With the Gatorade Duel 150s in the books, the starting lineup for Sunday's Daytona 500 is now set. Former winners Michael Waltrip and Bill Elliott were among the big names to miss the field, while Michael McDowell and Dave Blaney played the role of underdog and raced their way in. After rookie Trevor Bayne's victory in the Great American Race last season, it's tough to rule out any of the 43 drivers that will take the green flag. That being said, certain drivers did set themselves apart during Thursday's qualifying races.
Roush Fenway Racing was the big winner. Matt Kenseth won the second Gatorade Duel, giving Jack Roush his first-ever win in a qualifying race. Kenseth's victory also put all three RFR cars in the top four starting spots, after Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle swept the front row in qualifying last Sunday. Edwards and Biffle looked strong Thursday, as well, and both drivers finished in the top five in their qualifying race. Biffle also led the most laps in his Gatorade Duel, and most importantly, neither driver damaged their cars.
While Roush Fenway Racing emerged as the team to beat, Tony Stewart looks like the driver to beat after winning the first Gatorade Duel. The defending champ has become this generation's Dale Earnhardt, winning anything and everything except the Daytona 500. He has led the most laps in the race, led on the final lap and his 17 total victories at the track are the second all-time to the "Intimidator." Still, the Harley J. Earl Trophy has somehow eluded him. "Smoke" looks like a contender once again, and he will try to get the monkey off his back Sunday.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper pick should consider Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler. Smith finished second in his qualifying race Thursday, and he actually posted the best driver rating in last year's Daytona 500. He actually wrecked in the closing laps of the 2011 event, but he still managed to recover and finish in the top 10. Smith appears to have a car capable of doing the same this weekend. Meanwhile, Sadler grabbed a fourth-place finish in his Gatorade Duel, and his one-race stint with Richard Childress Racing could be a beneficial one for owners. Sadler actually has the sixth-best average finish at Daytona since the start of the 2002 season, and RCR has won four of the last eight restrictor-plate races.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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