NASCAR Preview

Last Updated Wednesday, Jul 20, 2005 5:27 pm, EDT

Race Capsule

Daytona International Speedway
  • What:

    Race 1 of 36 on Sprint Cup circuit

  • Where:

    Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL

  • When:

    February 15, 2004 1:30 pm EST

  • Laps:

    200

  • Track Length:

    2.5 miles

  • Race Length:

    500.00 miles

  • Purse:

    $16,003,785

Drivers to Watch

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Won this race last year, three years after his legendary father lost his life during the 43rd running of this event on February 18, 2001; was the first of a career-high six victories during a 2004 campaign in which he finished fifth in the standings; won twice during the "Chase" but was docked 25 points for the use of profanity after taking the checkered flag in the third of the 10-race playoff; penalty did not come back to haunt him as he finished 138 points behind Busch; he and DEI teammate Michael Waltrip have combined to win three of last four races here, but doubts of their continued dominance has surfaced following poor testing times; qualified 39th Sunday, causing further concern.
Three-time Daytona 500 champion will start from the pole in this event for the third time after recording a qualifying time of 188.312 miles per hour Sunday; won this race from the pole in 2000 in the first defense of his 1999 series championship; since that victory here, has taken a total of just eight checkered flags in 177 races; went without a victory for the first time since 1992 last year but finished a respectable 15th in the standings - 11 spots higher than in 2003; ran 10th in this event last year.
Kasey Kahne Reigning Rookie of the Year was fourth with 13 top-fives last year; finished 13th in the standings but had been ninth entering the final race before the "Chase"; in search of his first premier series win; didn't record his first Busch Series victory until the final race of his second season; recorded series-high five runner-up finishes, including back-to-back seconds in the second and third races of the season; made Nextel Cup series debut in this race last year, finishing 41st after encountering engine problems; also struggled in Pepsi 400 here last year, running 25th after qualifying 31st.
Kevin Harvick A good performance in last year's big race here, finishing fourth after starting 31st; only win and pole came in the same race and it was a prestigious one, at the Brickyard 400; also was runner-up in six of his 11 top-five finishes of the year; earned just under $5 million and was fifth in the final points standings.
Two-time winner of the Daytona 500 in 1994 and 1995, finished just 17th last year; saves some of his best performances for superspeedways at Talladega and Daytona; had a poor season but finished somewhat strong with a pair of top-10s; no finishes in the top five; owns 10 career wins and 12 poles; earned $3.9 million lst season.
Michael Waltrip Wins in this race in 2001 and 2003 have accounted for half his career checkered flags in 606 career starts; went without a victory in 2004 and has not won since the EA Sports 500 - another restrictor-plate race - at Talladega on September 28, 2003; best finish last year was a second in the Coca-Cola 600, marking the first of just two top-fives; has not finished higher than 12th in the standings in 19 seasons; qualified ninth for this event last year, but an accident led to a 38th-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson Finished second in the standings for a second straight year in 2004; rallied from being ninth with six races left to forge the closest finish in series history; won four of the final six races last year to end with a series-high eight checkered flags - two more than in his first two full seasons combined; also led the circuit with 20 top-fives, including 12 during a torrid 14-race stretch midseason; won the exhibition Budweiser Shootout on Saturday to take his first checkered flag in a restrictor-plate race; will start in the front row for this event after qualifying second Sunday with a lap of 188.170 mph; in 2002, became just the third rookie in series history to win the Daytona 500 pole, joining Loy Allen and Mike Skinner; finished third in this race in 2003 and fifth last year.
Begins his final full season on the circuit in search of his first victory in 23 starts at the Daytona 500; ran 29th after qualifying 18th in this event last year; the 1989 series champion has 55 career victories but only two since the 2000 season; his victory in the Advance Auto Parts 500 on April 18 marked his first trip to victory lane in nearly three years; finished 16th in the standings on the heels of a 14th-place finish in 2003; had not finished outside of the top 10 in back-to-back years since 1984-85; had been encouraged by early testing results with the new Dodge Charger but only managed to run 21st in Sunday's qualifying.
Jeff Burton Winless and without a pole the past two years on the circuit; had only three top-five finishes in 2003 although managed to place 12th in the final points standings; best result was second in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona on July 5; The Daytona 500 was not a bad run either with an 11th place after starting ninth; in 2002 here, started 33rd and finished 12th.
Mark Martin Daytona Beach resident seeking first career win in this event in what will be the final season of a career that began in 1981; best finish in the Daytona 500 was a third behind Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt in 1995; 2005 also represents his last attempt at a championship; the four-time series runner-up has finished in the top 10 in the standings 14 times in the last 16 years, including a fourth-place finish in 2004; took the checkered flag once last year, giving him 34 career victories; has won just three races over the last five seasons; engine troubles led to a 43rd in this event last year; "This place doesn't love me and I don't love it," he said.
Kurt Busch Entering first race as defending series champion, having edged Jimmie Johnson by eight points in the closest title finish in stock car racing history; managed just three wins and one pole in 2004 but was a model of consistency with a series-high 20 top-five finishes, four more than any other driver; began the inaugural "Chase for the Nextel Cup" with a victory in New Hampshire and went on to record nine top-10s over the final 10 races; best finish in this race was a second in 2003; ran 16th here last year; will be joined by 19-year-old brother Kyle on the circuit this season.
Brian Vickers The 19-year-old won the 2003 Busch Series title and was signed by Rick Hendrick Motorsports to drive in the Nextel Cup; will be one of four drivers at the Hendrick team; won the Busch championship by 14 points over David Green; had three victories (Indianapolis, Darlington, Dover), one pole, 13 top-fives (including two runners-up) and 21 top-10s; also earned over $1.1 million; World Karting Association national champion from 1994-97.
Matt Kenseth Finished ninth in the standings last year and was never really a factor down the stretch; despite entering the 10-race playoff fifth and running second in the opening event of the "Chase," finished no higher than 11th in the final nine races; won twice last year - in back-to-back events following a ninth in the Daytona 500; had won only once during his dominant 2003 championship season in which he posted a series-high 25 top-10s; has two top-10s in five starts in this event, beginning with a 10th in 2000.
Ken Schrader Another driver who tends to put out good efforts on superspeedways; at Daytona International Speedway, he posted 13 top-10 finishes in the last 19 races; accomplished just about everything at Daytona except a victory in the big race; was a pole-sitter three consecutive years between 1988 and 1990; finished second in 1989 and third in 1996 as best results.
Bobby Labonte The 2000 NASCAR champion had two victories last year, including the Ford 400 final event in Miami; will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing for the 10th straight year; the first win came in the fourth race of the year at the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500; had total of 12 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s; also scored four pole-positions for a career total of 26; the 41st finish in the Daytona 500 was lowest of season; placed eighth in the points standings.
Tony Stewart The 2002 series champion was runner-up to Earnhardt Jr. in this event last year, finishing .237 seconds off the pace; has yet to visit victory lane in 12 official events on this track; won two races last year and has recorded at least two checkered flags in each of his first six seasons; finished sixth in the standings last year to mark his sixth straight season in the top seven; has 19 career victories and has earned over $33 million since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 1999; won the IRL title in 1997; ran fourth in Budweiser Shootout here Saturday.
Jeff Gordon The four-time NASCAR champion finished third in the standings last year, a mere 16 points behind Busch; entered the "Chase" as the series leader and posted seven top-10s, including a third in each of the final three events, during the 10-race playoff; visited victory lane five times last year - his most wins since taking six checkered flags in 2001; won the Daytona 500 in 1997 and 1999 and also won the Pepsi 400 at this track three times, including from the pole last year; ran eighth in the 500 despite starting 39th last February; it was the first of a series-high 25 top-10 finishes in 2004.
Ryan Newman Ran seventh in this event in 2002 but has not cracked the top 30 in each of his last two attempts; won the most poles on the circuit for the third straight year in 2004 with nine, including four in a row during the "Chase"; took the checkered flag just twice last year on the heels of a series-high eight wins in 2003; finished seventh in the standings, 326 points off the pace; runner-up to Johnson in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday, marking an impressive return of the Dodge Charger.