Daytona 500: Gentlemen Start Your Engines

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IFebruary 15, 2009

"It's the most wonderful time of the year..." OK, so that's a Christmas song, but today is the day NASCAR fans hear the four most famous words in motorsports:—Gentlemen...start...your...engines!

In the last week we've heard the predictions, been told what to watch for and have waited patiently as the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series events settled our appetites for the biggest event of the year.

Today we get to see a full 43-car field hit the high banked 2.5-mile oval in sunny Florida. A field that features a little bit of everything: an 18-year-old phenom Joey Logano—who when the green flag waves becomes the youngest driver ever to start a Daytona 500—to the young at heart and sentimental favorite Mark Martin—who in 24 attempts has yet to grab the checkered flag at the historic race.

The race features eight past Cup Series champions and eight winners of the inaugural event.

Need another amazing stat? How about the fact that past champion Terry Labonte needs to only complete four laps to surpass the 5,000 laps logged club at Daytona International Speedway.

How many drivers are members? None. The membership will be exclusive to Labonte—for now at least.

Looking to pick a winner for today's event? It's gambling to look outside the top-10 and/or pick a Duel race winner—sorry Gordon and Busch fans, but the numbers don't lie. A Duel race winner has only went on to win the Daytona 500 seven times.

Need some advice on who to pick? Check out these stats:

• 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).

It's the greatest day of the year NASCAR fans. A new Daytona 500 champion will be crowned today and will take the points lead heading into California next week.

As Darrell Waltrip will gladly say in just a few hours: "Boogity...Boogity...Boogity...Let's go racing boys!"


By the numbers

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.