Read this analysis of the Daytona 500 starting lineup at your own peril. It’s kind of like the racing at Daytona International Speedway this week. It could change in an instant.
Here is a look at the 43 qualifiers for the Daytona 500, many of who will go to the rear of the field because of blown engines or backup cars during the week. Those drivers will remain in the lane they started in and move to the rear in the order they were in the original lineup to take the green flag.
1. Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet — Dillon starts on the pole in what will an emotional return for the No. 3. While many of the veterans have torn up equipment this week, Dillon has kept his car clean. For a driver who flipped in his last restrictor-plate race (remember Talladega?), that’s important. He also got some valuable experience in his qualifying race, both leading and dropping to the rear.
2. Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Chevrolet — Will go to the rear of the field after getting caught up in a wreck Thursday. This will not phase Truex at all. That’s what backup cars are for.
3. Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota — A hangover from runnerup finish in points from last year? It sure doesn’t look like it. Kenseth could win his third Daytona 500.
4. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota — No pain, no gain. 2013 was a pain. So far, 2014 is going great for Hamlin, who is two-for-two at Daytona. No driver has swept all three Speedweeks races at Daytona, but Hamlin looks like he could it.
5. Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet — Kahne has been quietly good this week. Typical Kahne fashion.
6. Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet — Has only one top-10 in the Daytona 500 since he won in 2005. He is due and finished second in his qualifier.
7. Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Ford — Got to think that Richard Petty is happy that he has a car starting ahead of all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars after his verbal spat with Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart. Then again, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
8. Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet — Only SHR driver not starting near the rear of the field after third-place run in Duels. He’ll see at least some of his teammates soon enough, as is the nature of restrictor-plate racing.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet — Starts right behind Ambrose, who was the guy who wrecked him Saturday in the Unlimited. Pretty sure both drivers have forgotten about it already. Earnhardt is thinking more about past history and three second-place finishes in the last four Daytona 500s.
10. Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet — Showed just how strong the RCR backups are as he took a backup car and finished fourth in his qualifying race.
11. Josh Wise, Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Ford — Great run by Wise in his qualifying race as he pretty much had to race his way into the Daytona 500. But for a guy who swam with sharks in a recent triathlon, no problem.
12. Brian Scott, CircleSport Racing No. 33 Chevrolet — Scott has had a solid Speedweeks in this RCR-built car as he makes his first Daytona 500.
13. Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford — Armed with a contract extension for the next few years, Almirola enters 2014 with confidence and comfort he’s never had in his career.
14. Trevor Bayne, Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford — Made it look easy racing his way in Thursday, but the 2011 Daytona 500 winner had a nervous few days as he likely wouldn’t have gotten in on speed or points. Bayne has proven he can race in the draft.
15. AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet — Switch to Chevrolet and RCR alliance so far a good move for this team, which has Allmendinger replacing Bobby Labonte.
16. Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet — Will he be nervous before his first Daytona 500? Ha, Larson, nervous. He was completely unfazed by his airborne crash that knocked down the fence here last year. The dude is one of the coolest customers among the young drivers and looked good in the draft Thursday.
17. David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford — Solid starting spot for Gilliland but we shouldn’t be surprised. Gilliland and Front Row have shown the ability to race well at restrictor-plate tracks.
18. Landon Cassill, Mike Hillman Racing No. 40 Chevrolet — Cassill got run over on his bike Saturday. If getting a black eye, a bloody face and road rash is the price to pay to get into the Daytona 500, he’d do it every year.
19. Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet — Went fishing in the speedway lake Friday morning. Restrictor-plate racing is kind of like fishing as it takes a bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time. Newman is pretty good on the pond and hopes he can carry over some of that luck to the track.
20. Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota — Has a knack for crossing finish line either upside down or after flipping and rolling. Next step: Flip and win. If anybody can pull that off, it’d be Bowyer. But first he will go to the rear with backup car.
21. Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet — Showing no signs of wear or rust from his layoff because of a broken leg. Don’t worry about his starting spot (he’ll start in rear because of an engine change), the fire from rehab will now be redirected to his racing.
22. Jamie McMurray, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet — Says restrictor-plate performance goes in waves. Hopes that the wave of running well late in his race Thursday is where he picks up, and not where he wrecked and trashed his car. Will start in the rear because of a backup.
23. Cole Whitt, Swan Racing No. 26 Toyota — Has no business being in this race after having a bolt pierce his tire in practice, causing him to crash and nearly destroying his racecar. But he’s here thanks to a stellar move in his qualifying race. Guess we should have expected it from a team co-owned by former NFL star Bill Romanowski and a company owned by 50 Cent as one of its sponsors.
24. Terry Labonte, Go FAS Racing No. 32 Ford — Says this will be his last Daytona 500. And he means it this time, as opposed to last year. We think he’s right — no way he’d want to go through the stress of trying to qualify again.
25. Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 Ford — The Fords have good power, so expect the Roush Fenway drivers to get to the front. But this is the Daytona 500, not exactly one of the primo races for Jack Roush.
26. Bobby Labonte, HScott Motorsports No. 52 Chevrolet — Labonte is running a handful of races for this team. He’s not ready to retire just yet. Will start in the rear because of an engine change.
27. Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Chevrolet — Patrick misses the spotlight of last year. But that’s OK, she can gain it back by surpassing last year’s eighth-place finish, which set a new standard for a female driver in the Daytona 500. She will start in rear because of engine change but has a fast car. Now all she needs is find someone to draft with her.
28. Casey Mears, Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet — Team switched from Ford to Chevrolet in offseason and added an RCR alliance. He was running well in qualifying race before running out of fuel.
29. Alex Bowman, BK Racing No. 23 Toyota — Said he puked Thursday because he was nervous about making the Daytona 500. Relax, Alex, you did fine and made the race. Now it’s time to race in the sport’s biggest event with millions watching. Nothing to be nervous about at all.
30. Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing No. 99 Ford — Edwards was a little surprised at how fast his car was in qualifying. Now he’d like to surprise those overlooking him as a contender to win the Daytona 500. His team fixed his damaged car after Thursday’s wreck.
31. Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota — Vickers is healthy after missing the final five races of 2013 because of a blood clot. He needs to get off to a good start in his first full Cup season in three years, but it hasn’t gone well so far at Daytona.
32. Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet — He’s been in two wrecks so far and apologized profusely for running out of gas and causing the big wreck in his qualifying race. He didn’t win any friends with the move, but with a fast car, he’ll have plenty of people wanting to work with him (and then pass him) Sunday. The defending Daytona 500 will start in the rear with a backup car.
33. Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing No. 2 Ford — Flabbergasted that he was called for speeding on pit road in the Duels. Better to get those mistakes out of the way on Thursday rather than Sunday. He led 36 laps and looks to have the fastest Ford.
34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford — A win in the Daytona 500 would have people calling him by his name instead of “Danica’s boyfriend.”
35. Joey Logano, Penske Racing No. 22 Ford — Please, stay away from Matt Kenseth. Bad things happen when those two get together. They’ve already ignited two big wrecks this week. Logano caused the second one and might not get much help Sunday.
36. Michael Annett, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Ford — Annett makes his Daytona 500 debut. Better than a year ago when he spent the Daytona 500 in the hospital with a broken sternum from the Nationwide race the day before.
37. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota — Busch hasn’t done much so far during Speedweeks. He likes to joke that he likes to make things exciting by having to come up through the field. We’re ready for some excitement from Rowdy.
38. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet — He should be starting fifth but a technical infraction in the Duels has him starting near the rear of the field. His rivals shouldn’t be celebrating this. That just puts more fire into a Harvick belly already full of it. He proved in the Duels that he’s determined to win.
39. Reed Sorenson, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36 Chevrolet — Was the last driver to make it into the Daytona 500 thanks to his owner points, which shows the benefit of racing every race as TBR did last year.
40. Justin Allgaier, HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet — The rookie starting his first Daytona 500 hopes to find some performance from this car that wasn’t there Thursday. Still, for this team under new ownership, it’s nice to have both Allgaier and Bobby Labonte in the field.
41. Parker Kligerman, Swan Racing No. 30 Toyota — Had to sweat out watching the second qualifying race Thursday to make sure he was in the field. He made it and became one of the bigger success stories of the week after a wreck in practice put his car on its roof.
42. Michael Waltrip, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 66 Toyota — Took some hard hits in wreck Thursday but will be ready to race. A two-time Daytona 500 winner, he nearly won at Talladega in 2012. Will race a backup car.
43. David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford — Like Waltrip, he’s in a backup car and technically will have to “move” to the rear of the field. At least there’s no confusion, he’s already there. And he’s one of only three drivers to win a restrictor-plate race last year. #NFB