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Showtime, showtime, showtime! And rarely has a Daytona 500 featured more questions


And here's your new Daytona 500 winner -- ageless Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Okay, Joey, show us what you've got.
   Or, wait a minute, maybe you'd better just play it safe for a while.
   So which way will super-hyped Joey Logano go in Sunday afternoon's season-opening Daytona 500?
   Good question.
   After 10 years running this Joe Gibbs team for Tony Stewart, and winning a couple of championships along the way, crew chief Greg Zipadelli now has an 18-year-old rookie at the wheel.
   This is a heck of a lot of car to have to handle. One year ago Stewart himself came within a nose of winning the 500.
   And with all the hype surrounding Logano -- hype pumped up even more by Logano's very impressive performance in Thursday's 150, which he came very close to winning – there is certainly a lot of pressure for him and Zipadelli to deal with here.
  It all makes for great drama, and some 200,000 fans are expected here at Daytona International Speedway to take it all in, beginning at the 3: 30 p.m. green (Fox).
  Logano won't have far over his hood to look to see those Chevys, Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin, up on the front row, because the kid is starting in the fifth row.
  This 500 has shaped up as a battle between Rick Hendrick's Chevy men and Gibbs' Toyota guys. They appear to have a decided edge in speed, particularly Martin, who may well have the best car in the field.
   So what can Martin, at 50, do with all these youngster?
   Take 'em to school.
   That's what Martin did in his 150 Thursday, with an aggressive display of driving that came up just short of victory when Kyle Busch, Logano's teammate, chopped off Martin's high-side bid off the final turn.
   A Mark Martin victory?
   Now that would be a storybook finish…or start, really, for the man who has been at this game since 1981 and who, for all his wins, and his legendary prowess at the wheel, has never won this race or this tour's championship.
   And this may well be his final run at both.


Crew chief Greg Zipadelli explaining Daytona's tricks to rookie Joey Logano (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   Logano, though, would be an excellent story too, and probably will be, one way or the other.
   In fact a Logano-Martin, or Martin-Logano finish would be historic, consider Martin was the man who discovered Logano so many years ago and who has promoted him as this sport's next big superstar for so long.
   And this sport certainly could use a big shot in the arm, considering the country's sagging economy and so many crewmen out of work.
   Well, it would be nice to put independents like new owner-driver Jeremy Mayfield and new teammates Scott Riggs and Tommy Baldwin in the mix. But they know they are facing steep odds, not just here, not just making it here with some cars and then making into the 500 field, but over the next few weeks as they struggle to keep their teams sailing these rough economics seas.  This sport isn't cheap, and $30 million budgets have been the norm for the big teams, so with Mayfield and Riggs and Baldwin trying to get by on maybe $3 million, well, if you want a couple of underdogs to root for this spring, you've got 'em.
   Truex himself is a bit of a mystery, as are the Earnhardt-Ganassi and Richard Childress Chevy camps. They're all running the same engines, and while Truex had enough for the pole, it's not clear if he's got enough for the 500 itself. Of the Ganassi guys to watch, the man to really keep an eye on is Aric Almirola, who is fighting to keep a ride and to find a full-time sponsor. Almirola is one of the most talented drivers to come along lately, but bad economics keeps putting road blocks to his fledgling career.
   Dale Earnhardt Jr. should be the man to beat at Daytona, but for some reason there seems to be something missing in that camp.

Greg Zipadelli has a lot on his mind in this Daytona 500 (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


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