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Driver Reports: Previewing the Daytona 500

February 20, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Previewing the Daytona 500
Track stats, 2013 results and more for 21 Sprint Cup Series drivers

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Editor's note: The first edition of Driver Reports for 2014 includes the top 16 in points standings last year, and five bonus drivers. Beginning next week, it will include the top 16 drivers in the current points standings.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Last year: Johnson won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship with 2,419 points.
2013 season stats: 6 wins, 16 top-fives, 24 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Johnson's average finish is 20.5 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past eight years. In 24 career starts at Daytona, he has three wins, eight top-fives, 11 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: It doesn't matter where Johnson starts in the field or how his No. 48 Chevrolet looks during the final bout of practices. As defending Daytona 500 champion and a six-time Cup Series champ, Johnson must be considered one of the race favorites.

Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Last year: Kenseth finished second with 2,400 points.
2013 season stats: 7 wins, 12 top-fives, 20 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Kenseth's average finish is 15.9 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past eight years. In 28 career starts at Daytona, he has two wins, six top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Kenseth is one of just 10 drivers in NASCAR history to have more than one Daytona 500 win. His pair of victories, though, came when driving for Jack Roush. A Toyota has never won the Daytona 500, and during single-lap qualifying runs, Kenseth was the top Toyota and in 17th place. Good thing for last year's title runner-up that the race will be spent drafting.

Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Last year: Harvick finished third with 2,385 points.
2013 season stats: 4 wins, 9 top-fives, 21 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Harvick's average finish is 16.4 and his average running position is 19.5 over the past eight years. In 25 career starts at Daytona, he has two wins, six top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: The Hendrick engine issue didn't hit Harvick -- that was reserved for his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick. Harvick had one of the cars to beat last year and finished 42nd after a wreck. He also finished 42nd in 2011. He seems due for a strong Daytona run.

Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Last year: Busch finished fourth with 2,364 points.
2013 season stats: 4 wins, 16 top-fives, 22 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Busch's average finish is 18.6 and his average running position is 12.3 over the past eight years. In 18 career starts at Daytona, he has one win, five top-fives, six top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Busch ranks first among all drivers in average running position in the past eight Daytona 500s. His average finish, though, ranks outside the top 10, the result of a wreck and an engine failure in two of the past five 500s. Staying out of trouble is critical for the No. 18 -- then again, how much control does a driver really have at Daytona?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Last year: Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth in the standings with 2,363 points.
2013 season stats: 10 top-fives, 22 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Earnhardt's average finish is 14.1 and his average running position is 14.5 over the past eight years. In 28 career starts at Daytona, he has two wins, 10 top-fives, 16 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Will Junior breakthrough? The veteran has two career wins at Daytona (one of which is a Daytona 500 triumph), both with Dale Earnhardt Inc. during the team's period of restrictor-plate mastery. He's finished runner-up in the 500 for two consecutive years and three of the past four years, and his average finish in the 500 over the past eight years leads the Cup Series. The No. 88 team knows how to be in contention at the end, which is nearly as great an achievement as winning itself.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Last year: Gordon finished sixth with 2,337 points.
2013 season stats:
1 win, 8 top-fives, 17 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Gordon's average finish is 20.4 and his average running position is 14.2 over the past eight years. In 42 career starts at Daytona, he has six wins, 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Gordon is the only active driver with three Daytona 500 victories, but the last one came in 2005. In the past six Daytona 500 races, Gordon's average finish is 26.0 with zero top-10s. History has been kind to Gordon here … just not recent history.

Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Last year: Bowyer finished seventh with 2,336 points.
2013 season stats: 10 top-fives, 19 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Bowyer's average finish is 14.8 and his average running position is 16.3 over the past eight years. In 16 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Want a smart pick for a driver who could win his first 500? Bowyer's not a bad bet. His average finish in the past eight years is fourth-best in the series, and in the past five years he's finished fourth twice and 11th twice. The key takeaway: Bowyer has run every single lap of every Daytona 500 he's ever run.

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Last year: Logano finished eighth with 2,323 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 11 top-fives, 19 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Logano's average finish is 20.9 and his average running position is 18.6 over the past eight years. In 10 career starts at Daytona, he has two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Logano's 19th-place effort in 2013 gave us one of the year's best images -- his yellow and red No. 22 Ford diving onto the apron to avoid a wreck, then kicking up a plume of grass when he narrowly edged the infield in getting back onto the oval. Big picture, it shows that 23-year-old knows how to wheel it. And remember, his one win last year came at a big track in 2-mile Michigan.

Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Last year: Biffle finished ninth with 2,321 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 13 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Biffle's average finish is 20.4 and his average running position is 18.0 over the past eight years. In 22 career starts At Daytona, he has one win, three top-fives, six top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Biffle earned the ire of some fans when he unseated Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the provisional pole during Daytona 500 qualifying, although neither driver held on to a top-two starting spot. Biffle should always be considered a Daytona threat, with his powerful Yates engine having never led to an equipment problem in any of his 11 Daytona 500s.

Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Last year: Busch finished 10th with 2,309 points.
2013 season stats: 11 top-fives, 16 top-10s, one pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Busch's average finish is 16.8 and his average running position is 16.4 over the past eight years. In 26 career starts at Daytona, he has 10 top-fives and 13 top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch is happy with his move to Stewart-Haas, although his former No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team put its new driver on the outside of front row. The Outlaw's strong Daytona runs have come when he was driving for a multicar team, so expect him to improve on his past two performances (28th, 39th).

Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Last year: Newman finished 11th with 2,286 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 18 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Newman's average finish is 18.8 and his average running position is 18.1 over the past eight years. In 24 career starts at Daytona, he has one win, four top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: It's been boom-or-bust for Newman at the Daytona 500. Yes, he has a win (in 2008) and three top-fives in the past eight years, but he also has three finishes outside the top 30 in that same span. This year? It appears to lean toward "boom," given the power of his Childress engine.

Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Last year: Kahne finished 12th with 2,283 points.
2013 season stats: 2 wins, 11 top-fives, 14 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Kahne's average finish is 17.4 and his average running position is 16.8 over the past eight years. In 20 career starts at Daytona, he has two top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Kahne simply has to stay out of trouble. He finished 36th last year after logging 150 of 200 laps and didn't finish the race in 2010 or 2012. A finish of 20th would be an upgrade at this point, and could help ease his past troubles of starting the season off slowly.

Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Last year: Edwards finished 13th with 2,282 points.
2013 season stats: 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 16 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Edwards' average finish is 18.2 and his average running position is 17.6 over the past eight years. In 18 career starts at Daytona, he has four top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Edwards is a safe bet in the 500, his 33rd-place finish last year following a wreck being the only outlier in the past five years. Given the tremendous improvement in his times at Daytona from December to February, he'll be in contention for a top-10 -- and maybe more.

Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Last year: Keselowski finished 14th with 1,041 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 9 top-fives, 16 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Keselowski's average finish is 22.1 and his average running position is 19.4 over the past eight years. In nine career starts at Daytona, he has one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: In 2012, Keselowski finished 32nd in the Daytona 500. He won the Sprint Cup title that year. In 2013, he finished fourth in the Great American Race. He did not make the Chase. The point -- don't put too much stock into his finish Sunday, regardless of where it is.

Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet  

Last year: McMurray finished 15th with 1,007 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, McMurray's average finish is 21.1 and his average running position is 18.0 over the past eight years. In 22 career starts at Daytona, he has two wins, three top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: In the three Daytona 500 races since McMurray won in 2010, his average finish is 27.0. A new crew chief in Keith Rodden and new teammate in Kyle Larson seems to have breathed new life into the No. 1 operation, though.

16. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Last year: Truex Jr. finished 16th with 998 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 7 top-fives and 15 top-10s
Track history: At Daytona, Truex Jr.'s average finish is 22.5 and his average running position is 16.6 over the past eight years. In 17 career starts at Daytona, he has one top-10 and one pole.
Quick hit: For the second consecutive year, Truex has a starting spot in the top five. He qualified second and will start on the outside front row. His car is among the best in the field, and his team purposefully held back in some of the practices. Perhaps they know the No. 78 is something special.

FIVE IN THE REARVIEW

Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Last year: Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
2013 season stats (Nationwide Series): 13 top-fives, 22 top-10s, 7 poles; made 11 Sprint Cup Series starts.
Track history: At Daytona, Dillon's average finish is 31.0 and his average running position is 20.7 over the past eight years. In one career start at Daytona, he finished 31st.
Quick hit: Dillon is a rookie driving the resurrected No. 3 and starting the Daytona 500 on the Coors Light Pole. No pressure, right? If Dillon's proved anything in his short stint of Sprint Cup races, it's that he won't buckle under pressure. And he's also pretty good on plate tracks.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Last year: Hamlin finished 23rd with 753 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 5 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Hamlin's average finish is 21.5 and his average running position is 16.5 over the past eight years. In 16 career starts at Daytona, he has two top-fives and two top-10s.
Quick hit: Hamlin's lone top-10 Daytona 500 finish came in 2012. The 1-for-8 mark isn't good, and Hamlin is coming off his worst Cup season to date. Still, the No. 11 team has serious momentum after winning the Homestead finale last year and the Sprint Unlimited season-opening event last Sunday.

Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet  

Last year: Larson finished eighth in the Nationwide Series.
2013 season stats (Nationwide Series): 9 top-fives, 17 top-10s; made four Sprint Cup Series starts.
Track history: At Daytona, Larson has 0 career Cup starts.
Quick hit: Larson may be one of the most naturally gifted rookies in recent memory. Don’t look at how he finishes, though -- study how he maneuvers his No. 42 Chevrolet around the track to get an idea of how his rookie season will go.

Danica Patrick (No. 10)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Last year: Patrick finished 27th with 646 points.
2013 season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Patrick's average finish is 20.0 and her average running position is 19.7 over the past eight years. In three career starts at Daytona, she has one top-10 and one pole.
Quick hit: It will be difficult for Danica to match her outing last year, when she led five laps and notched a top-10 finish. She's starting from the rear of the field, too, but if there's one track where Patrick can outperform expectations, it's Daytona.

Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Last year: Stewart finished 29th with 594 points.
2013 season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Stewart's average finish is 14.3 and his average running position is 15.6 over the past eight years. In 30 career starts at Daytona, he has four wins, nine top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Forget about 'Smoke' starting in the back. The high banks of Daytona provide a unique setting for Stewart's first race back since breaking his leg in August, and riding in the back may help him get more comfortable -- provided he's not caught up in the 'Big One.'