Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Driver Pick'em - Daytona Matchups
By Mark Garrow
Special to ESPN.com
ESPN.com is proud to introduce Driver Pick'em! Each week we will bring 10 exciting driver matchups where you must choose the driver that you think will finish ahead in all 35 Nationwide series events. Below are this week's matchups for Daytona:
- DALE EARNHARDT, JR. vs. TONY STEWART
This is a tough toss-up between two drivers who have been known to work together at Daytona and Talladega. Over on the Sprint Cup Series, Stewart has enabled Junior to win more than once by playing his wingman. Could it be the other way around this time? Tony has won three of the last six Nationwide Series season-openers and worst finish over that span is 12th with five top-10 runs. Junior has won five Daytona Nationwide races and finished third twice at Big "D" last year. Junior will drive prepared out of JR Motorsports, which is a partnership with Rick Hendrick. Stewart wheels a car out of the shops of Hendrick Motorsports.
- CLINT BOWYER vs. CARL EDWARDS
Edwards lost the championship last year to Bowyer, despite winning seven races to Bowyer's one. Edwards, though, finished tenth last year at Daytona, just his third top-10 in eight starts on the 2.5-mile track. Meanwhile, Bowyer has five top-five finishes in eight starts, but came home fifth last February after starting on the outside pole.
- GREG BIFFLE vs. MATT KENSETH
Here, two Roush Fenway Racing teammates go head-to-head. In 12 Daytona starts, Biffle has three top-five finishes, but all three came in the July race. Last February, he started 25th, coming home seventh for third top-10 run in last four Daytona attempts. A year ago, Kenseth took the green 14th and rose to fifth at the end. In nine Daytona starts, Kenseth has seven top-five and eight top-10 finishes with a worst finish of 12th for an average finish of 4.6.
- KEVIN HARVICK vs. KYLE BUSCH
Harvick and Busch are two of the more fiery drivers and, boy, wouldn't it be fun if these two lock horns in the closing laps. During 2008, Busch won 10 times, starting the year with a runner-up at Daytona. His first seven finishes at Daytona were ragged but he's made good in his past three starts; one win and two second-place finishes. Harvick didn't win last season, but he did claim the season-opener in 2007 and has 10 top-five finishes in 13 tries at the beach.
- BRAD KESELOWSKI vs. DAVID RAGAN
Butting heads here are two of the young guns. Keselowski, behind the wheel of Dale Jr.'s Chevy, finished 16th and fifth at Daytona in 2008. Ragan, in a Jack Roush Ford, finished ninth in both races. Ragan failed, though, to win last season with Keselowski breaking into victory lane twice.
- BRIAN VICKERS vs. MICHAEL WALTRIP
This is going to be a tough call. Vickers came home fourth in February last season, but a mechanical failure caused him to finish 37th in July. His best finish is a July runner-up in 2006. Waltrip didn't run at Daytona last year or 2007, but in 2006 his finishes were 15th and 38th. Still, he's won the Daytona 500 and finished second four times in Nationwide competition on the Florida high-banks.
- MIKE BLISS vs. DAVID REUTIMANN
Bliss finished 17th driving for a different team last February, but his current car owner James Finch finished Daytona 13th with Johnny Sauter. Driving for Finch in July, Bliss came home tenth. Bliss' average Daytona finish is 24.9. Meanwhile, Reutimann was 14th in both Daytona encounters in 2008. In five Daytona starts, Reutimann has yet to finish top-10 and average finish is 25.2.
- BRENDAN GAUGHAN vs. STEVE WALLACE
These two are new teammates driving Rusty Wallace Chevys. As a rookie last season, Steve Wallace crashed out at Daytona in February, finishing 37th, but came back to finish13th in July. He also wrecked in the Talladega plate race. Gaughan has run only one Nationwide Series race in his career and that was back in 2001. He did, however, run all 36 Sprint Cup races in 2004 and has run 162 Truck Series races. Gaughan crashed in the Daytona truck race last year and in six pick-up runs at the World Center of Racing has just a single top-10 finish.
- JASON KELLER vs. DAVID GREEN
These two have battled each for years on the Nationwide Series. Keller is behind the wheel of the Mike Curb he ran in the final seven races of 2008. He was 36th and 18th in the two Daytona races last season. In 18 starts, Keller has collected only two top-five and four top-10s. His best finish is fourth, which he did twice. Green, a former series champion, has made 16 starts with only two top-10 finishes. Green's average finish at Daytona is 20.6 and Keller's is 19.4.
- MICHAEL MCDOWELL vs. JUSTIN ALLGAIER
McDowell ran 25 Sprint Cup and two Nationwide Series races last year. In the two Nationwide races his finishes were 27th and 42nd. McDowell, is driving for the team Kelly Bires drove for last season, JTG Daugherty Racing. Bires finished 12th and 16th in the two Daytona races in 2008. Driving for Roger Penske, Justin Allgaier is practically a raw rookie, having run just four Nationwide Series races last year. This will be the 22-year-old's first restrictor plate race. Last year, Allgaier was the ARCA Series Champion.