51st Daytona 500 Preview

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51st Daytona 500 Preview

When the Cup cars take the green flag at California next Sunday, it will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in stock car racing's history: Lee Petty holding off Johnny Beauchcamp to win the first running of the Daytona 500. At the time, Daytona was viewed as a monster that would be too large and too fast for stock cars to handle. Only Indy cars had ever raced on an oval as large as 2.5 miles, and no one had seen a track with 31 degree banking in the turns. But Big Bill France was a visionary, and what he saw was a track, a race, that could come to define his fledging sport. A half century later and nearly 17 years after his death, boy was he right. This race IS what NASCAR is all about. One driver's life will change forever tomorrow afternoon. He will wake up on February 15, 2009 as simply a NASCAR driver, and go to bed as a Daytona 500 champion.


51ST DAYTONA 500 STARTING LINEUP:

1. 1 Martin Truex Jr. (Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevy) 188.001 MPH, 47.872 s
2. 5 Mark Martin (Kellogg's/Carquest/Cheez-It Chevy)
3. 24 Jeff Gordon (DuPont Chevy)
4. 18 Kyle Busch (M&M's Toyota)
5. 14 Tony Stewart (Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy)
6. 83 Brian Vickers (Red Bull Toyota)
7. 48 Jimmie Johnson (Lowe's Chevy)
8. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya (Target Chevy)
9. 20 Joey Logano (Home Depot Toyota)
10. 11 Denny Hamlin (FedEx Express Toyota)
11. 8 Aric Almirola (Guitar Hero World Tour Chevy)
12. 96 Bobby Labonte (Ask.com Ford)
13. 2 Kurt Busch (Miller Lite Dodge)
14. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (AMP Energy Drink/National Guard Chevy)
15. 9 Kasey Kahne (Budweiser Dodge)
16. 99 Carl Edwards (Aflac Ford)
17. 36 Scott Riggs (Red Bank Ale and Quail Outfitters Toyota)
18. 41 Jeremy Mayfield (All Sport Toyota)
19. 98 Paul Menard (Quaker State/Menard's Ford)
20. 44 A.J. Allmendinger (Valvoline Dodge)
21. 26 Jamie McMurray (Crown Royal Ford)
22. 33 Clint Bowyer (Cheerios/Betty Crocker Chevy)
23. 47 Marcos Ambrose (Little Debbie Ford)
24. 12 David Stremme (Penske Racing/Verizon Dodge)
25. 07 Casey Mears (Jack Daniel's Chevy)
26. 31 Jeff Burton (Caterpillar Chevy)
27. 55 Michael Waltrip (NAPA Toyota)
28. 00 David Reutimann (Aaron's Toyota)
29. 77 Sam Hornish Jr. (Mobil 1 Dodge)
30. 19 Elliott Sadler (Stanley Tools Dodge)
31. 7 Robby Gordon (Jim Beam Toyota)
32. 29 Kevin Harvick (Shell/Pennzoil Chevy)
33. 6 David Ragan (UPS Ford)
34. 43 Reed Sorenson (McDonald's Dodge)
35. 16 Greg Biffle (3M Ford)
36. 39 Ryan Newman (US Army Chevy)
37. 34 John Andretti (Window World Chevy)
38. 82 Scott Speed (Red Bull Toyota)
39. 17 Matt Kenseth (DeWalt Tools Ford)
40. 21 Bill Elliott (Motorcraft Ford)
41. 28 Travis Kvapil (Golden Corral Ford)
42. 78 Regan Smith (Furniture Row Chevy)
43. 66 Terry Labonte (Window World Toyota)-past champion's provisional


EIGHT TO WATCH:

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex is on the pole, and if the past few years are any indication, that is bad news. But the car was strong in the draft on Thursday, and DEI always gives their drivers a good piece for the restrictor plate events. EGR needs a good run out of the gate to shut up any doubters that they are in it for the long haul.

Kyle Busch: Wild Thing won his qualifying race on Thursday, and pretty much dominated the 500 a year ago before falling short to at the end. He also won 2 of the other 3 restrictor plate races a year ago. If anyone is going to take down the GM army, it's probably going to be the 18 bunch.

Tony Stewart: The big story of Saturday down at Daytona was the fact that Ryan Newman cut a tire, wrecked, and collected his boss in the mess. Tony has been strong in his first week as an owner/driver, but I expect him to still run towards the front even if he goes to a backup car.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior dominated much of his Duel before having to make an unscheduled pit stop under green. He still rallied to finish 7th, and should be a force to be reckoned with along side of his Hendrick teammates. This is absolutely critical year for the 88 team, and winning the 500 would be a good start.

Jimmie Johnson: Chad Knaus still has technically not won a Daytona 500 as a crew chief, as in 2006, he was sitting at home suspended. What better way to start the season than with a win and to show people that you mean serious business in the strive for a record-breaking fourth straight championship?

Mark Martin: Mark came so close two years ago to winning this race. Who wouldn't want to see this guy win the Daytona 500? Martin has an even better chance than in 2007 this time around in Hendrick equipment. A fast car, talented driver, and plenty of strong teammates in the draft to help will all be major advantages for the 5 team when the green flag flies on Sunday.

Kurt Busch: KB showed just how much he has matured in this race a year ago, by pushing then-teammate Ryan Newman to victory. He rallied from an early race spin at the hands of Robby Gordon on Thursday to have a solid finish, and while the Penske cars aren't usually strong in single car runs, they really suck up well in the draft. Busch has a strong shot at giving Roger Penske back-to-back 500 victories.

Kevin Harvick: The RCR cars have not been heard from this week except for Harvick's victory in the Bud Shootout, where he came out of nowhere. Last year, they kind of rode around at the back until the sun went down, but were strong at the end. The 07, 29, 31, and 33 may not be up front on lap 100, but I can guarantee you at least one of them will be in contention for the win. And Harvick, the 2007 winner, probably has the strongest chance at doing so.


DARKHORSE:

David Ragan: Ragan has been strong on the restrictor plate races ever since moving up to Cup two years ago, and was running towards the front of the first Duel race until a bunch of wild events took place in the waning laps. What better place to pick up your first career victory than in the most prestigious race of the year? He would be the first Ford to take the Great American Race since Dale Jarrett in 2000.



AND YOUR WINNER...

Jeff Gordon: I will come out and say I decided on Gordon as my 500 pick over a month ago, but did not become sold on the pick until I saw how well he ran on Thursday. After a disappointing 2008 season, this team is out to prove that they are still one of the elite groups in the garage. Only Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough have won more than three Daytona 500s, but I expect Jeff Gordon to join that elite crowd come Sunday evening. He will have plenty of competition, not only from his teammates, but also from the other GM players, the JGR Toyotas, Penske Dodges, and Roush-Fenway/Yates Fords, so it won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

Tires: Ryan Newman had a tire explode today, destroying his second car of Speedweeks. Goodyear also confiscated tires from several teams due to perceived problems. Hopefully, we don't have Goodyear's incompetence showing up every 25 or 30 laps into a green flag run tomorrow.

The Big One: Typically, the first half or three-quarters of the race have been fairly clean in recent years, but everyone gets a little chipper during the final run to the checkered. Can you blame them? Look for as many as six or seven cautions in the final 50 laps, and I'm sure we'll see at least one wreck that includes more than ten cars.

Strategy: When the final 20 laps roll around and it is time for that last pit stop, what do you do? Two tires for track position? Four tires for handling and speed? I am sure we will see some crew chiefs rolling the dice with two tires down the stretch. This is one of the few races of the season where you can say points don't matter, so it is okay to take a few risks to pick up a career-defining victory.

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