Daytona International Speedway
One of two restrictor plate tracks, Daytona International Speedway received a preview Saturday, Feb. 9, of what might come with the 50th running of the Great American Race. The non-points shootout consisted of 17 lead changes and the Cars of Today going up to a full mile per hour faster than their predecessors last year. However, the track conditions are expected to be as different as night and day when the drivers take to the track for the Daytona 500.
Daytona offers very high speeds, where drivers are able to keep their foot glued to the gas and draft off each other as a key to building up more speed. There is always the threat of "the big one" on this track, where some of the most spectacular wrecks and finishes have occurred. Another factor that makes this race so interesting is that any driver from any starting position can win on this track, making qualifying an afterthought for some drivers.
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Length: 2.50 miles
Banking: 31 degrees
Leading the Pack
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Gordon fared better than his teammate last season, registering a 10th-place finish. That would end up being his worst finish of the season at superspeedways, following that result at Daytona with a seventh-place finish and winning both times at Talladega Superspeedway. Last year's results are a significant improvement from 2006, where Gordon failed to finish better than 15th and ended with an average finish of 29.2. Gordon is always a threat to win any race, and fantasy owners should feel comfortable plugging him in as a solid No. 1 option.
Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Johnson had a horrendous start to the Nextel Cup season in 2007, finishing 39th in the Daytona 500 after getting into a multi-car collision. This season, Johnson will begin on the pole and looking to win his second career Daytona 500, with his first victory coming in 2006. Over his last four races on superspeedways, Johnson has an average finish position of 13.2, while posting two top-five and three top-10 finishes during that time. Fantasy owners should feel confident plugging Johnson in as a No. 1 driver, and he should be considered a favorite to win the Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard | Hendrick Motorsports
It should really be no surprise to see another Hendrick driver in the top three, especially when it involves a restrictor plate and Junior. The move to Hendrick Motorsports has appeared to light a fire under the superspeedway specialist, who has more wins at superspeedways (seven) than on any other track type. Junior won the Budweiser Shootout, which was his first trip to Victory Lane since May 2006, and appears to have the support he needs to be one of the most feared racers at Daytona. Earnhardt is at his best on superspeedways and should be considered a solid No. 1 option at Daytona.
Tony Stewart | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Stewart heads into the Daytona 500 on probation and looking to pick up his first win after nine failed attempts. During last season's 500 race, Stewart, who was leading the race, collected with Kurt Busch on Lap 153, resulting in a him finishing 43rd. He finished second at the Budweiser Shootout, which should quiet skeptics that don't believe that Toyota is for real heading into their second season. Stewart should compete for his first win at Daytona and should be considered a solid starting option.
Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Harvick looked poised to build on his fourth overall Cup finish in 2006, after winning the Daytona 500 by two one-hundredths of a second last year. However, it would all be for naught as Harvick failed to win another race and finished 10th overall in Cup points. The defending champion will attempt to become the fourth driver in the history of the Daytona 500 to win the event in back-to-back years. Harvick has to remain a favorite to win the race and is considered a solid No. 1 start in six-team or bigger leagues.
Drivers to Keep an Eye On
Dave Blaney | No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota | Bill Davis Racing
With the improved performance of Toyota engines obvious during testing and the Shootout, Blaney, who finished with the best results behind the wheel of a Toyota last season, is a candidate to surprise this week. He hasn't fared well during his career at superspeedways, tallying only one top-10 finish in 30 races. However, a seventh-place finish in the Shootout could be a sign of good things to come.
David Ragan | No. 6 AAA Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Ragan heads into this season coming off a solid rookie performance, where he finished just 24 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya for Rookie of the Year. Ragan made a solid impression in his first Daytona 500 race, finishing fifth after starting 35th. In his second appearance on the same track, he followed it up with a 12th-place finish during the Pepsi 400. Ragan is in his second season with Rousch and makes for an ideal sleeper candidate on this track.
Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Biffle is coming off back-to-back years where he finished on the outside looking in when it comes to the Chase. Over the past two years, Biffle has battled DNFs (11) and has managed only one top-10 finish in his last eight superspeedway races. However, Biffle won the Pepsi 400 in 2003 and paired with Roush is too good of a driver to have another underachieving year.
David Gilliland | No. 38 FreeCreditReport.com Ford | Yates Racing
Gilliland will make a bid to have similar success this year as he did in his first race at the Daytona 500 last season. He grabbed the pole and the managed to finish in eighth place after leading for 18 laps. Gilliland raced in his first full season last year, posting two top-10 finishes, which both coming at superspeedways. If there was a track where Gilliland appears to be a threat it would be on superspeedways where he ended the year with a 12.5 average finish.
Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
McMurray managed to win his only race last season at the Daytona International Speedway during the Pepsi 400 last season. Over the last four races on the track, McMurray has been involved in two accidents, while managing to get a victory and an eight place finish. McMurray is apart of a solid team, which could be the X-factor in another attempt at a strong finish at Daytona.