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January 12, 2012
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January 12, 2012




AFTER LAST YEAR'S SLAM-BANG DOWN-TO-the-wire finish, what can the Sprint Cup deliver for an encore? The paint-trading begins, as always, with the jewel of NASCAR races, in Daytona Beach, and will end beneath South Florida's palms. Along its familiar route, the tour will roar into Kentucky Speedway (which hopes to handle the crowds better in its second Cup event than it did in last year's congestion-plagued debut) and Chicagoland Speedway, which hosts the Chase opener for the second straight year.

As for the superspeedways, how the racing will unfold there is anybody's guess. Last year's Daytona 500 produced what some creatively dubbed the two-car tango, with drivers pushing each other around the track in an effort to gain more speed (left). They employed the same strategy at Talladega in May and October. Both of those tracks were repaved in the past five years, and teams figured out how to use the smooth surfaces to their advantage. "Drivers were able to talk with 10 to 15 other drivers on their radios," says Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who adds his voice to SI's breakdown of this year's races. "They were saying things like, 'Do you want to dance with me?' 'No, I'm dancing with him.'" NASCAR has talked about banning communication among drivers over their in-car radios in an effort to make the two-car tandem more difficult at those tracks.

Whatever happens, the 54th running of the 500 begins a decisive journey: Over 36 races at 23 tracks and in a span of 10 months, one driver and his team will emerge with that coveted trophy. Let's go racin', folks.



2011 RECAP In his second Cup start 20-year-old TREVOR BAYNE took the lead with six laps left and became the youngest driver to win the 500.

TRACK FACT For the second season in Daytona's 52-year history both Cup winners—Bayne and David Ragan, who won in July—drove to their first career victories. (Sterling Marlin and Jimmy Spencer did it in 1994.)

EYE ON 2012 In November, NASCAR began testing at the track to see if tinkering with the spoilers and restrictor plates could eliminate the two-car tandem here and at Talladega.

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