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Daytona 500 2012 Qualifying Preview: Who Will Win NASCAR's Most Prestigious Pole?

Who is going to win the pole for the Daytona 500?

While it may sound like an unanswerable question due to the unpredictability that is restrictor-plate racing, the truth is it's really not that random.

At the very least, using recent history as our guide along with speeds from today's opening round of practice, we can narrow it down to a select few drivers who will almost certainly be challenging for the honor of leading the field to the green flag in next Sunday's Daytona 500.

The first of the two Daytona 500 qualifying practice sessions has traditionally been more accurate because some drivers don't participate in the final hour.

Here is where the fastest driver in practice eventually qualified for the Daytona 500 – and more telling, where the eventual pole-sitter ranked on the speed charts after the first session.

Year Fastest in practice Qualified Pole Winner First practice
2011 Mark Martin 8th Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4th
2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2nd Mark Martin 2nd
2009 Bill Elliott 5th Martin Truex Jr. 4th
2008 Jimmie Johnson 1st Jimmie Johnson 1st
2007 Ricky Rudd 2nd David Gilliland 2nd

So looking at the last five years, the person who won the pole position for the 500 was no worse than fourth in the opening round of practice. Using this as our barometer, as well as the speeds from practice earlier today, that means the Daytona 500 pole-sitter is likely to be one of the drivers who posted one of the top four speeds in first practice: Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon or Trevor Bayne.

Considering Gordon is the only Chevy driver among the top four, there is a 75 percent chance a car with a blue oval on its hood will win the pole on Sunday.

So let's prematurely congratulate Biffle, Ambrose or Bayne on their accomplishment.