Daytona: Round one preview

Showtime: New Sponsor Nationwide Insurance Debuts At Daytona *Championship At Stake Out Of The Gate ...

Showtime: New Sponsor Nationwide Insurance Debuts At Daytona
*Championship At Stake Out Of The Gate #*Dale Earnhardt Jr. Takes Driver Rating Of 106.5 Into Season Opener

Nationwide's Debut On Big Stage At Daytona International Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2008) -- The wait is nearly over.

After signing on last October, Nationwide Insurance will make its debut as the title sponsor for the nation's second-most popular motorsports series.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series opens on the sport's biggest stage -- Daytona International Speedway -- on Saturday afternoon. Over 50 cars will attempt to qualify for the Camping World 300 which will be televised on ESPN2.

"Nationwide is excited about this long-term partnership and recognizes that NASCAR has the most loyal and dedicated fan base of any sport," said Jim Lyski, Chief Marketing Officer for Nationwide. "We look forward to putting tremendous energy and resources into supporting this sponsorship and advancing the profile of the NASCAR Nationwide Series."

The field for the race -- the 27th season-opener in series history -- is one of the strongest ever. Ten former champions are entered including reigning driver champion Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford) and the defending owner champion, the No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet which will be driven by Scott Wimmer.

Six former winners of this race representing nine victories are also entered while Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet), whose four Coors Light Poles are the most for this event, returns to series competition for the first time since last March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

No Time For Catch-Up: Strong Field Forces Title Battle To Begin Now

With the number of drivers in contention for the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, there would seem to be little opportunity for anyone to play catch-up following Saturday's season-opener at Daytona.

Reigning champion Carl Edwards knows a fast start is in order thanks to the overall strength of the series field this year.

Edwards' top challengers figure to be Clint Bowyer (No. 2 BB&T Chevrolet) who returns full-time to the series for the first time since his runner-up finish to Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8 Freightliner Chevrolet) in 2006.

David Reutimann (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota), second to Edwards last year and Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) who was third in the standings in 2007 return in what looks to be improved Toyota equipment in the early going.

Johnny Sauter (No. 1 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet) is back after a year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and is an immediate contender.

Others who give little breathing room to Edwards include series veteran Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25 Smithfield Foods Ford), Marcos Ambrose (No. 59 Kingsford Ford), Mike Wallace (No. 7 GEICO Chevrolet) and Mike Bliss (No. 22 Supercuts Dodge).

Developing New Talent Is Core Of Series; Current, Former Drivers Are Owners, Mentors

The NASCAR Nationwide Series does indeed serve as a developmental opportunity -- other than Tony Stewart (No. 20 Armor All Toyota) 11 of the 12 drivers in the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup spent at least two full seasons in the series before moving on.

Three of the four current drivers vying for series Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors are entered for Saturday's race while eight former rookies of the year are also entered at Daytona.

Brad Coleman (No. 27 Cottonelle/Kroger Ford), Steve Wallace (No. 66 Atreus Homes & Communities Chevrolet), Bryan Clauson (No. 41 Texaco/Havoline Dodge), Kelly Bires (No. 47 Clorox Ford), Cale Gale (No. 77 Rheem Chevrolet) and Brad Keselowski (No. 88 U.S. NAVY Chevrolet) are using the series to develop their skills to try and become the next generation of NASCAR Sprint Cup stars.

"With Nationwide coming on board, it's a huge boost for the series," two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and series team owner Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) said. "I think as we go forward (the series) will be as strong as ever and you will see more young guys, more independent teams and hopefully more Cup drivers having Nationwide teams and participation in the series, supporting the sport as they should."

Harvick -- the defending race winner who also claimed the 2007 Daytona 500 -- is now racing his own equipment and mentoring Gale. This is the first time in his nine-year series career Harvick isn't driving for Richard Childress Racing.

David Stremme (No. 64 Atreus Homes & Communities Chevrolet) returns to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year and is on board with Rusty Wallace Racing. He'll be a valuable asset to Steve Wallace and young Chase Austin.

JR Motorsports -- having merged with Rick Hendrick's NASCAR Nationwide Series program -- has an all-star outfit that will benefit the careers of Keselowski and Landon Cassill. Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin (the all-time leader in wins and poles in the series) and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will all participate in select NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year.

Toss in the much-anticipated debut of NASCAR Camping World East champion Joey Logano (scheduled for May) and its apparent that the series is ripe with its own new stars.

In The Loop: It's An All-Star Event At Daytona

The first-ever race under the Nationwide Insurance banner won't disappoint. The statistical storylines seem endless.

Four favorites all have angles that can be pondered for hours.

First there's Dale Earnhardt Jr. He'll be driving in his first points race for JR Motorsports in the No. 5 National Guard Chevrolet -- a car that went to Victory Lane four times with Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) last season. Plus, Earnhardt is brilliant at Daytona -- he has five DIS wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His stats since 2005 are likewise solid. Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 106.5, an Average Running Position of 10.1 and a series-high 46 Fastest Laps Run.

Then there's the new top man at Earnhardt's former team, Martin Truex Jr. With Earnhardt's departure, Truex inherited the lead role at Dale Earnhardt Inc. A solid run at Daytona should make the transition easier. The scenario is a likely one -- he has one win there and since 2005 has a series-best Driver Rating of 110.0, an Average Running Position of 8.9 and has run 84.1 of his Laps in the Top 15.

Another storyline is Tony Stewart's first points race in a Toyota. Stewart has two NASCAR Nationwide Series wins at Daytona, so the move should be a smooth one. Since 2005, Stewart has a Daytona Driver Rating of 104.9 and an Average Running Position of 11.9.

This season, Kevin Harvick will run exclusively in his own KHI equipment. Since 2005, Harvick, who won this race last year (he pulled the NASCAR Nationwide Series-Daytona 500 sweep), has a Driver Rating of 109.5, an Average Running Position of 9.2, 25 Fastest Laps Run and 81.9% of his Laps in the Top 15.

NNS Etc.

* Four countries are represented by entrants for Saturday's Camping World 300. The United States has the most (50) while Australia (Marcos Ambrose), Canada (D.J. Kennington -- No. 81 STP Tools Dodge), Scotland Dario Franchitti (No. 40 Fastenal Dodge) each have one driver entered.

* Kevin Harvick might be driving his own cars this year but his Daytona entry has had tremendous success on the track. The No. 33 Chevrolet won back-to-back season-openers in 2005-06 with Tony Stewart behind the wheel.

* Bryan Clauson, Dario Franchitti, Cale Gale and Brian Keselowski are the current drivers competing for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.

* When Brad Keselowski starts Saturday's Camping World 300 he will become the second member of his family to race the No. 88 Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway. His uncle, Ron Keselowski, drove the No. 88 to a seventh-place finish in the 1972 Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

Fast Facts

The Race: Camping World 300 Presented by Chevrolet
The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Saturday, Feb. 16
The Time: 1:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2, 12:00 p.m.

Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval

2007 Winner: Kevin Harvick
2007 Pole: Aric Almirola

Schedule: Wednesday  -- Practice 3-4:20 p.m. Thursday -- Practice,  9:15-10:45
a.m. Friday -- Qualifying,  3:10 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Mike Wallace , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Johnny Sauter , Marcos Ambrose , Mike Bliss , David Reutimann , Martin Truex Jr. , D.J. Kennington , Carl Edwards , Landon Cassill , Brad Coleman , David Stremme , Clint Bowyer , Brad Keselowski , Bryan Clauson , Aric Almirola , Cale Gale , Kelly Bires , Joey Logano , Brian Keselowski , Steve Wallace , Chase Austin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams JR Motorsports