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NASCAR by the numbers

Stock cars going 180 mph around the track lap after lap after lap an entire afternoon? Racing fans have no problem keeping track of that.

But even most serious followers of NASCAR's Nextel Cup could get dizzy trying to take in all the changes as the season starts this week in Daytona Beach.

There are always drivers, teams and sponsor changes heading into a new year. However, the lagging economy and resulting cost-cutting has been a major factor in the merging of various organizations, most notably Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi into Earnhardt Ganassi and the morphing of Gillett Evernham into Richard Petty Racing.

Partly as a result of those mergers, 10 teams wheeled and dealed owner's points in an effort to jockey into the all-important top 35. The top 35 in last year's owner's points standings are all guaranteed starts in this season's first five races.

With all the off-track comings and goings, it's actually easier to start with the list of teams that have the same driver, number, sponsor, owner, manufacturer and crew chief. There are only nine, and they are familiar faces: three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.

All but Harvick, of Richard Childress Racing, and Penske Racing's Kurt Busch are part of NASCAR's unofficial franchises, the dominant teams of Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Here are the basics you need to know heading into today's single-lap qualifying for the Daytona 500, going by car number and starting with the changes of the most impact:

No. 20: It's still orange, it's still the Home Depot car, but rather than the driver being one of the sports' biggest names, he's the next big thing. Joey Logano, who will be the youngest driver in the history of the Daytona 500, backed up his much hyped roll-out last season by earning his first Nationwide Series win in his third start. The 18-year-old steps in for Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing after the end of one of the sport's best driver-owner combinations of all time.

No. 14: The break from Gibbs came only because Tony Stewart wanted to become a driver-owner, which he is now at Stewart-Haas Racing. The car is red thanks to partnerships with Old Spice and Office Depot. Stewart took over the Haas No. 70 entry, changed the number to 14 in honor of his childhood hero, A.J. Foyt. The No. 70 was not in the top 35 in owner's points last year (it was 43rd), but Stewart is guaranteed a spot for first five races based on his 2005 series championship.

No. 99: That's right, your Sunday morning newspaper will no longer have Office Depot flyers featuring Carl Edwards' sponsor-loving smile (or victory-celebrating back flip). His car is now black and green and his new sponsor is Aflac, and he joins Kyle Busch and Johnson as the popular favorites for the season championship. Here's one prediction: Many more commercials featuring a back-flipping Aflac duck.

No. 39: New number, team and sponsor for Ryan Newman, who is racing for fellow Indiana native Stewart at Stewart-Haas and racing in the black-and-gold for the U.S. Army. He's safe with an owner's points spot of 30th taken from Haas' former No. 60.

>Musical driver's seats

No. 33: Clint Bowyer has a new sponsor at Richard Childress Racing in Cheerios & Hamburger Helper, so now his matchbox-sized die cast cars can be sold (something that doesn't happen when your sponsor is a hard liquor). Bowyer drove the No. 07 Jack Daniels his first three seasons, including top 10 finishes the last two. Despite that success, as a new entry he was looking at having to qualify for the first five races -- until RCR acquired the 32nd-place owner's points from the disbanded Dale Earnhardt Inc. No. 01 car.

No. 07: Casey Mears steps into Bowyer's old ride as RCR's fourth driver.

No. 5: Mark Martin steps into Mears' old ride as the fourth driver at Hendrick. Martin, a part-time driver the last two years who supposedly had retired, is back to full-time racing.

No. 12: David Stremme replaces Newman in the familiar blue Alltell entry for Roger Penske.

>Same car, new look

No. 31: RCR's Jeff Burton goes from cell phones to trucks in long-time NASCAR sponsor Caterpillar.

No. 6: Will Roush's David Ragan race the truck? His ride goes from AAA's red-and-white to UPS' brown and gold.

No. 00: David Reutimann, who lost the UPS sponsorship to Ragan, is no longer No. 44 and new sponsor Aaron's just signed on for a full season this week.

No. 7: Robby Gordon's look is only different in the manufacturer's name on the front of his self-owned Jim Beam-sponsored car as he switches from Dodge to Toyota.

No. 77: Still Sam Hornish, still red-white-and-blue Mobil 1 and still Penske, which made a last-minute, owner's-points deal with Bill Davis to obtain the points from the old No. 22 car -- like Bowyer, that ensures Hornish a spot in the top 35 (31st).

>New teammates

Martin Truex is in his same No. 1, but he's got new teammates at Earnhardt Ganassi: Juan Montoya now drives No. 42 with the Target colors (ever-present for Ganassi-owned cars in NASCAR and IndyCar) while Aric Almirola just got a sponsor for the No. 8 in video game Guitar Hero this week, but it's not for a full season.

Richard Petty Motorsports is now the owner for Kasey Kahne, who is in his second season for the Budweiser No. 9; Reed Sorenson steps into Petty's most popular No. 43 (and his sponsor is pretty well-known too in McDonald's) while Elliott Sadler's No. 19 is now sponsored by Stanley Tools.

>New chiefs

Brian Vickers is back in the No. 83 for Red Bull Racing but his crew chief is Ryan Pemberton, who moved over from Michael Waltrip Racing. . . . Speaking of, Waltrip himself has a new boss on the box of the No. 55 in Bootie Barker, formerly of Haas. . . . Jamie McMurray is back in the purple Roush No. 26 and is reunited with former crew chief Donnie Wingo, who was with Ganassi last year.

>More shuffling

Several deals were made among teams to obtain owner's points in the top 35.

Paul Menard and the No. 98 are in the 23rd owner's spot for Yates Racing (which is also fielding Travis Kvapil in the No. 28) as part of an agreement that also placed Bobby Labonte and the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing car in the 28th owner's points spot. . . . John Andretti is driving the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports (27th in owner's points after an exchange with last year's No. 15 of DEI). . . . Scott Speed is a new driver in the No. 82 for Red Bull Racing (which used the 24th-place owner's points from the No. 84). Marcos Ambrose is in the No. 47 for T.J. Dougherty Racing, a number and owner change after a negotiation to take over the 35th-place owner's points of Reutimann's No. 00 last year.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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