The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicks off Feb. 24 with the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The Great American Race also marks the beginning of the fantasy NASCAR season for fans who are again met with the tough decision of choosing the best drivers to fill their fantasy line-up. To help guide you through the 2013 season, Athlon Sports will be offering up our best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, we'll be breaking down our picks according to their NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, we give you our fantasy predictions for the 2013 Daytona 500, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):
1. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished in the top 3 in all four plate races last year and was strong in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited.
2. Tony Stewart — Has second-highest driver rating (96.5) for points-paying races at Daytona in the last eight years.
3. Kevin Harvick — Started week strong, winning Sprint Unlimited but that race winner hasn’t won the Daytona 500 since 2000. With four top-10s in his last six Daytona starts, could Harvick end that drought for Sprint Unlimited winners?
4. Jeff Gordon — Has the most top-fives (12) among active drivers in the Daytona 500.
5. Denny Hamlin — Has never had a DNF in 14 career starts at Daytona but has had only 2 top-10s in those races.
6. Clint Bowyer — Does not have a top-10 finish in his last five Daytona starts, including two DNFs during that stretch.
7. Kasey Kahne — Has schizophrenic track record. Has not finished better than 25th in the last four Daytona 500s but in the July Daytona race he has three consecutive top-10s.
8. Brad Keselowski — Last July’s Daytona race was his first top-10 finish at the track in seven Cup starts.
9. Jimmie Johnson — Has one top-15 finish in his last nine Daytona starts and has failed to finish the last two races there.
1. Kyle Busch — He has the highest driver rating for points races in the last eight years at Daytona at 97.6, and has the highest percentage of laps run in the top 15 (72.4) during that time)
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Among active drivers, he has the best average finish in Cup races at Daytona at 14.5 and has placed second in two of the last three Daytona 500s.
3. Jeff Burton — Only driver, other than Matt Kenseth, to score top-five finishes in both Daytona races last season.
4. Kurt Busch — Ranks third in laps led in points-paying races in the last eight years at Daytona behind only Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.
5. Carl Edwards — Has six top-10s in his last seven Daytona starts.
6. Greg Biffle — Led 79 laps in the two Daytona races last year, second only to Matt Kenseth, who led 139 laps in those races.
7. Joey Logano — In his last three Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished third, ninth and fourth.
8. Mark Martin — Has an average finish of 12.0 in last four Daytona 500s.
9. Paul Menard — In his last four Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished ninth, eighth, sixth and 14th.
10. Martin Truex Jr. — He’s the only driver to have led at least one lap in each of the last four Cup races at Daytona. His reply via Twitter: “time to lead the last one.’’
11. Bobby Labonte — Has three top-15 finishes in his last four Daytona starts, including a fourth in the 2011 Daytona 500.
12. Aric Almirola — Has scored four top-20 finishes in his last five starts in restrictor-plate races.
13. Ryan Newman — Since winning the 2008 Daytona 500, he has one top-15 finish at Daytona, a fifth-place finish last July.
14. Juan Pablo Montoya — Did not finish better than 28th in any of the four restrictor-plate races last season.
15. Marcos Ambrose — Has an average finish of 24.1 in eight career Cup races at Daytona and has yet to lead a lap.
16. Jamie McMurray — Since winning 2010 Daytona 500, he’s not had a top-10 finish at the track in a Cup race.
1. Michael Waltrip — Was challenging for the lead at Talladega in most recent restrictor-plate race last fall before the big last-lap crash. Has three top-20 finishes in last five Daytona starts.
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 20th in last year’s Daytona 500, his first start in the race. Place second in July Nationwide race at Daytona last year.
3. Austin Dillon — Making his first Cup start at Daytona. Finished in the top five last year in both Nationwide races there.
4. Trevor Bayne — 2011 Daytona 500 winner has had one top-10 finish in seven restrictor-plate races since that momentous day.
5. Danica Patrick — Daytona 500 pole-sitter has an average finish of 16.4 in the previous five 500s. Last pole-sitter to win Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
6. Terry Labonte — Has three top-20 finishes in last four Daytona starts.
7. David Ragan — Won the July Daytona race in 2011 but failed to finish either Daytona race last year, placing 26th and 43rd.
8. Joe Nemechek — Has finished inside the top 30 three times in his last 10 Daytona starts.
9. Casey Mears — Has finished in the top 25 in each of his past two Daytona starts.
10. Dave Blaney — Has never finished better than 14th in 24 races at Daytona.
11. Travis Kvapil — 16th-place finish at Daytona in July was his best finish at track in 12 career starts.
12. David Gilliland — Placed third in the 2011 Daytona 500. Has finished 16th, 23rd and 31st in the three Daytona races since.
13. Regan Smith — Since placing seventh in the 2011 Daytona 500, he’s finished 24th, 24th and 34th in his last three Daytona starts.
14. David Reutimann — Has not led a lap in 12 Daytona starts.
15. Mike Bliss — Last ran at Daytona in Cup in 2010. Did finish ninth that day in the July race.
16. Scott Speed — Last Daytona start was in 2010 in the July race where he finished 10th.
17. Michael McDowell — Has an average finish of 34.6 in five previous races at Daytona.
18. JJ Yeley — Has finished 40th and 43rd in his last two starts at Daytona.
19. Josh Wise — Did not run in last year’s Daytona 500 but in the other three restrictor-plate races last season, he finished 43rd, 38th and 42nd, completing a total of 57 laps.
—By Dustin Long