Daytona 500

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  • Tony Stewart
    Tony Stewart
    American racing driver and team owner

Who Will Win?

Busch

Kyle Busch: Since I'm not permitted to pick "the field" for this race, I'll take one of the guys who's proven he can handle the racing that is Daytona 2012: tandem, pack and wreck-dodge combined. Pretty much every driver in the field will have the opportunity to win this race; Busch is one of the much smaller group that has the talent to capitalize on that opportunity. – Jay Busbee

Tony Stewart Call this a hunch pick. Of course, I've figured that Stewart would nab his first Daytona 500 win in each of the past few years, and that hasn't happened yet. A win in the 500 is the missing piece in Stewart's NASCAR crown. He's won everything else at Daytona: the Budweiser Shootout, Coke Zero 400, Gatorade Duel races and four straight February Nationwide wins. That Daytona 500 victory could happen Sunday. But if Saturday night was any indication, he could very well be taken out on lap 17 in a “Big One” instead. – Nick Bromberg

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Ten days before the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't like his chances in the Great American Race. Then the Bud Shootout happened and all that changed. Pack racing is back, and with it comes a renewed sense of confidence in Earnhardt. The Daytona 500 will still be a crapshoot, but not to the degree it was a year ago. Skill is back in the equation, which is why I'm going with the best old-school restrictor-plate racer in the business. – Jay Hart

Three things to watch for:

Stewart

1. Two-car draft finish: Pack racing will dominate the first 198 laps of the Daytona 500, but the two-car draft will be the key to victory. Tony Stewart says the trailing car has a 3-to-1 advantage. Look for drivers to pair up with a drafting partner in the closing laps, then make their tandem move on Lap 199 or even the final lap.

2. Second place will win: No, that's not a typo. The preferred place to be coming through the final turn will be second. Kyle Busch demonstrated this in the Bud Shootout, when he used the slingshot move to get around Tony Stewart for the win. It's not a guarantee, but if the second-place driver times it right, the leader is a sitting duck.

3. Race to halfway: In an effort to entice drivers to do more than just log laps until the checkered flag comes into view, Daytona International Speedway is offering a $200,000 bonus to the driver leading at the halfway point. Two hundred large might not be enough to lure the likes of Jimmie Johnson to the front, but Kurt Busch and underfunded Phoenix Racing sure could use the extra dough.

Top storyline

Let's be honest here: The 54th running of the Daytona 500 will mark the Sprint Cup debut of one Danica Patrick. Win or not, she will have an impact – if not on the track, then off it. Expect a lot of Danica talk and expect the 2012 Daytona 500 to be the highest rated in years. – Jay Hart

Will the Daytona thrill? If the Daytona 500 is like Saturday's Bud Shootout, filled with daring moves, astonishing saves and field-thinning wrecks, it could be an amazing spectacle. If it's like the second Duel 150 – a tentative ridearound to the final furious laps – it could squander much of the goodwill built up by last season's championship run. We won't know till late Sunday afternoon. But for NASCAR's sake, a few wrecked cars could translate into a few million more viewers. – Jay Busbee

How will the title race from 2011 carry over into 2012? Television ratings for the Chase reflected the incredible race for the Sprint Cup championship, and a key test of fair-weather interest in NASCAR will be how many eyeballs are watching the Daytona 500. The early start time hinders ratings somewhat, but if Fox can post an increase from last year's 500, it bodes very well for the 2012 season. – Nick Bromberg

From The Source

Tony Stewart: "I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed. That's a really strong point, just like Trevor Bayne showed last year he had a strong car, so people wanted to go with him. Hopefully that will work for us on Sunday, too."