I am not much of a NASCAR fan, although my parents started watching some 12 years ago or so, and have been avid watchers ever since. Like fans in sports the world round, they chose sides, my mother favoring Jeff Gordon, my father taking up the Miller Lite colors of Rusty Wallace.
I chose to stay out of the battle, as I had no vested interest in the outcome, although I did admire the hard driving style of the late Dale Earnhardt, and now finding myself, more often than not, in the corner of his son, Dale Jr., and his number 8 Budweiser ride. But all of this is neither here nor there, for it is that time once again. This Sunday, February the 18th, will be the 49th running of the Daytona 500.
NASCAR is the only sport that I can think of that features its premiere race at the start of the season. All of the other sports, that I can think of, place it at the end of the year, culminating with the coronation of a new champion. Of course, NASCAR does not crown their champ at the start, they still have the championship awarded at the end of the season, yet there is something magical, something revered, and something that every driver so greatly desires in the Daytona 500. It marks the start of a new season of motorsports, and could be equated to the Super Bowl in terms of anticipation and build up.
The Daytona 500 has the largest televised audience of any race during the year, it attracts the largest in person attendance, and also offers the largest purse to the winner. It is a race that all the greats have won, although it does take some longer than others, with Dale Earnhardt winning it after 20 years worth of attempts, others win it early in their career, like Jeff Gordon, who won in only his second full season on the circuit.
This year, 43 drivers are competing for the prestigious prize. Like every year, the field is wide open. There is no way to predict whom the winner is going to be; of course the favorite is inevitably the pole sitter, although it is all but a sure thing. NASCAR Nextel Cup racing may look like a sprint, due to those incredibly high speeds, but it is more akin to a marathon, as you have to factor in the length of the race, fuel and tire consumption, speed of the pit crews, and a whole host of other variables.