Of the 48 drivers entered for the 2011 Daytona 500 39 will be looking for the biggest win of their careers by winning the big race, while 30 of them are looking for their first points-paying plate win period.
Here's the 3 former plate winners who I think have a shot of adding a Daytona 500 win to their racing resume:
Clint Bowyer & Jeff Burton:
Clint is the winner of the most recent plate race, barely beating out his teammate Kevin Harvick at Talladega last October for his first plate win. Clint has finished 4th in the last two Daytona 500's and has a solid 12.8 average finish with 6 top tens in 10 career Daytona starts. Jeff Burton's only plate win was in the night Daytona race in 2000, one of 5 podium finishes in 34 career starts there.
Simply put, ECR engines dominated the plate races last season and won all 4 races. Based on the Bud Shootout they don't show any signs of easing up and Clint Bowyer should be a contender. Jeff Burton hasn't shown a huge amount of plate prowess over the years but the equipment and his teammates are there for him to have a good shot.
Tony Stewart: Smoke has 3 wins in the Daytona night race (2005, 2006, 2009), 3 Bud Shootout wins and a Talladega win (2008). In 24 Daytona starts he has 7 top fives, 12 top tens and 640 laps led. Only Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s led more laps than Tony Stewart's 910 in the plate races since 1999.
Tony Stewart is today's Dale Earnhardt when it comes to trying to win the Daytona 500. Time and time again over the years Tony's been in contention and even had the best car only to see everything from late-race shuffling, mid-race wrecks and a last lap pass preventing the two time Cup champion from finally winning the series' biggest race; from 2004 to 2007 Tony led 260 laps in the Daytona 500 but with only a 2nd place finish in 2004 to really show for it. If he has anything going for him it's that karma's got to give him a bone one of these days.
And here's the 3 drivers with no plate wins who could make the Daytona 500 their first:
Technically Kahne has one plate win, a Daytona qualifier race last season, but as for points races Kahne finished 2nd in the most recent Daytona Cup race, the 2010 night race. Kahne has 5 top tens and a 17.6 average finish in 14 Daytona starts.
Kahne's gone from Evernham/GEM/RPM to Red Bull for the 2011 season, an organization with 3 top tens and a 20.8 average finish in 11 starts at Daytona since 2008. But he looked in the practices so far and looked good in the Shootout before his engine blew so he fits the mold of guys like Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth who've recently taken surprising Daytona 500 wins.
The 2011 Budweiser Shootout winner, most people have recognized Kurt Busch as the best active driver not to have a (points-paying) plate win. Kurt's a 3 time runner-up in the Daytona 500 (2003, 2005, 2008) with an impressive 9 top fives in 20 starts, and his Talladega record is even better; 6 top fives, 13 top tens, 13.7 averag finish in 20 starts.
Kurt's been a contender in the plate races whether he's driving a Roush Ford or a Penske Dodge and between his plate record and his Shootout win he's one of the overall favorites to win the Daytona 500, giving Shell/Pennzoil it's 2nd Daytona 500 win in the last 5 seasons (2007 with Kevin Harvick)
Juan Pablo Montoya:
The only driver among EGR and RCR without a plate win, JPM has just 2 top tens in 8 Daytona starts with a 22.6 average finish. His Talladega record's a lot better with 2 poles, 3 podium finishes and a 14.8 average finish in 8 starts. And his Talladega record might be more valid now thanks to the Daytona repaving.
Like I said before, ECR engines have dominated the plate races of late. Jeff Burton and JPM have been the only drivers not to reap the rewards yet but Jeff's had a taste before. JPM hasn't, and given the equipment he definitely has a shot although his chances among his fellow ECR drivers probably rank 4th or 5th.
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