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Team Ganassi has high hopes going into Daytona 500

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There has been much debate as to who the teams to watch are for Sunday's Daytona 500. The Budweiser Duel will help to narrow the debate a bit, but you would be a fool if you were to count out the teams and drivers of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Since 2001 as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) car owner, Chip Ganassi has 60 starts at Daytona International Speedway (DIS). In those 60 starts his cars have completed 9,634 laps (24,085 miles) of competition, led 210 laps and have posted one victory (2010 Daytona 500), six top-fives, 15 top-10 finishes and two pole awards.

Since the end of the 2013 NSCS campaign the No. 1 team, driven by Jamie McMurray, has gone through several changes with new personnel, most notably the addition of new crew chief Keith Rodden. Rodden brings more than 10 years of racing experience to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGRFS), most recently he served as the race engineer for the No. 5 team and driver Kasey Kahne.

“We were fast but didn't have any friends in the end," stated Rodden following the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. "Still learned a lot and team did great on that last pit stop that counted.”

McMurray will make his 23rd NSCS start at DIS during 2014 Speedweeks. In his previous 22 starts, McMurray has accumulated two wins (2007 Coke Zero 400 and 2010 Daytona 500), three top-five and five top-10 finishes at the “World Center of Racing”. He has an average starting position of 21.2 and an average finishing position of 23.7. His best start from the sixth position came in the 2006 running of the Daytona 500.

Since joining the NSCS full-time in 2002 only four active drivers (Jeff Gordon - six wins, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson - each with five wins) have more victories on restrictor plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega) than Jamie McMurray - four wins. McMurray was also the winner of the most recent restrictor plate race at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2013.

Of course, when you think Jamie McMurray, you should be thinking McDonalds! Remember, there’s no reason to go hungry while visiting Daytona International Speedway for the Daytona 500. McDonald’s has several locations within five miles of Daytona International Speedway, with the closest restaurant is located at 1388 W. International Speedway Blvd. Daytona Beach, FL 32114.

2014 marks a new ear at Chip Ganassi Racing, as Kyle Larson will make the first NSCS start of his rookie season on Sunday the Daytona 500. The Daytona 500 will also be Laron’s first NSCS start on a superspeedway (oval tracks two or more miles in length). Larson has made just four previous starts in the NSCS. In 2013 he competed at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In addition to driving the No. 42 Target Chevy SS in Sunday’s Daytona 500, Larson will be behind the wheel of the No. 42 Axe Peace Chevy Camaro in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) Drive4COPD 300 at DIS this Saturday Feb. 22. Keep an eye on your television, as Larson and the No. 42 Axe Chevy can also be featured in a national commercial promoting Axe’s new fragrance.

Kyle Larson had the opportunity to fly with the US Air Force Thunderbirds on Tuesday Feb. 18, during a two-day break in the track schedule at DIS. Larson took to the skies with Major Tyler "Wolf" Ellison in a two-seater F-16 Falcon and flew over Central Florida doing aerobatic maneuvers with the Air Force’s aerial demonstration team.

For race fans who run out of provisions, or need to pick-up that one last item before heading to the track, the Daytona Beach Target is conveniently located just across the street from DIS at 2380 W International Speedway Boulevard. A short drive from the track, or a slightly longer walk, Target is there to meet your needs for the weekend of racing.

Over the next couple weeks, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race at the end of February, including a possible interview with the head of the CJ Mears Gang himself, Casey Mears, as well as other members of the NASCAR garage.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. The cars will also be on track throughout the "SpeedWeeks" leading up to the "Great American Race," including the Budweiser Duels qualifying races, which will be televised live on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers, no matter how many (or how few) wheels they may or may not race on. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs, elections, and restaurants.

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