Even though it doesn't *officially* count, Jeff Gordon already has one more win in 2009 than he did in all of 2008, thanks to his win on Thursday in the first Gatorade Duel at Daytona.
Can he put one in the win column for good on Sunday in the 51st Daytona 500? Why not?
I never once bought the theory last year that Gordon lost it -- whether it was the drive or the talent. One doesn't become a four-time series champion and win 81 races and suddenly forget how to drive a stock car. With Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards winning a combined 24 of the 36 races last year, there weren't many others to go around.
Just ask Matt Kenseth, another series champion who saw a goose egg in his win column last year.
I think Gordon will win this race, even though there are several drivers capable of the feat. Harvick, who won the Budweiser Shootout, is always a threat, as is 2004 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both Junior and Mark Martin were strong during Speedweeks, and Kyle Busch, who won the second Duel race on Thursday, is literally a threat everywhere on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Jamie McMurray has been the class of the Roush-Fenway stable, and the Stewart-Haas cars (Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman) have been surprisingly strong, despite Saturday's wreck in practice.
As I've mentioned before, plate racing is a crapshoot; there's a good chance this year's Daytona 500 could see a first-time winner. Joey Logano, the 18-year-old, finished an impressive fourth in the Duel on Thursday, and the Earnhardt-Ganassi cars have apparently discovered some muscle.
Still, I'm going with Gordon. The three-time Daytona 500 winner will have something to prove this season, and what bigger message to send than to take the biggest race of the season, just months removed from your first winless season in 15 years?
Make it four for Gordon on Sunday.
Here's the lineup for Sunday's race. Coverage starts at 2 p.m. EST on FOX, with the green flag dropping around 3:30.
1. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet)
2. Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg's/CarQuest Chevrolet)
3. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
4. Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota)
5. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet)*
6. Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota)
7. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)
8. Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet)
9. Joey Logano (No. 20 The Home Depot Toyota)
10. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota)
11. Aric Almirola (No. 8 Guitar Hero: World Tour Chevrolet)
12. Bobby Labonte (No. 96 Ask.com Ford)
13. Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet)
15. Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge)
16. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford)
17. Scott Riggs (No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Toyota)
18. Jeremy Mayfield (No. 41 All Sport Toyota)
19. Paul Menard (No. 98 Quaker State/Menards Ford)
20. A.J. Allmendinger (No. 44 Valvoline Dodge)
21. Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford)
22. Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet)
23. Marcos Ambrose (No. 59 Little Debbie/Kingsford/Clorox Toyota)
24. David Sremme (No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge)
25. Casey Mears (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet)
26. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
27. Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Toyota)
28. David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota)
29. Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge)
30. Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge)
31. Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam Toyota)*
32. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet)*
33. David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford)
34. Reed Sorenson (No. 43 McDonald's Dodge)
35. Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford)
36. Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet)*
37. John Andretti (No. 34 Window World Chevrolet)*
38. Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota)*
39. Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Dewalt Ford)
40. Bill Elliott (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford)*
41. Travis Kvapil (No. 28 Golden Corral Ford)
42. Regan Smith (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
43. Terry Labonte (No. 66 Window World Toyota)
*Has to move to back of the field.