Unlike most major sports, the marquee event in the NASCAR season happens near the very beginning with the Daytona 500. As if the race needed any more hype, it is already making history in 2013, as Danica Patrick became the first woman to hold the pole position in the Sprint Cup series.
She picked a heck of a time to do it, which will only add to the intrigue at Daytona International Speedway for Sunday's showcase. Now, even very casual fans or GoDaddy.com enthusiasts will likely be tuning in at least for a brief time.
Here is where to catch the action in what promises to be another thriller, as well as some predictions as to how the race might play out.
When: Sunday, Feb. 24 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Listen: Motor Racing Network
Drivers to Watch
Pole Position: Danica Patrick
All the buzz will be surrounding the 30-year-old, who will lead the pack to begin the race. Still relatively new to the NASCAR scene after seven grueling years in the IndyCar series, Patrick's poll position at this prestigious event is nothing short of remarkable.
Considering the drivers are all adjusting to the new Gen-6 cars, this accomplishment is especially impressive. Patrick qualified with a top speed of 196.434 miles per hour.
Plenty of fanfare has surrounded Patrick, who has capitalized on her unique position to create a widespread brand. But the racing hasn't always been up to par with her influence.
As USA Today's Jeff Gluck reported, Patrick retained her pole position in the Budweiser duel race by finishing 17th. Had she crashed, she would have had to use a backup car and start from the back of the field on Sunday.
Now that she is solidified at No. 1, this is a golden opportunity for Patrick to prove that she can consistently hang with the best in a traditionally male-dominated sport. She has had moments of brilliance and success but nothing quite like the prospect of winning a Daytona 500.
No pole-sitter has won this coveted race since Dale Jarrett in 2000 (h/t Los Angeles Times), but Patrick has proven to be quite the trend-setter in her historically significant career.
Upstart Contender: Joey Logano
A strong third-place effort at the Sprint Unlimited last week has Logano off to a strong start to the 2013 campaign. The 22-year-old has been heralded as the next big thing in NASCAR for quite some time but has won just twice in 148 career Sprint Cup starts.
But after qualifying in ninth position this week—the same spot he finished when the checkered flag was waved in 2012—Logano has the chance to make his mark on the biggest possible stage.
Switching from Joe Gibbs' team to Penske, it remains to be seen how Logano makes the adjustment. So far, it's been a positive change, and his qualifying run on Thursday was more evidence of that.
However, can Logano live up to the immense hype that has surrounded him ever since he was a teenager on stock car racing's top circuit?
As the new teammate of reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski—who will start this race in dead last—Logano has to be dreaming big this season. It will be interesting to see how he handles starting inside the top 10.
Dark Horse: Jimmie Johnson
The only reasons the five-time Driver's Champion is a dark horse are where he's currently starting—22nd—and his lack of success at this race in recent years.
Since winning in 2006, Johnson has failed to fare better than 27th place. Although that didn't prevent him from going on the Sprint Cup championship run that he did, it still indicates that there is some sort of hex going on with Johnson at Daytona.
Johnson hasn't won the Sprint Cup title the past two years.
He recently pointed out the importance of starting off the season well, especially after winning the Sprint Cup crown (h/t FOX Sports): "Once you are a champion, at any point following that when you don’t run like you should for a period of time, the questions will come. That is when any driver and team is tested. It just depends on when that moment in time is."
It has certainly been a trying time for Johnson and his crew at Daytona over the past several seasons, and he will be looking to end that disappointment despite a less-than-ideal starting position.
If anyone can roar back and take the checkered flag from the middle of the pack, Johnson has to be considered one of the top candidates to do so.
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