Five-minute guide to Daytona 500 (cont.)
1. Earnhardt Jr. and Truex Jr. Chevrolet driver Earnhardt and Toyota driver Truex have a long history with each other as Truex won the '04 and '05 NASCAR Busch Series championships (now Nationwide) driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Earnhardt was the Cup driver at that team and the two formed a friendship, both on and off the track.
2. Ryan Newman and Stewart. Teammates at Stewart Haas Racing, these two have fast race cars and work well together. Both came up through the United States Auto Club (USAC) ranks in Indiana and have the same racing philosophy.
3. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Again, stick with the teammates here as both race for the famed Roger Penske. Busch proved he is a Daytona threat by winning his first-ever restrictor-plate race in last weekend's Shootout and Keselowski won at Talladega in 2009. Both have Dodge-power at Penske Racing and will likely be together in a two-car pack throughout the race.
4. Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Two drivers with two of the best engines in the field, this is a likely pair to hook up early.
5. Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart. They've worked well together in the past at restrictor-plate tracks with Stewart pushing Earnhardt to several of his victories.
1. Harvick and Kyle Busch. They've had their share of run-ins, including the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Harvick put a wheel into Busch and spun him out. Busch hasn't forgotten about that and said he owes Harvick. Expect to see that payback on the short tracks, not at Daytona, because there is too much risk involved.
2. Keselowski and Carl Edwards. Their bitter rivalry started when Keselowski flipped Edwards at Talladega. They simply don't like each other and would probably rather help anyone else on the track.
3. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. After losing the 2010 Cup Series championship in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway to Johnson, Hamlin isn't likely to ever want to help the five-time defending Cup champ win another Daytona 500. In fact, some believe Hamlin may still be rattled by the psychological head games Johnson pulled in the final two races of last season.
4. Hamlin and Keselowski. Hamlin put Keselowski in the wall in the '09 Nationwide finale after a few run-ins throughout that season. One thing about drivers, they never forget when another driver does them wrong.
5. Steve Wallace and anybody. Already guaranteed a starting position by taking over the Cup points from Sam Hornish Jr. last season, Wallace has had more than his share of crashes in the Nationwide Series. When a rookie driver starts his first Daytona 500, none of the veterans want to work with him.
1. Kasey Kahne. Kahne left Richard Petty Motorsports for Hendrick Motorsports, but that contract doesn't begin until 2012. In the meantime he's driving one of Team Red Bull's Toyotas.
2. Bobby Labonte/Marcos Ambrose. The 2000 Cup champion drove for four teams in '10 but takes over the No. 47 Toyota from Marcos Ambrose, who has moved over to Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 9 car.
3. Paul Menard. The son of home improvement store magnate and former IndyCar Series team owner John Menard is undergoing a "racing improvement" of his own this season after leaving RPM for Richard Childress Racing.
4. Hendrick crew chiefs. Steve Letarte moves from Jeff Gordon's car to Earnhardt Jr.'s, while Junior's crew chief from last year, Lance McGrew, joins Mark Martin and Alan Gustafson moves from Martin's team to Gordon's.
5. Brian Vickers returns. After experiencing blood clot issues and a hole in his heart, Vickers returns to Team Red Bull. The eight-month layoff may have made Vickers a tad bit rusty but he should be able to shake that off.
1. Daytona's new pavement. After last year's pothole incident, track officials repaved the surface for the first time since 1979. Much has been said about the new asphalt and the new style of racing it has ushered in. Even more will be said about it during the race.
2. The two-car packs. Count the number of times the subject has been discussed in this column alone and it's a good bet the fans are already seeing double. But expect Sunday's race to be another example that driving in tandem is the only way to race at this track.
3. Earnhardt Jr.'s 93-race winless drought. He's NASCAR's Most Popular Driver, but he isn't close to being its most successful, though a victory Sunday would help him become more relevant.
4. The simplified scoring system. Instead of the complicated and convoluted scoring system that was first introduced in 1975, NASCAR will give 43 points for first all the way down to one point for 43rd. Of course, the winner will get a three-point bonus for winning the race and another one-point bonus for leading a lap and one more if he leads the most laps, so winning the race can pay as much as 48 points to the winner.
5. The yellow-line rule. As Hamlin discovered at the end of last Saturday's Shootout, if a driver drops below the yellow "out of bounds" line to improve his position, they will get dropped to the last car on the lead lap.
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