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Your! Call: Who will take the checkered flag at Daytona?

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Shane McNeil, TSN.ca
2/23/2013 1:46:42 PM
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Danica Patrick has stolen the headlines this week after becoming the first woman to ever win pole position for the Daytona 500, but can she hang on to win NASCAR's premiere event?

Daytona offers fans a first look at the field for the year-long race to the Sprint Cup. But who will emerge victorious to kick off the 2013 NASCAR season?

Watch the 2013 Daytona 500 live on TSN Sunday starting at Noon et/9am pt.

Over the past six years, Daytona has offered up more surprises than almost any other race on the circuit.

No one has won both Daytona and the Sprint Cup title since Jimmie Johnson in 2006, so there's no guarantee that Sunday's victor will be whomever performs the best over the course of the season.

In a marathon like Daytona, reigning champ Brad Keselowski's starting position of 15th shouldn't pose much threat to his success, but Keselowski ran into fueling issues during Daytona practice last week. He's also had an eventful week off the track after having to answer to NASCAR officials for comments critical of the circuit he made in a recent USA Today story.

Keselowski won five races in 2012 and could factor in on Sunday, however no defending series champion has won the race since Dale Jarrett claimed the checkered flag in 2000.

Matt Kenseth took last year's race under the lights as Daytona was pushed back a day for the first time. Last year's contest was a wild crash-filled affair that Kenseth was able to take firm hold of on a green-white-checkered flag restart.

But Kenseth, too, is up against long odds as no driver has captured back-to-back Daytona crowns since Sterling Marlin took the 1994 and '95 races.

So what about Patrick?

Still looking for her first NASCAR win, Patrick will make history as the first woman to be first off the line but she has yet to even crack the top 10 at Daytona in three previous tries, let alone threaten to win. Also working against her is that it's been a decade since a driver (Jarrett, again) won the race from a pole start.

Fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the 2004 race and is forever linked to the track that claimed his father's life in 2001. He'll start from 19th on the grid, but posted the fastest lap in Saturday's final practice session.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will start third and fourth, respectively after each claimed a Budweiser Duel race last week. Harvick is also a former Daytona champion, having claimed the race in 2007.

Meanwhile, after dominating the championship for seven years prior to Kenseth's 2012 title, the duo of Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart should never be discounted, especially in a marquee event like Daytona.

That said, the pair has only one win between them: Johnson's 2006 victory.

Who will it be this year?

It could be an established veteran like Jeff Gordon (who starts second) or Carl Edwards (who starts 35th) or someone could come out of nowhere to take the crown like 2011 winner Trevor Bayne?

We could see a repeat winner like Michael Waltrip or Ryan Newman. Maybe a perennial talent like Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne or Kurt Busch can finally figure Daytona out.

A total of 43 cars will start the race and history dictates that substantially fewer will finish.

But the question remains: Who will finish first?

As always, it's Your! Call.

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