There are no shortage of major stories heading into the 2013 Daytona 500. Danica Patrick winning the pole, Brad Keselowski beginning the defense of his first Sprint Cup title and the general excitement of the season's first race make for a unique atmosphere.
NASCAR has always been different than other sports because it starts the season with its biggest spectacle. The playoff system has helped save some of the drama for the final races, but this is the one drivers dream about winning.
All told, it should be a terrific weekend of racing at Daytona. Here's a look at the key information for the biggest race of them all, followed by three stars to watch as 43 drivers battle for the most coveted victory in motorsports.
Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Sunday, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
Drivers to Watch
If the Daytona 500 were a popularity contest, Earnhardt would have a lot more than one victory. The fan favorite is always one of the most talked about drivers regardless of the race, but it's always on a different level for this race.
He's been successful in it throughout his career. In 13 career starts, he's finished in the top 10 seven times, including a second-place finish last year, and won it in 2004. So he's usually able to get his season off to a strong start.
NASCAR wants to make waves at Daytona with hopes of drumming up interest for the rest of the season. One of the best ways for that to happen is having a marquee star win the race, and don't be surprised if Junior does exactly that.
Patrick made 10 starts last season and had an average finish of 28th and only cracked the top 20 once. Yet, she clearly had the best car leading up to qualifying and didn't squander that advantage. So she'll start on the pole on Sunday.
It will be interesting to see how she will handle the pressure. Up until now, expectations were extremely low as she made the transition to NASCAR and it didn't really matter where she finished because it was a long-term plan.
That changes now that she's starting up front in the Daytona 500. Not only will she be expected to remain competitive, people will be expecting her to win. That's a lot of pressure for somebody who's never been in contention to win a Sprint Cup race.
Starting alongside Patrick will be Gordon, a three-time Daytona winner and one of the most accomplished drivers ever. He'll be looking to end a drought in the race, though, as he hasn't taken the checkered flag in the opener since 2005.
Gordon is hoping he can get off to a much better start than he did last season. He finished in 40th in the Daytona 500, and it was the start of a pretty lackluster season for the veteran, at least by his normally high standards.
Judging by qualifying, he's definitely got the car to make his presence felt on Sunday. A victory will put him right into the championship conversation, which is where he's spent so much time over the years since breaking onto the scene two decades ago.