As NASCAR prepares for the 54th annual Great American Race, drying the track and doing their best to bribe the sun into a late afternoon return let’s get you revved up for the main event. Here’s a look inside the numbers, at how some of your favorite drivers and teams could make history once the checkered flag falls (hopefully) late tonight…
(starting spots in parentheses)
*Carl Edwards (1st):* Trying to become the first polesitter to win the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett in 2000. None of Edwards’ 19 career victories have come on a restrictor plate track.
*Greg Biffle (2nd):* Seeking to become the first *outside polesitter* to win Daytona since Dale Jarrett (again, not a misprint) in 1993. How bad has it been to be on the outside of the front row? In the last six Daytona 500s, second-place starters have finished inside the top 10 just once.
*Tony Stewart (3rd):* Looking to end an 0-for-13 streak at the Daytona 500 despite 17 career wins there in various series. He would also be the first reigning champion to win the 500 since Dale Jarrett in 2000 (See that name popping up a lot? There’s a reason the ESPN analyst’s career was defined by Daytona.)
*Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (5th):* Seeking to snap his winless streak at a whopping 129 Sprint Cup races. A second Daytona 500 trophy would also give him more than his Hall of Fame father, who won the event just once, in 1998. And perhaps the most important stat of all: an injury-free night puts NASCAR at 396 Cup races and 11 year’s since Dale Sr.’s death, the last such tragedy we’ve experienced at this level.
*Marcos Ambrose (7th):* With a win, becomes the first foreign-born winner of the Great American Race since Mario Andretti back in _1967._ Talk about exclusive company; the darkhorse candidate has already been impressive in Speedweeks, running third in both the Shootout and his Gatorade Duel.
*Michael McDowell (11th):* Hoping for a first career top-10 finish in his 85th start. That’s currently the biggest “0-for” in that category for any driver in the field (McDowell’s best run-to-date is a 20th, at Richmond in the Fall of 2008. He’s more known for “this near-tragic flip”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVgQjoW7iTo at Texas Motor Speedway qualifying than anything else.)
*Joey Logano (12th)* – along with *Kyle Busch (14th), Mark Martin (22nd), Martin Truex, Jr. (26th), Clint Bowyer (30th), Denny Hamlin (31st), Bobby Labonte (32nd), Joe Nemechek (34th), David Reutimann (38th), and Landon Cassill (39th):* These ten drivers will look to drive the first foreign manufacturer _ever_ into Victory Lane for the Daytona 500. Toyotas have been around since 2007, and Kyle Busch won the 400-mile July race in 2008 but never has a Camry captured the sport’s biggest prize.
*A.J. Allmendinger (15th)* – The best-positioned of any winless driver to score their first career victory at Daytona. Trevor Bayne did that last year, but it’s also Allmendinger’s first ever start in a Penske car, an added level of difficulty no one’s accomplished since Michael Waltrip’s historic victory in 2001.
*Jeff Gordon (16th)* – Seeking a fourth 500 victory, an accomplishment that would leave him second all-time only to Richard Petty’s seven.
*Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (21st)* – If he scored the upset, heading to Victory Lane in just his second career Cup start it would match the feat best buddy and teammate Trevor Bayne accomplished last year. The defending Nationwide Series champ, Stenhouse has flashed some speed this week; he had a top-10 qualifying effort and ran solidly inside the top 5 for most of his Duel.
*Mark Martin (22nd)* – Bidding to become the oldest driver in history to win a Cup race, let alone break an ominous 0-for-27 track record in the 500. Harry Gant currently holds the record: he was 52 years, seven months and six days old when winning Michigan in August of 1992.
*David Ragan (25th)* – A bit of a longshot, with an underfunded Front Row Motorsports Ford but the July Daytona trophy-holder is looking for back-to-back Cup wins at this track. That hasn’t happened since Jeff Gordon in 2004-05.
*Kurt Busch (28th)* – The 2004 Cup champ, with a new team is seeking his first ever win with a restrictor plate. Holding 24 career Cup victories to his credit, that’s the most of any active driver without one at Daytona or Talladega.
*Danica Patrick (29th)* – Needs a 10th or better to become the highest-finishing woman in the history of the Daytona 500. Janet Guthrie (1980) holds the record with an 11th-place result.
*Juan Pablo Montoya (35th)* – See Ambrose above re: foreign-born driver. Montoya is also bidding to be the first former Formula One driver to win it since Andretti in ’67.
*Trevor Bayne (40th)* – Everyone remembers the upset of the NASCAR season last February. If the 21-year-old can do it again, he’d be the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95. Only two other drivers have ever done it, and both are Hall of Famers: Richard Petty (1973-74) and Cale Yarborough (1983-84).
*Terry Labonte (43rd)* – The two-time Cup Series champion is making his 30th career start at Daytona… but he’s never captured the 500. Only Dave Marcis (0-for-32) has run more Daytona 500s without scoring a victory.
And of course, whoever takes the checkered will have the distinction of being the first ever driver to win the Daytona 500 on a Monday night. History in the making regardless… let’s see if these one of these wheelmen can add a little icing on the cake.