By Doug Halberstadt
In less than two weeks NASCAR will open up their 2015 season with the 57th running of “The Great American Race” or as it’s more commonly referred to, The Daytona 500.
The Sprint Cup season opener is by far the most prestigious event on the NASCAR calendar and carries with it the largest purse.
Last year’s winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be attempting to become only the fourth driver ever to score back to back victories in the 500 mile race.
Sterling Marlin was the last driver to accomplish the feat. He won in 1994 and ’95. Cale Yarborough brought home the checkers in 1983 and ’84. Richard Petty did it ten years earlier in 1973 and ’74.
Fans may have trouble recognizing a few of their favorite drivers this year. Carl Edwards will no longer be piloting his familiar No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Instead you’ll find him behind the wheel of the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
One of last season’s top rookies Cole Whitt has switched rides for his sophomore year. You’ll find him in the No. 35 instead of the No. 26 this year, and Ryan Blaney moves from the No. 12 Ford into the No. 21 Ford.
Veteran Bobby Labonte will be back at Daytona this year. The 50 year old former series champion has a deal with Go FAS Racing to drive the No. 32 Ford in four Sprint Cup races this season.
Labonte hasn’t won a race since 2003 and only ran three races last year. He finished 15th in the 2014 Daytona 500.
Local favorite and Roscoe native Danica Patrick will have a new crew chief for her No. 10 team.
Daniel Knost is leaving his crew chief position for Kurt Busch and assuming those responsibilities for Patrick in an effort to help her continue to improve in the Sprint Cup Series.
The duo worked together for the final three races of 2014. Their best finish was 18th at the season finale in Homestead, Florida.
It’s a little too early for me to make my official prediction on who will win this year’s Daytona 500, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Jeff Gordon goes for broke after making the off season announcement that this will be his final year. If by chance he did win, it would his fourth victory in “The Great American Race”.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.