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Paulk's pick: Earnhardt Jr. has what it takes to win Daytona

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. The 2004 winner needs to prove he can win any race. The Gen-6 fits him because he's used to running the high side at Daytona International Speedway, which could be the key to winning down the stretch.

2. Denny Hamlin If he hadn't crashed during Thursday's duels, I'd take him without hesitation. He's been fast and smart in practice and in the duel race in searching for the right lines, but he's been too loose too often in the corners.

3. Matt Kenseth There are tremendous expectations for the two-time winner of The Great American Race. He'll keep the car clean before charging over the final 20 laps.

4. Kevin Harvick The best closer in the sport rallied to win in 2007. He won the Sprint Unlimited and the first 150-mile qualifying duel race, so he has the speed to get to the front and stay.

5. Tony Stewart Hard to believe the three-time Sprint Cup champion can't count the 500 among his wins at DIS. He can point to being too aggressive for his failures.

6. Kasey Kahne If he just hangs around, crew chief Kenny Francis might point him toward Victory Lane. He's been fast but unhappy with the No. 5 Chevrolet's handling in the corners.

7. Jimmie Johnson Still trying to process that he's only won this race once. He'll do better than his one-lap effort that left him 42nd last year.

8. Greg Biffle He somehow keeps sneaking up near the front in restrictor-plate races but could get over the hump this time if he doesn't lag too far behind like he usually does here.

9. Clint Bowyer He finished second in points and is searching for respect. He can earn it by improving on his 11th-place showing from 2012.

10. David Ragan The No. 34 Ford has looked good in practice. The odds are long that Ragan can win, but he was sitting there with a chance in 2011 before long-shot Trevor Bayne pulled the upset.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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