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Storylines, notes and drivers to watch for during the Daytona 500.
With the green flag set to wave on the Daytona 500, here are the storylines, notes and drivers you need to follow as you watch today's NASCAR race:
The key to the race will be ... track position?
Track position isn't something you often hear about at Daytona, a track where races rarely come down to fuel mileage and passing is easier compared to other types of ovals. But the introduction of the Gen-6 car, which was intended to improve racing on intermediate tracks, has dramatically changed the style of racing fans had grown accustomed to at Daytona.
No longer does tandem drafting rule the day and while pack racing has returned to some degree, the form of racing that has been prevalent throughout Speedweeks is of the single-file variety. And that has made passing a challenge and given a distinct advantage to the driver who is out front.
All of which means pit strategy will have greater importance on Sunday, as teams use varying strategies to get their drivers out of the pack and towards the front. And as the Daytona 500 moves to its conclusion expect to see more and more teams gamble on fuel mileage in addition to taking zero or two tires, all in effort to get as much track position as possible for what will likely be a mad dash toward the checkered flag.
She was going to be one of the storylines regardless of where she qualified, but after becoming the first woman to ever win a Cup pole -- and to do so in the Daytona 500, nonetheless - Danica Patrick has became the story.
But now that Daytona 500 is here, there is no more talk about her personal life and what her accomplishment may mean in the grand scheme of things. The focus now is how Patrick will do in what is just her second Cup start at Daytona.
Her limited experience is going to be Patrick's biggest hurdle to overcome Sunday. Veterans typically don't like to work with drivers who don't know how to navigate the draft and it wouldn't be surprising to see Patrick quickly fall towards the rear of the field as she gets acclimated to running in a pack.
That said, if Patrick proves that she can handle herself in the draft and has a fast car, she will have little issue finding a drafting partner as the laps click by. It also doesn't hurt that she has two teammates in the race (Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman) that will make it a point to work with her whenever possible.
While no one expects Patrick to win, she is more than capable of leaving Daytona with a respectable finish.
Big names still looking for first Daytona 500 victory
It doesn't matter how many championships or races you have won, no career is ever complete without a victory in the Daytona 500. And that is an accomplishment that quite a few marquee drivers are still looking to add to their résumé.
Most notably is Tony Stewart, who has won everything there is to win at Daytona -- with the exception of the 500, where he is still winless in 14 attempts.
But Stewart's drought in the 500 isn't uncommon, as Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin are all without a victory in NASCAR's biggest and most prestigious event.
- Winning the pole for the Daytona 500 doesn't guarantee success on race day. Not since 2000 (Dale Jarrett) has the pole-sitter gone on to win, and the best finish by the No. 1 qualifier in that timeframe is eighth (twice).
- The highest finish by a woman in the Daytona 500 was an 11th-place effort by Janet Guthrie in the 1980 edition of the "Great American Race."
- With a win Sunday, Matt Kenseth can join Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Sterling Marlin as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 in consecutive seasons.
- In addition to Kenseth, there are nine other former winners of the 500 in the field: Kenseth (2009, '12), Jeff Gordon (1997, '99, '05), Trevor Bayne ('11), Jamie McMurray (‘10), Ryan Newman ('08), Kevin Harvick (‘07), Jimmie Johnson (‘06), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (‘04) and Michael Waltrip (‘01, '03).
- Sunday will mark the 400th career start for Jimmie Johnson and the 325th for his teammate, Kasey Kahne.
1) Kevin Harvick
No driver has been more impressive this week than Harvick, who went to Victory Lane in both the Sprint Unlimited and his qualifying race. And with a win in the 500, Harvick can make history as the first driver to sweep all three events in the same season. From what we've seen thus far, don't bet against him doing just that.
2) Tony Stewart
On Friday, Stewart kept reiterating how "excited" he was for race day and thought this was his best chance to finally win the Daytona 500. He backed this by choosing to sit out Saturday's final practice in fear that he might damage his car. When Stewart is happy and confident that usually means bad things for the competition.
3) Matt Kenseth
Kenseth led the most laps in the Unlimited and was among the fastest cars in his Duel race before being shuffled back. And while others may get the attention, know that it's Kenseth who is currently the best driver in restrictor-plate races with two wins and two third-place finishes last season at Daytona and Talladega.
As Kevin Harvick was making a statement by winning twice this week, it's easy to overlook the driver who finished behind him in each race. That driver is Greg Biffle, who in this race last year was running second on the final lap behind his teammate Matt Kenseth and finished the Daytona 500 in third. Don't be surprised if Biffle again finds himself in that position on Sunday.
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