Daytona Duels preview: Let the games begin

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, with her Pole Award and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, with his Front Row Award after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 17: Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, with her Pole Award and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, with his Front Row Award after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Let’s face it; there are very few things in life that are sure bets. And so it goes with NASCAR’s opening salvo in the 2013 Sprint Cup season, the Daytona 500. No one can say who will take the checkered flag Sunday. In fact at this point just where the 43 drivers will start and who exactly those 43 drivers will be is somewhat of a mystery.

Some of the mystery will be solved Thursday with the running of the Duels At Daytona. The annual qualifying races will set the field for Sunday’s big show and while there is very little drama this year as to who will be racing Sunday and who won’t, racers compete to win and that always makes for a great show.

Here’s what we know: Danica Patrick starting position will be No. 1 and Jeff Gordon starting position will be No. 2. That’s it. A few other drivers, thanks to either their results in last Sunday’s pole qualifying or 2012 owner points – or, in the case of Kurt Busch, his 2004 championship – know they’re in the show. Beyond Patrick and Gordon however, no one knows just where they will start. Starting near the front in a restrictor plate race such as Daytona can help ensure survival. 2006 Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and then rookie Patrick learned that lesson the hard way in last year’s Daytona 500. On the start of the second lap Johnson, Patrick and several others who were running in the middle of the pack were swept up in a multi-car crash eliminating them from competition even before the race was underway. MORE>>>

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