NASCAR Nationwide Race at Daytona All About Danica, Drama and Hot Storylines

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  (L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Chevrolet, speaks to Trevor Bayne, driver of the #60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #5 Chevrolet, prior to winning the Coors Light Pole Award and qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Bouncing back from a vicious crash with her Cup car was sweet for Danica Patrick when she captured the pole for the DRIVE4COPD 300, but she will need more than a fast car to battle the drivers from the Cup series and the hungry young guns.

Patrick thanked her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., for a solid, fast car. It was the first time Eury had a driver on the pole at Daytona.

Patrick is the second woman to capture a NASCAR national series pole. Shawna Robinson did it at Atlanta in 1994.

The driver of the No. 7 will have two other JR Motorsports drivers in the top eight starting spots.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start his No. 5 Taxslayer Chevrolet in fourth place and Cole Whitt has the No. 88 Hellman's car in the eighth position.

Earnhardt's JR Motorsports has a hot roster of drivers, but it is the owner who will be racing for another marker in his win column for Daytona.

Tony Stewart will attempt to tie Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s seven wins at Daytona in this series. He has won every year since 2005 except for 2007 at the Nationwide season opener. 

Stewart will pilot the No. 33 Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet out of the Richard Childress Racing stables. Cookies could be flying in Victory Lane should he win, being that it is the 100th anniversary of Oreo.

The Nationwide race is expected to be more of a two-car tandem race than the Daytona 500 will be because the cars are harder to drive, have larger spoilers and better cooling to enable the drafting.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #33 Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet, (L) talks with Trevor Bayne, driver of the #60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, (R) in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona In
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

The driver could have lots of help from Earnhardt, Whitt and Stewart. Stewart happens to own her Cup car, though it is being raced out of Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Stewart would obviously like to continue his winning ways, but he and Earnhardt both know just how great a win by Patrick would be should they have a chance to give her a little push when it counts.

The defending Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne, is starting on the outside front row with Patrick. He needs a win badly to attract sponsors, so he can run more than the few races he has scheduled.

His dance partner will likely be the 2011 Nationwide champion and teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who starts in the 10th slot. Stenhouse will be hungry to start the season with a win and run for another title.

The legendary black No. 3 will be driven by Austin Dillon full time this season in the second-tier series of NASCAR. Dillon will start fifth on the grid.

He likely will be working with teammate, Elliott Sadler, who was runner-up for the series championship in 2011. Sadler starts third and is going for the title this year with the goal of returning to Cup racing.

The brothers, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, will be teaming up to run a Nationwide car sponsored by Monster Energy out of Kyle Busch Motorsports after Daytona.

The two may well be working together during the upcoming Nationwide race at Daytona. The older brother is driving a Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing which is also the Cup team he races for.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Austin Dillon drives the #3 AdvoCare Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 23, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The No. 3 will not be the only iconic car number in the race. Michael Annett will be driving the No. 43 Ford full time for Richard Petty Motorsports during the 2012 season.

Other NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars will be double-duty drivers. They include Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and David Ragan.

None of these drivers, along with the Busch brothers, have won the NASCAR Nationwide season opener at Daytona.

Johanna Long is another talented young female driver who will be starting the DRIVE4COPD 300 from 21st place in her No. 70 Chevrolet.

Others in the series certainly plan to finish well at Daytona. Sam Hornish Jr., Justin Allgaier, James Buescher and Brian Scott are among some of the regulars who want to better the Cup intruders.

There are many storylines to unfold in the Nationwide series during the 2012 season. It promises to be exciting, especially with Patrick's full-time commitment. We shall see the first chapter unfold Feb. 25.