The 56th running of the Daytona 500 will take place Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Daytona International Speedway.
The Great American Race is the first stop on the 2014 Sprint Cup Series schedule.
For the second year in a row, a rookie will lead the pack at the start after Austin Dillon took the pole last weekend, as noted by Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer:
Austin Dillon is the second consecutive rookie to win the Daytona 500 pole— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) February 16, 2014
Last year's Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson, is also the defending champion of the Daytona 500. He recently discussed what it's like having the top race come at the beginning of the year in an interview with CBS This Morning, via CBSNews.com:
Our sport was founded here in Daytona Beach back in the late '40s. This racetrack was put here, and really the spectacle of all NASCAR racing started here. It’s kind of hard to have the Super Bowl of racing start off as our first event, but it’s the history of our sport, and we’re all geared up and ready to go.
Winning this race is a bright feather in the cap of any driver, and they'll all be pushing their cars to the limit this weekend. Here's a look at when and where to catch the race, followed by an examination of the top drivers to watch.
When: Sunday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Live Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Drivers to Watch
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports
Fresh off his sixth Sprint Cup championship season, Johnson owns NASCAR right now, and he's a threat to win every weekend he hops into his No. 48 Chevy.
However, he'll have to overcome some technical difficulties. According to Fox Sports (h/t Jerry Bonkowski of MotorsportsTalk), his car was found to be "1/10,000th of an inch too wide and the side skirts were less than 1/64th of an inch too long" during qualifying last week.
With over a week to get things tuned up and ironed out, though, Johnson's crew will likely have his car ready to rock and roll for Sunday's big race.
The two-time Daytona champ won the 2013 edition, and nobody would be surprised by a repeat performance from Johnson.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
This year's race marks the 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s first and only Daytona 500 championship, which he won back in 2004.
Don't think for a second that Junior isn't dying for another victory, either.
“It’s very fresh, and you’re constantly reminded by just what goes on during Speedweeks, how important that victory is and how much you would like to get it again” he said, via Randy Kovitz of the Kansas City Star.
Earnhardt Jr. has finished in second place two out of the last three years—including last year's race—and seems to always be in the mix at Daytona.
Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing
Which racer will win the 2014 Daytona 500?
Brad Keselowski recently called Matt Kenseth "the Calvin Johnson of NASCAR" in an interview with FoxSports.com's Jimmy Traina.
Kenseth had one of his finest seasons as a pro in 2013, winning seven races and finishing behind Johnson by just 19 points for the Sprint Cup Series championship. He has also won the Daytona 500 twice, first in 2009 and then again in 2012.
Nick Bromberg of Yahoo! Sports offers this insight into what's helped Kenseth improve:
Entering 2013, the most laps Kenseth had led in a season was 1,132, which happened in 2006. He obliterated that last year, leading 1,783 laps. A possible reason? Kenseth had far fewer cars to pass to get to the front. In 2012, his average starting position was 13.3, the best of his career. In his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, it jumped all the way to 8.7.
Another strong showing by Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team could easily result in victory No. 3 at Daytona.
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