*After being postponed twice because of rain on Sunday and Monday, the 2012 NASCAR season will begin with the Daytona 500 at 6 p.m Monday on FOX, and a lot of eyes in Missouri will be on Columbia driver Carl Edwards.
Here's some background on the sport, and on Edwards.
- The Daytona 500 has been deemed "The Great American Race," and some refer to it as the Super Bowl of NASCAR (even though it is at the beginning of the season, not the end).
- In 1959, 59 cars gathered at Daytona International Speedway to participate in the inaugural Daytona 500. About 41,000 fans witnessed history that day.
- A lot has changed since that first race more than 50 years ago. The field in this year's Daytona 500 is set at 43 racers, which is 27 percent fewer than at the inaugural race. And, as in other sports, success is worth a lot of money these days. In 2007, for example, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick received more than $1.5 million for his Daytona 500 win. In all, the 2007 race posted awards of more than $18 million, compared to a total of $67,760 for the 1959 race.
- Auto Racing's popularity has stayed steady for decades. According to a Harris Poll, 7 percent of Americans said in 2010 that auto racing was their favorite sport. Auto racing also includes racing leagues other than NASCAR such as the IndyCar series, which uses cars with open wheels and a smaller frame.
Columbia resident Carl Edwards is considered a possible favorite to win it all this year. ESPN analysts have Edwards ranked as the No. 2 driver for this season, and they give him 3-1 odds to win the Sprint Cup series — NASCAR's premier league. He has won 19 races since joining the series full-time in 2005; nine of those wins came during the 2008 series.
Edwards has been an active member of the Columbia's community. He has been a reserve officer for the Boone Country Sheriff’s Department, and he was a student at MU, although he never graduated. Before signing to Roush Racing, he was also a part-time substitute teacher.
His 2011 season ended with a second-place finish, behind driver Tony Stewart. The two drivers actually tied when the final points were tallied, but Stewart finished ahead of Edwards because he had won more races during the season.
Edwards earned the pole position for the race by posting the fastest time in qualifying; the pole position is the most favorable position to start a race because you begin in the front.
For those who like to surf the Web and watch TV simultaneously, follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #Daytona500, or check out Edwards' Facebook page, where he has more than 200,000 "likes."
Do you have plans to watch the race? How do you think Edwards will do this season? Let us know in the comments below.