Montoya: Finished 10th at Daytona in February and third at Talladega. 64.2 DR.
12. Denny Hamlin: Finished third in this event last year. 81.5 DR.
13. Clint Bowyer: Two Top Fives and six Top 10s in nine Daytona starts. 88.4 DR.
14. Ryan Newman: One win, two Top Fives and three Top 10s in 17 Daytona starts. 82.7 DR.
15. Carl Edwards: Three Top Fives and four Top 10s in 11 Daytona starts. 84.0 DR.
16. Greg Biffle: 74.2 DR.
17. Mark Martin: 80.5.
18. Martin Truex Jr.: 76.4.
19. Kasey Kahne: 80.4.
20. Marcos Ambrose: 63.5.
21. Brad Keselowski
22. David Reutimann
23. Joey Logano
24. David Ragan
25. Sam Hornish Jr.
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