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NASCAR - Nationwide - DRIVE4COPD 300 Preview

The 31st season of the Nationwide Series begins in the Sunshine State, for the annual running of the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

Tony Stewart will attempt to capture the season-opener at Daytona for the fifth straight season, as he defends his title in an effort to equal the feat of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt, who he won this race five consecutive years from 1990-94.

Last year, Stewart defeated Clint Bowyer by the slimmest of margins. Stewart nipped Bowyer, the pole sitter, by only 0.007 seconds in a race that featured a track record-tying 35 lead changes.

During a caution period with less than 15 laps remaining, Stewart cut his right-rear tire and had to pit unexpectedly. He ran in the 11th spot for the final restart with six laps to go.

Stewart hooked up with Landon Cassill in the closing laps to advance through the field. Bowyer held the lead on the final lap, with pushing help from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart and Cassill were riding on the outside lane, while Bowyer and Earnhardt Jr. held the inside lane.

Cassill pushed Stewart well enough for him to cross the finish line by about one foot ahead of Bowyer for his sixth Nationwide race win at Daytona.

In 2010, Stewart captured the season-opening race in impressive fashion, as he defeated Carl Edwards by less than a second. Stewart started 32nd but moved in front halfway through the race. After trading the lead with Steve Wallace 30 laps later, Stewart reclaimed the advantage on the 96th lap and then held it for the rest of the way for his ninth career Nationwide title and third straight in this race.

If it's numbers you want, you don't have to look further than Stewart at Daytona. In his 12 Nationwide starts at DIS, going back to 1996, Stewart has six wins and eight top-10 finishes.

The Earnhardt family had dominated this race over the years, as Dale Sr won this race straight times and seven overall, and Dale Jr. three times in a row from 2002-04. Dale Jr has posted eight top-10 finishes in his 12 Daytona season-opener starts. Dating back to 1998, Dale Jr has 12 top-10s, including six wins, in Nationwide competition at Daytona.

Danica Patrick will race for the fourth time on the Nationwide Circuit at Daytona. In her three previous starts there, she has improved each race, from 35th in 2010 to 14th and 10th, respectively, last season.

The Nationwide Series moves on to Phoenix International Raceway for the March 3 Bashas' Supermarkets 200. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.

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