In addition to last week's Sprint Unlimited, fantasy managers will get another preview of what the racing will look in the Daytona 500 by way of the two Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races being held Thursday night.
Restrictor plate racing is a different style, so the results of the 500 will only help to forecast the early May event at Talladega Superspeedway, the second plate track on the schedule. There's also return trips to each venue to consider. Daytona holds the annual Independence Day weekend race, while 'Dega gets a Chase event in October.
Race: Sunday, Feb. 23, at 12 p.m. EST
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Length: 2.5 miles
Turns 1-4: 31 degrees
Tri-oval: 18 degrees
Straightways: 3 degrees
Ryan Newman | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Newman is the only driver coming into the 56th running of the Daytona 500 with an active streak of three top-10s at DIS. Newman won "The Great American Race" back in 2008 but couldn't finish better than 20th in eight straight Daytona races until placing fifth in July of 2012, fifth in last year's 500, and 10th last summer. The Earnhardt-Childress Racing engine under his hood placed two other cars on the front row after turning heads throughout the practice sessions.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing
Truex is another beneficiary of ECR power. While the No. 78 doesn't run for Richard Childress Racing, there is a strong technical alliance with Furniture Row. In 17 career starts, Truex has only managed a single top-10 at Daytona. However, prior to a crash last July, he had registered an average running position of 13th or better in five consecutive DIS races, suggesting good things are on the horizon.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. | No. 17 Nationwide Insurance Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
In last year's rookie campaign, Stenhouse placed 12th and 11th, respectively in the Daytona races. At Talladega, he scored finishes of 13th and third. Although the time doesn't exactly matter, the starting grid is set after the Duels, the No. 17 was the ninth-quickest car in the qualifying session.
Michael Waltrip | No. 66 Peak BluDef/AAA Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Over the last four years, Waltrip has run almost exclusively at Daytona and Talladega. Last season, the two-time Daytona 500 winner placed fourth in the spring at 'Dega and fifth in the summer at DIS. In the 500, he managed only a 22nd -- similar to 2012 when Waltrip scored a top-10 in the second DIS race after crashing in the 500.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Gordon has claimed half a dozen checkered flags at Daytona over his career, half coming in the 500. However, over the last three years, he's only managed a single top-10 and ranks just 23rd among all drivers in points scored at DIS during that time. Gordon ran well for much of last year's 500 after starting on the outside pole but had to settle for 20th. Unless he starts near the front, there are better top-level drivers to consider for the season opener.
Trevor Bayne | No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford | Wood Brothers Racing
Bayne was the surprise winner of the 2011 Daytona 500, but that race featured the conversional tandem drafting that's since been eliminated by way of equipment changes. To date, it remains Bayne's only top-five finish in a Cup car. Bayne has made five more starts at DIS but has placed no better than 20th with two DNFs.