NASCAR history ready to be written
With a little luck, NASCAR fans will have a few rocking-chair moments this season.
What do I mean, you ask? I'm talking about a few times this season when, sitting on the porch in your rocking chair years from now, you can bore the grandkids and say, "Yeah. I was there when that happened."
Historic moments, especially the ones that come as a surprise or have some sentimental meaning, are part of what makes sports special.
Here are several you could see during the 2012 NASCAR season:
• The 200th Sprint Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports: This one isn't a maybe. It will happen, and it could happen right out of the gate in the Daytona 500.
Rick Hendrick has been sitting on 199 victories since Jimmie Johnson won at Kansas Speedway in October.
"I've been hauling around these 200-win hats for six months," Hendrick said during the media tour last month.
It got a big laugh, but Hendrick knows he won't have to haul around those caps much longer.
"I can't remember a time having four teams this solid and this strong," Hendrick said. "I think we're as prepared as we've ever been, and if we don't win the championship, it's going to be our fault."
Fifty of those 199 wins came in the past five seasons, including 32 by Johnson. But 15 different drivers have won at least one race while competing for Hendrick Motorsports, starting with Geoffrey Bodine in 1984.
"That 200 is a big number," Hendrick said. "We've been talking about it for a year. It has taken a lot of people putting in a lot of effort for a lot of years.
"It will be a special milestone for our organizations, and we're really pumped up about it. We want to make it a big event, and hopefully, it will happen soon."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hasn't won a race since 2008, hopes he's the man to do it.
"That would be one of the best wins I could imagine," Earnhardt said. "I'd love to be able to do that for Rick."
• A Danica victory: Most people will laugh this off as being impossible, but it's far more possible than you think.
Patrick is running in good equipment -- JR Motorsports in her first full-time Nationwide Series season and Stewart-Haas Racing (Hendrick Motorsports equipment) in her 10 Cup races.
She has a shot at the bigger, faster tracks where she excels. And almost anyone is capable of winning in the restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega.
Were she to win the Daytona 500, just 11 days away, the universe might implode over the national attention that would follow.
She would become NASCAR's first female winner, and she would do it in the sport's biggest event. Wherever she does it, Nationwide or Cup, it will be a big deal if it happens.
That time is gone. Gordon won his fourth championship 11 years ago, but he still could become only the fourth driver in history to win five Cup titles.
After winning three races last season, Gordon is more confident than ever about his chances at a fifth title. The biggest reason for that confidence is crew chief Alan Gustafson.
"I don't think there's anybody out there better," Gordon said of Gustafson. "He has a lot of belief in me, and I feel the same way about him. I love the things he's doing with this team and our race cars. Alan is beaming with confidence, and I love that about him. He's fired up, and he knows I'm fired up. We're rolling."
• Penske's first Cup title: Roger Penske will go down as one of the great names in motorsports history. His teams have won the Indy 500 a record 15 times, and he has 12 Indy car championships.
His drivers also have won 71 Sprint Cup races, but the one thing he hasn't won is a Cup championship. That might change this year.
Brad Keselowski proved last year he could contend for the title, winning three races and finishing the season fifth in the Chase standings.
Keselowski is a serious championship contender, and he's now the team leader with the departure of Kurt Busch. AJ Allmendinger should have his best season as Busch's replacement, but Allmendinger isn't a title contender just yet.
Keselowski is. He and Penske could celebrate their first Cup crown together.
Penske also hasn't won a Brickyard 400, somewhat ironic considering all his success at the famed old rectangle. That may change this year, as well.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2012 Daytona 500
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 is in the books. What started as a new season of hope for all ended its first chapter with one of the most memorable events in NASCAR history.