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In a race where anything can happen, patience pays off

1. It's a great American marathon, not a great American sprint. There are plenty of reasons the Daytona 500 is the Great American Race. But after all the hype, build-up and prerace activities that help earn the event its label of the "Super Bowl of auto racing," there is a long, tense, often grueling drive. The 200-lap event, not a place for impatience, can make for some unspectacular, single-file racing for long stretches early on. But that only builds the tension for what will happen later.

2. Get a handle on things. The two-year-old "Car of Tomorrow" is either great for racing or a tough-to-handle pest to drivers, depending on who you ask. The car can be difficult to maneuver, which makes for hard work for those behind the wheel as the cars do some "sliding" or "skating" -- which also happens to make for some great action for fans. Whichever cars are able to respond best over the 2 1/2 -mile track's bumps and in the crowded packs will be in a position to get to the front in the late going.

3. "The Big One." The phrase is ubiquitous to superspeedway racing for a reason -- it's the wreck that will wreck your chances on the high-banked turns of Daytona and Talledaga. With the racing getting tighter and tension increasing at Daytona seemingly each year, there is always a point where things will boil over into at least one field-altering, multicar crash. A lot of times blind luck will affect how you finish in the sport's greatest event.

4. In front at the end? Look out. As alluring as "leading the Daytona 500" sounds, it hasn't lasted long enough for those leading late. Tony Stewart was up front to begin last year's last lap but couldn't stay there. "You really don't want to be [leading late in the Daytona 500]," Stewart said a year ago. "It's kind of the old days when the slingshot was so effective. You didn't want to be the leader on the last lap because there was that big run on you on the last lap." A lot is made of teammates pairing up for pushes, but any such teaming-up is more a result of circumstance rather than some designed team strategy, and it certainly isn't simply executed. Stewart thought he would get a push from Kyle Busch last year, but his then-teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing wasn't close enough to provide much momentum. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch thought he might have a run to win the race but the car he couldn't get around happened to be that of his then-Penske teammate Ryan Newman -- so he gave him a push.

5. Fantastic finish. Come two or three laps to go, anything can happen and has, particularly the last two years. Kevin Harvick led a total of four laps in 2007, but the one that counted was when he came rocketing around the outside to edge Mark Martin at the line. Newman led just eight laps last year, including the last one thanks to some serious help from Busch.

Prediction: The previous item can make this one pretty mind-boggling. After all, did anyone pick Harvick or Newman? This year we're due for a big name living up to the big race -- qualifying race winner Jeff Gordon really returns to Victory Lane with his fourth Daytona 500 victory.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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