NASCAR's Drive Up to the Daytona 500

8) Qualifying will actually be entertaining again

Ever since the top 35 in owner's points have been guaranteed starting spots, Friday qualifying sessions have been about as watchable as an "American Books" marathon on C-SPAN 3. But NASCAR's decision to bunch the "go or go home" cars together will rekindle at least a little bit of the drama that we all loved so much back in the day.

9) Get to know your aero

Thanks to the COT, there are little or no adjustments that teams are allowed to make body-wise. What they can work with are a variety of angle adjustments and tiny attachments to the rear wing. The term you'll hear the most is "Gurney Flap" or in some circles "Wicker Bill." Those are the tiny flat panels that are added to the rear and sides of the wing. They may not look like much, but they can be the difference in being glued to the track and sliding around like someone trying to figure skate with bedroom slippers.

10) Does this make my butt look big?

Teams will be living in the rear of the COT all season once we leave Daytona, as witnessed by all the dudes carrying around all those shocks and springs at last week's tests at Vegas and Fontana.

11) Jeff Gordon will reel in the immortals

The Rainbow Warrior enters 2008 sitting on 81 career wins, which puts him only two behind Cale Yarborough and three behind Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison (four if you ask Bobby). If he has his average season of five wins, he'll end the year ranked third all-time behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Holy cow.

12) The Sam Hornish Jr. Sheet Metal Supply Co.

We love the three-time IndyCar Series champ and we have no doubts that Sam Hornish Jr. will develop into a solid Cup contender with Penske Racing. But if his prior record is any indication, he's going to destroy some cars in the process (he shortened his Vegas/Fontana car during testing last week), which means the vets will be avoiding him in the Daytona draft like his car is covered in the Ebola virus.

13) IndyCar Series defection watch '08

Dario and Hornish's departure for NASCAR means four of the last seven IndyCar Series championships and the last two Indy 500 winners have abandoned the league. Danica Patrick's biggest headlines last season involved rumors of her defection and '05 champ Dan Wheldon and "Dancing With The Stars" ace Helio Castroneves are already being pounded with questions about NASCAR.

14) Return of The King

Don't look now, but the famous No. 43 Dodge is slowly becoming relevant again. Bobby Labonte finished 18th in points one year ago, the car's highest ranking since 1999. Say what you want, but the sport is better off if the Petty family is around and there's not a person in the Cup garage that doesn't want to see Kyle win one last race, dedicate it to his late son Adam, and walk out the door triumphantly.

15) Richard Childress Racing matters again

Five years ago, it looked like the Team That Earnhardt Built was going to bottom out like the Pettys, but RC has done what RC does best -- worked his butt off -- and his three teams have all become title contenders.

16) Need a new favorite driver?

Speaking of RCR, who saw Clint Bowyer coming last year? For all you old-school race fans who say these young guys aren't like the old ones, here's a guy you can pull for. Bowyer's Mom and Dad run a tow truck business back in Kansas and three years ago he was racing on dirt and working in a body shop at a Ford dealership. What's more old-school than that?

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