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Matt McLaughlin’s Driver Handicaps: 2007 Firecracker 400 at Daytona

Jeff Gordon – Gordon’s Daytona record speaks for itself; he’s won a total of six points races there, most recently the 2005 Daytona 500. With the Hendrick teams on a roll at the plate tracks, that should make Gordon an automatic contender, right? Not quite; it has to be pointed out that Gordon has finished outside the top 25 in two of the last four points races here.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has yet to finish better than 17th in any of the six plate races he’s started on the Cup circuit.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth’s fifth-place finish in this race last year was his best points-race result at Daytona. He has just five top-10 finishes in 15 points-paying races run here.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson had a streak of four straight top 10s at Daytona leading up to his win in the ’06 Daytona 500 (oddly enough, that one came with his crew chief suspended at the time). But in the two races held there since that win, Johnson has finished 32nd and 39th.

Jeff Burton – Burton’s third-place finish in this year’s 500 was his first top-10 result at the track since 2003. He did win the Firecracker 400 in 2000 while still driving for Jack Roush.

Tony Stewart – Stewart has won the last two Firecracker 400s. In the last seven point races run here, Stewart has six top-10 finishes, but he crashed and finished dead last in this year’s 500 with what was arguably one of the top two cars in the field.

Carl Edwards – Edwards’s best Daytona finish in five points-race starts was 12th, which he scored, ironically enough, in the first race he drove here.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick won this year’s Daytona 500 – a somewhat unexpected victory considering that it was only his third top-five result in 12 points-race starts at the track.

Kyle Busch – Busch finished second in this race last year, but his average finish in five Daytona points-paying starts is just 24th.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex’s average finish here in four Daytona Cup starts is 27th. He did win the Busch Series July race at Daytona in 2005, and he has three plate wins at Talladega in that series.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer posted top-10 finishes in both Daytona points races last year, but finished 18th in this year’s 500.

NEFF: FANTASY INSIDER FOR THE 2007 FIRECRACKER 400

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Junior won this race in emotional style back in 2001 after returning to the track for the first time since a last-lap accident took his father’s life. That was the highlight of six straight top-10 finishes heading into this event last year, a streak that was finally broken when Junior finished 13th. He didn’t fare any better this year, either, finishing 32nd in the Daytona 500 while never seriously challenging for the win.

Ryan Newman – Newman has just one top five and one additional top 10 in 11 career points starts at Daytona. In this year’s 500, the bad luck bug bit again; he popped an engine and finished a disappointing 38th.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray finished second in the 2005 Firecracker, but in nine total Cup starts here, he has finished 30th or worse seven times. Don’t bet the farm on him this weekend. Hell, I wouldn’t even bet the front door welcome mat.

Kurt Busch – While Busch hasn’t won a points-paying race here, he has finished second twice. All in all, he has five top-five finishes in 13 starts and had a strong run going in this year’s 500, leading 95 laps before a run-in with Stewart doomed a promising afternoon.

JJ Yeley – Yeley struggled here last year but ran notably better en route to a 12th-place finish in February.

Greg Biffle – The records show that Biffle won the 2003 Firecracker 400, but they also reflect that the event was the only time in nine starts that he’s run worth a lick here. In the last six Daytona point races, Biffle hasn’t finished better than 25th.

Bobby Labonte – While Labonte finished second in both 1998 Daytona points-paying races, his average finish here remains 23rd after 29 starts at this track.

Mark Martin – Strange but true; Martin has started 44 career Cup races at Daytona but has never won an event. He didn’t miss by much here this February, driving to a memorable and razor-close second-place finish.

Juan Pablo Montoya – Montoya has finished 19th and 31st in the two points-paying Cup plate races he’s run here. He did win at Daytona in February, but it was in a sports car – and a very ugly one at that, as I recall.

Others To Watch

Casey Mears – Mears ran well here last year, finishing second in the 500 and seventh in this race. But his other seven points-race starts here have yielded less than stellar results.

Dale Jarrett/Michael Waltrip – Let the record show that DJ and Waltrip have seven Daytona point race wins between them; however, it’s probably not even worth mentioning considering that it’s rather unlikely either of them will qualify here.

Bill Elliott – Elliott has a bunch of wins here. The Wood Brothers have a lot of wins here. It’s unlikely, but a win certainly would be popular for the 51-year-old veteran.

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