The excitement is beginning to build for NASCAR's 2013 season as the countdown falls to under three weeks.
There will be plenty of storylines to watch from the driver perspective.
Brad Keselowski will be looking to repeat as Sprint Cup Series champion. Jimmie Johnson has now gone two years without winning the championship after taking home the title five seasons in a row. Danica Patrick will be racing a full-time schedule in the Sprint Cup for the first time in her career.
Of course, racing would be nothing without the races themselves. Here are three that should be marked on your calendars.
Daytona 500, Feb. 24
In no other sport does the biggest event of the year lead off the season. The Daytona 500 is the highlight of NASCAR's Sprint Cup season even though the result of the event is relatively meaningless when compared to the entirety of the schedule.
Matt Kenseth will be looking to repeat as champion of The Great American Race. Last year's edition was a bit eventful in that a rain delay forced NASCAR to stretch the race over two days.
The Daytona 500 offers drivers a chance to get the year off to a great start. Plus, there's the legacy aspect. Careers have been made at the Daytona International Speedway.
Federated Auto Parts 400, Sept. 7
It's at the Federated Auto Parts 400 that the fat is trimmed from the standings. After that race, the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.
If a driver doesn't make the Chase, he or she can kiss the Sprint Cup Championship goodbye. The Chase has been a great addition to NASCAR, as it values wins a little higher than the previous point system did and provides plenty of drama for the final 10 races of the season.
A bad performance at the Richmond International Raceway could be disastrous for a driver. All of his or her work can be cast asunder by failing to qualify for the Chase.
Ford EcoBoost 400, Nov. 17
Nine months of work all build up to this race. The Ford EcoBoost 400 is the culmination of the NASCAR schedule, and it's here that a champion is crowned.
The Ford 400 can provide the kind of head-to-head battle for the title that no other race can. While the champion could be decided well in advance, there's always that chance that the point difference between first and second is so minute that the championship could go right down to the wire.
One such example was in 2011, when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards came into the Homestead-Miami Speedway first and second in the standings. Stewart finished first in the race and won the 2011 Sprint Cup title.
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