NASCAR's best are all set to fire up their engines and kick off a brand new season Sunday in the Great American Race.
Forty-three drivers will race 500 miles at Daytona International Speedway with hopes of becoming the next Daytona 500 champion. Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner Jimmie Johnson enters as the reigning champion and will take aim at win No. 3 this weekend.
But standing in his way is a field of talented drivers and past champions.
With the green flag set to wave, here, we'll get you up to speed on the starting lineup and everything you need to know to make sure you don't miss a minute of the action.
When: Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Starting Grid and Odds (according to VegasInsider.com)
|2014 Daytona 500 Starting Lineup|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||78||30-1|
|9||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||10-1|
|34||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17||40-1|
|Past winners are highlighted. Lineup via NASCAR.com|
The defending champion has won all there is to win in the Sprint Cup Series, but he will be looking to secure a third career victory in the Daytona 500 Sunday.
With three, Johnson would be tied with Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Allison and trail only Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough.
Although he will start from the back (32nd), wide-open tracks like Daytona—where drafting is crucial—allow strong drivers to make their way to the front relatively quickly. Assuming Johnson has a fast car this weekend, there's no question he has the skills and experience to bring the No. 48 team to the front.
Like the rest of the field, he will be hoping to avoid the big one and remain within striking distance with a few laps to go. At that point, it's anyone's race.
With another fast start to the season, Johnson will without a doubt be the favorite to win his seventh Sprint Cup Series title in 2014.
If there's going to be a first-time winner Sunday, it's likely to be Kyle Busch. Like Johnson, Busch enters this weekend's Great American Race with 10-1 odds to take the checkered flag.
Adding to expectations, Busch won the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona Friday night and has run well at the year's opening race in the past.
Recently, Busch has struggled at Daytona. But the potential has always been there. In 2008, he finished fourth. And in 2011, he finished eighth. If the 28-year-old, who'll start 37th, can get to the front quickly and avoid the big one Sunday, he's certainly equipped to break through.
Busch, the 2009 Nationwide Series champion, is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Sprint Cup Series last season, but an impressive performance Sunday could give him and his team the momentum they need to finally get over the hump.
2004 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. is always a threat to win at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
And despite coming up short time and again in the pursuit to become a NASCAR Cup Series champion, Earnhardt is optimistic as he begins another season with Hendrick Motorsports, per the Associated Press' Mark Long (via The Salt Lake Tribune):
I’m excited about getting back out there. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can do and how our performance is going to be right off the bat. It’s going to be a fun year, I think. I think we’re going to enjoy ourselves. We did last year. We seem to get better every year, and hopefully that trajectory is still the same going into this season.
If Earnhardt and the No. 88 team are going to have success in 2014, they'll need to start strong at Daytona. This is one of Earnhardt's favorite tracks, and he's proven he can win here. Although a top-10 finish would be great for the long run, a win would give Junior the confidence he so desperately needs to take the next step.
Earnhardt typically fares well at restrictor-plate races like Daytona and will likely run toward the front Sunday. Even if he doesn't win, you can expect him to be in the mix late.
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