Our second appetizer of the 2009 season kicks off Thursday afternoon when the fields split for two 150-mile qualifying races on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
It's an exciting day as cars are jockeying for position, while others are hoping to secure a spot in the 51st running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Here are some things to watch for in the Duel races on Thursday, as well as the main course on Sunday.
1. Hendrick Motorsports could win both Duels
With two drivers in each of the Duel races on Thursday, HMS is poised to lead the field in each.
The first features three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon. The duo has always worked well together on restrictor plate tracks and it should be no different on Thursday afternoon.
The other race features new comer Mark Martin and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Many declare Earnhardt as the best restrictor plate racer ever, however, other than his Shootout win and Duel win last February, he hasn't visited Victory Lane on a restrictor plate track since 2004.
2. Qualifying does matter
Sure, the statistics are bad given that only seven times a driver who has won a Duel race went on to win the Daytona 500, but here are some more statistics to take a look at:
• 26 of the 50 Daytona 500s have been won from a top-five starting position.
• Nine have been won from the pole, but only twice in the last 10 races—Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000).
• The only Daytona 500 races won from outside a top-10 starting position since 1980 were by Derrike Cope (12th in 1990), Michael Waltrip (19th in 2001), Ward Burton (19th in 2002), Jeff Gordon (15th, 2005), and Kevin Harvick (34th in 2007).
3. Terry Labonte will surpass 5,000 laps
Labonte has already guaranteed himself a spot in the Daytona 500 on Sunday with a past champion's provisional. Heading into Daytona, Labonte has run 4,996 laps on the famed track.
By lap five (assuming he's still running), Labonte will have circled the Daytona infield 5,000 times. The number is most by any driver.
4. Career first victory
Several drivers will take the green flag on Sunday afternoon still searching for their first career Cup Series victory. Notable names include David Ragan, David Reutimann, Aric Almirola, and Joey Logano.
Sure, all of these are long shots to win the annual kick-off event, but in Daytona 500 history, six drivers got their first career victory in the prestigious event.
• Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrick Cope (1990), Sterling Martin (1994), and Michael Waltrip (2001).
• Three other drivers posted their career-first victory in (point-paying) qualifying races: Johnny Rutherford (1963), Bobby Isaac (1964), and Earl Balmer (1966).
5. Repeat winner
Every driver strives to be able to call themselves a Daytona 500 winner. It's the Super Bowl of NASCAR, and ranks right up there with winning a Cup Series championship.
Eight drivers have visited Victory Lane more than once in the Daytona 500:
• Richard Petty (seven times), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three), Dale Jarrett (three), Jeff Gordon (three), Bill Elliot (two), Sterling Martin (two), and Michael Waltrip (two).
• A driver has won back-to-back Daytona 500s three times. Petty (1973 an 1974), Yarborough (1983-84) and Marlin (1994-95).
Six drivers have 10 or more starts before their first Daytona 500 Victory. They are Dale Earnhardt (19), Buddy Baker (18), Darrel Waltrip (16), Bobby Allison (14), Michael Waltrip (14), and Sterling Marlin (12).
3 — Times the No. 88 won the Daytona 500. It ranks tied for third behind the No. 43, No. 28, and No. 21.
5 — Drivers who have won the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship the same year: Jimmie Johnson (2006), Jeff Gordon (1997), Richard Petty (1964, '71, '74, '79), Cale Yarborough (1977) and Lee Petty (1959).
7 — Victories by Richard Petty, the most by any driver.
8 — Number of times the margin of victory has been under one second since the advent of electronic scoring in 1994. All other times, the race has ended under caution.
9 — Drivers who have won from the pole. It last happened in 2000 (Dale Jarrett).
16 — Drivers who have competed in the Daytona 500 15 or more times without visiting Victory Lane.
18 — Joey Logano's age. He will become the youngest driver to start the Daytona 500. The previous youngest was Clark Dwyer at 19 years, one month and eight days in 1983.
27 and 24 — Terry Labonte (27) and Mark Martin (24) are the active drivers with 20 or more races without a victory in the Daytona 500.
34 — Starting position of Kevin Harvick in 2007, the lowest of any race winner.
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