NASCAR drivers at a glance - East Valley Tribune: Sports

NASCAR drivers at a glance

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Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 11:18 am | Updated: 12:31 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

No. 00 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing

DRIVER: David Reutimann

BORN: March 2, 1970

HOMETOWN: Zephyrhills, Fla.

CREW CHIEF: Rodney Childers

NOTES: Drove in No. 00 for the first five races of 2008 before replacing retired Dale Jarrett in the team's No. 44 car for the rest of the season. Finished 22nd in the points in his second full season in Cup, with four top-10 finishes, including three in the last 12 races of the year. Had career-best finishes of ninth in consecutive races at California and Richmond. First career pole came in season-ending race at Homestead. Finished seventh in Nationwide Series last year, but plans only part-time schedule in 2009.

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No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing

DRIVER: Casey Mears

BORN: March 12, 1978

HOMETOWN: Bakersfield, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Gil Martin

NOTES: Moving from Hendrick Motorsports to become RCR's fourth Cup driver, Mears takes over the car driven into the Chase last year by Clint Bowyer, who moves to RCR's new No. 33. In six full seasons in Cup, Mears has 12 top-fives, including a victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. Finished 20th in the season points last year. Nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears recently became a father for the first time.

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No. 08 Dodge, EM Motorsports

DRIVER: James Hylton

BORN: Aug. 26, 1934

HOMETOWN: Inman, S.C.

CREW CHIEF: TBA

NOTES: Hylton plans to try again at Daytona 500 to become oldest man to race in Cup. Tried and failed to make the Daytona field in February 2007. Has 601 Cup starts, the last at Darlington, where he finished 34th on March 28, 1993. Competed full-time in the ARCA RE/MAX Series in 2008. Began his NASCAR career as a mechanic in 1959 and started his driving career in 1964. The 1966 Rookie of the Year has two wins, 140 top-fives, four poles and finished second in the points three times.

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No. 09 Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing

DRIVER: Brad Keselowski

BORN: Feb. 12, 1984

HOMETOWN: Rochester Hills, Mich.

CREW CHIEF: TBA

NOTES: Considered one of the most promising young drivers in the sport, will run 10 races, including Daytona, for team owner James Finch, with engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports. Keselowski is also scheduled to drive seven Cup races in the No. 25 Hendrick entry. Made Cup debut in that car late last year, finishing 19th at Texas and 23rd at Homestead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. discovery also ran first full season in Nationwide, winning two races and finishing third in the points for JR Motorsports.

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No. 1 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

DRIVER: Martin Truex Jr.

BORN: June 29, 1980

HOMETOWN: Mayetta, N.J.

CREW CHIEF: Kevin "Bono" Manion

NOTES: Part of newly merged team that brought together Dale Earnhardt Inc., for whom he has driven since starting his first Nationwide Series race in 2001, and Chip Ganassi Racing. Had disappointing season in 2008 after getting first Cup victory and making the field for the Chase the previous year. Truex finished 15th in the standings with three top-fives, including a fourth-place in the summer race at New Hampshire.

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No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing

DRIVER: Kurt Busch

BORN: Aug. 4, 1978

HOMETOWN: Las Vegas

CREW CHIEF: Pat Tryson

NOTES: 2004 Cup champion ran his string of seasons with at least one victory to seven with a rain-shortened win at New Hampshire. Otherwise, season was disappointing as Busch failed to make the Chase for only the second time since the postseason competition was initiated the year he won the title. Began the 2008 season finishing second to then-teammate Ryan Newman in the Daytona 500 and wound up with five top-fives and 10 top-10s, but also failed to finish five races.

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No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

DRIVER: Mark Martin

BORN: Jan. 9, 1959

HOMETOWN: Batesville, Ark.

CREW CHIEF: Alan Gustafson

NOTES: At 50 years old, Martin joins old friend Rick Hendrick. Martin plans to run the full season and attempt to win his first Cup championship after two years of a part-time schedule for Bobby Ginn and Dale Earnhardt Inc. The longtime NASCAR star has finished second in the points four times, the last in 2002 driving for Roush Racing, where he spent most of his career. He will not only be the oldest regular in Cup, but also among the fittest.

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No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

DRIVER: David Ragan

BORN: Dec. 24, 1985

HOMETOWN: Unadilla, Ga.

CREW CHIEF: Jimmy Fennig

NOTES: Made great strides last year after a quiet rookie season. Flirted with making the Chase before finished 13th in the points. In 2008, Ragan improved to six top-fives and 14 top-10s from two top-fives and six top-10s in 2007. Matched his career best by finishing third in the second races at Michigan and Talladega last year.

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No. 7 Toyota, Robby Gordon Motorsports

DRIVER: Robby Gordon

BORN: Jan. 2, 1969

HOMETOWN: Cerritos, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Kirk Almquist

NOTES: Entering his fifth season as an owner/driver, Gordon is switching from Dodge to Toyota for 2009 after finished 33rd in the points last year. He had three top-10s and seven top-20 finishes in 2008 and was particularly strong at the superspeedway events, finishing second in restrictor-plate points. Gordon, who also races in off-road events, is coming off a third-place overall finish in the Dakar Rally.

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No. 8 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

DRIVER: Aric Almirola

BORN: March 14, 1984

HOMETOWN: Tampa, Fla.

CREW CHIEF: Doug Randolph

NOTES: Ran 12 races for Dale Earnhardt Inc. last year while sharing a ride with Mark Martin. Eighth-place finish in spring race at Bristol in his season debut was only top-10 of 2008 season. Has sponsorship only for Daytona 500, but team is hopeful they can find enough backing to run the entire season.

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No. 9 Dodge, Richard Petty Motorsports

DRIVER: Kasey Kahne

BORN: April 10, 1980

HOMETOWN: Enumclaw, Wash.

CREW CHIEF: Kenny Francis (team director)

NOTES: Driving for new Richard Petty Motorsports team, the merged version of Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises. Bounced back after a winless 2007 to win points races at Charlotte and Pocono, along with the NASCAR All-Star event in a four-week midseason stretch last season. But popular young driver came up short of the Chase for the second straight year, finishing 14th in the points.

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No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

DRIVER: Denny Hamlin

BORN: Nov. 18, 1980

HOMETOWN: Chesterfield, Va.

CREW CHIEF: Mike Ford

NOTES: Team made seamless switch from Chevrolet to Toyota and Hamlin made the Chase for the third straight year, winding up eighth. Matched his 2007 season totals of one win, one pole, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s. With former teammate Tony Stewart gone from JGR, the 28-year-old Hamlin is now the leader of the youngest team in Cup.

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No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing

DRIVER: David Stremme

BORN: June 19, 1977

HOMETOWN: South Bend, Ind.

CREW CHIEF: Roy McCauley

NOTES: Back in Cup full-time after losing his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of 2007 season. Replaces longtime Penske driver Ryan Newman after working with the team last year as a test driver. Has three top-10s in 75 career Cup starts. Also drove in 2008 for Rusty Wallace in Nationwide Series, finishing 11th.

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No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing

DRIVER: Tony Stewart

BORN: May 20, 1971

HOMETOWN: Columbus, Ind.

CREW CHIEF: Darian Grubb

NOTES: Two-time series champion has left Joe Gibbs Racing after a successful 10-year Cup career to run his own team, taking over what was the Haas CNC team. Hired engineer Darian Grubb away from Hendrick Motorsports to be his crew chief and brought Ryan Newman in as his teammate. Stewart is coming off a somewhat disappointing season, with just one win. He made the Chase for the fourth time in five years, finishing ninth in the standings.

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No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

DRIVER: Greg Biffle

BORN: Dec. 23, 1969

HOMETOWN: Vancouver, Wash.

CREW CHIEF: Greg Erwin

NOTES: Coming off a strong season in which he won two poles, two races and finished third in the points after missing the Chase the previous two years. Signed a three-year contract extension with Roush Fenway team.

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No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

DRIVER: Matt Kenseth

BORN: March 10, 1972

HOMETOWN: Cambridge, Wis.

CREW CHIEF: Drew Blickensderfer

NOTES: Failed to win a Cup race for the first time since 2001, but kept alive his streak of making the Chase field every year since the new format began in 2004. The 2003 series champion wound up 11th last season. Gets new crew chief for second straight year, with Chip Bolin returning to engineering side at Roush Fenway.

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No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

DRIVER: Kyle Busch

BORN: May 2, 1985

HOMETOWN: Las Vegas

CREW CHIEF: Steve Addington

NOTES: One of the biggest stories of 2008, his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing and driving a Toyota. Had 21 victories, eight in Cup, 10 in Nationwide and three in trucks. But the youngster's season turned sour in the Chase when he stumbled at the start of the 10-race playoff and wound up 10th in the points.

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No. 19 Dodge, Richard Petty Motorsports

DRIVER: Elliott Sadler

BORN: April 30, 1975

HOMETOWN: Emporia, Va.

CREW CHIEF: Kevin Buskirk

NOTES: Coming off mediocre season and tumultuous offseason in which he lost his ride and then regained it with the newly merged RPM team. Went winless for fourth straight season and finished 24th in the points for what was then Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

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No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

DRIVER: Joey Logano

BORN: May 24, 1990

HOMETOWN: Middletown, Conn.

CREW CHIEF: Greg Zipadelli

NOTES: Wunderkind has big shoes to fill in his first full season in Cup, replacing two-time champion Tony Stewart, who has moved on to his own team. Much-anticipated Logano made his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series last May after turning 18 and got his first win in his third start. Finished 20th in Nationwide points despite running only 19 of 35 races. Had a tougher time in Cup, running three races with a top finish of 32nd. Will be the youngest driver in the history of the Daytona 500.

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No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing

DRIVER: Bill Elliott

BORN: Oct. 8, 1955

HOMETOWN: Dawsonville, Ga.

CREW CHIEF: David Hyder

NOTES: The team, one of NASCAR's pioneer organizations, has announced it will cut back to a 12-race schedule. Elliott is set to drive eight of those races. He ran 20 races with the team last year with a top finish of 12th at Homestead. The two-time Daytona 500 winner has failed to qualify for the big event the last two years.

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No. 23 Chevrolet, R3 Motorsports

DRIVER: Mike Skinner

BORN: June 28, 1957

Crew Chief: Slugger Labbe.

NOTES: Skinner, who has 256 Cup starts, including 11 last year, will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 and is scheduled to run at least the first five races of the season for Rob Fuller's team. Two-time Daytona pole winner last started in the 500 in 2005. The former truck champion also will be back in that series full time after finishing sixth in the points last year.

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No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

DRIVER: Jeff Gordon

BORN: August 4, 1971

HOMETOWN: Pittsboro, Ind.

CREW CHIEF: Steve Letarte

NOTES: Coming off first winless year since rookie season in 1993, four-time Cup champion has plenty of questions to answer. Last season would have been a great season for a lot of teams as Gordon finished seventh in the points with four poles, 13 top-fives and 19 top-10s. Crew chief Letarte was the subject of criticism by some, but his driver remained supportive and insists the team can contend for a title in 2009 as it stands.

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No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

DRIVER: Jamie McMurray

BORN: June 3, 1976

HOMETOWN: Joplin, Mo.

CREW CHIEF: Donnie Wingo

NOTES: Considered a driver with great potential, McMurray is entering his fourth season with Roush Fenway team and seventh full season in Cup and is still looking for first Chase berth. He was winless in 2008, but did have four top-fives and 11 top-10s on the way to 16th-place in the points. Has two career victories in 222 Cup starts. Will start the season with new crew chief as Donnie Wingo moves to Roush from Chip Ganassi Racing.

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No. 27 Toyota, Kirk Shelmerdine Racing

DRIVER: Kirk Shelmerdine

BORN: March 8, 1958

Hometown: Winston-Salem, N.C.

CREW CHIEF: Phil Harris

NOTES: Finished 20th in 2006 in his only Daytona 500 start. Underfunded owner-driver has run 26 Cup races since 1981, but none since 2006. Shelmerdine failed to qualify in all three events he entered last season. Was successful crew chief before beginning driving career, helping Dale Earnhardt to four of his seven NASCAR championships. Has won three ARCA stock car races.

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No. 28 Ford, Yates Racing

DRIVER: Travis Kvapil

BORN: March 1, 1976

HOMETOWN: Janesville, Wis.

CREW CHIEF: Ben Leslie

NOTES: Kvapil remains with Yates Racing after a solid season in 2008, earning a pole, four top-10s and a 23rd-place finish in the points. But, with his team making an alliance with Hall of Fame Racing over the winter, Kvapil gave up the No. 28 owner points to new teammate Paul Menard and will have to qualify on speed. Going into Daytona, Kvapil only has sponsorship for the first five races. Gets new crew chief in Ben Leslie, who has worked for Ford for last several years as NASCAR field manager.

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No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing

DRIVER: Kevin Harvick

BORN: Dec. 8, 1975

HOMETOWN: Bakersfield, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Todd Berrier

NOTES: Coming off first winless season since 2004 and only second in eight full years in Cup. Still, 2009 was a good season for Harvick as he came up with seven top-fives, 19 top-10s and matched his career-best points finish of fourth. Made the Chase for the third straight year and goes into the new season considered a championship contender. Last of 11 career victories came in the 2007 Daytona 500.

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No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing

DRIVER: Jeff Burton

BORN: June 29, 1967

HOMETOWN: South Boston, Va.

CREW CHIEF: Scott Miller

NOTES: Longtime Cup star had solid season in 2008 with two victories, seven top-fives and 18 top-10s as he finished sixth in the standings, his best showing since finishing third in 2000. It was the third straight year Burton has reached the Chase and, like teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, goes into 2009 as a title contender.

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No. 33 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing

DRIVER: Clint Bowyer

BORN: May 30, 1979

HOMETOWN: Emporia, Kansas

CREW CHIEF: Shane Wilson

NOTES: After finishing third and fifth in the points in RCR's No. 07 car the last two years, Bowyer moves to the No. 33 to make room for the team's new fourth entry, Casey Mears. Bowyer gets an all-new crew and crew chief as he tries to build on last year's one win, seven top-fives and 17 top-10s. Will run only part-time schedule in Nationwide Series after winning championship in 2008.

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No. 34 Chevrolet, Front Row Motorsports

DRIVER: John Andretti

BORN: March 12, 1963

HOMETOWN: Bethlehem, Penn.

CREW CHIEF: TBA

NOTES: Andretti and Front Row Motorsports are a late addition to 2009 after reaching a deal with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing that will let Andretti take a shot at Daytona with owner points from a former EGR entry as well as crew borrowed from that recently merged team. He started 22nd there last year before fading to 40th. Didn't make the field in seven of 10 attempts in 2008.

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No. 36 Toyota, Tommy Baldwin Racing

DRIVER: Scott Riggs

BORN: Jan. 1, 1971

HOMETOWN: Bahama, N.C.

CREW CHIEF: Tommy Baldwin

NOTES: Riggs joins fledgling Tommy Baldwin Racing with hopes of running a full schedule in 2009. Never finished better than 20th in points and has never won in 167 career starts. Best Daytona 500 finish is fourth in 2005.

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No. 39 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing

DRIVER: Ryan Newman

BORN: Dec. 8, 1977

HOMETOWN: South Bend, Ind.

CREW CHIEF: Tony Gibson

NOTES: Defending Daytona 500 champ left Roger Penske's operation to join fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart at the new Stewart-Haas team. Faded to 18th in points last year and was hardly teary-eyed at moving on. Managed just two top-10s over the second half of the season.

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No. 41 Toyota, Mayfield Motorsports

DRIVER: Jeremy Mayfield

BORN: May 27, 1969

HOMETOWN: Owensboro, Ky.

CREW CHIEF: Tony Furr

NOTES: Returns to Cup as co-owner and driver for his own team after running only eight races in 2008. Hopes to run full Cup season for first time since 2005. Has won five Cup races in 428 starts. Made the Chase in 2004 and 2005 driving for Evernham Motorsports.

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No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

DRIVER: Juan Pablo Montoya

BORN: Sept. 20, 1975

HOMETOWN: Bogota, Colombia

CREW CHIEF: Brian Pattie

NOTES: Montoya took a step backward — a small one — during his second year in Sprint Cup. He fell from 20th to 25th in points and had just three top-10s, compared to six top-10s and a win during his rookie year in 2007. Needs to expand his expertise beyond the road courses.

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No. 43 Dodge, Richard Petty Motorsports

DRIVER: Reed Sorenson

BORN: Feb. 5, 1986

HOMETOWN: Peachtree City, Ga.

CREW CHIEF: Mike Shiplett

NOTES: Sorenson moves to Richard Petty Motorsports after spending the first four years of his career with Chip Ganassi. Considered one of the young guns on the circuit, he faded to 32nd in points last year. Will try to get his mojo back running Petty's famed No. 43.

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No. 44 Dodge, Richard Petty Motorsports

DRIVER: A.J. Allmendinger

BORN: Dec. 16, 1981

HOMETOWN: Los Gatos, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Sammy Johns

NOTES: Allmendinger has found a home — at least for awhile — after getting bounced by Red Bull late last year. He performed well during a five-race stint with what was then Gillett Evernham Motorsports late in the year and will run at least the first eight races for the newly merged team in 2009 while trying to get sponsorship for a full-year pickup.

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No. 46 Dodge, Carl Long Motorsports

DRIVER: Carl Long

BORN: Sept. 20, 1967

HOMETOWN: Roxboro, N.C.

CREW CHIEF: Alex Astor

NOTES: Long will give Daytona a shot as part of a limited schedule for his team as he tries to run on the series for the first time since 2006. He's already lined up Dennis Setzer to run at Martinsville in March and plans to return for the All-Star event in May.

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No. 47 Toyota, JTG Daugherty Racing

DRIVER: Marcos Ambrose

BORN: Sept. 1, 1976

HOMETOWN: Launceston, Australia

CREW CHIEF: Frank Kerr

NOTES: The laid back Ambrose finished 10th in the Nationwide Series a year ago and collected a top-five in his 11 Sprint Cup starts. He would be the first Australian to run in the Daytona 500.

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No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

DRIVER: Jimmie Johnson

BORN: September 17, 1975

HOMETOWN: El Cajon, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Chad Knaus

NOTES: Four-peat anybody? Captain Cool will try and make history this season by becoming the first driver to win four straight championships. The way Johnson easily handled the pressure to match Cale Yarborough's mark of three consecutive titles — driving almost flawlessly during the Chase despite a late charge by Carl Edwards — it'd be foolish to bet against him.

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No. 51 Dodge, Blackjack Racing

DRIVER: Kelly Bires

BORN: Aug. 25, 1984

HOMETOWN: Mauston, Wisc.

CREW CHIEF: TBA

NOTES: It'll likely be a one-shot deal for Bires, who will try to qualify at Daytona for Blackjack Racing. The team will go with Dexter Bean for the rest of its limited 2009 schedule.

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No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing

DRIVER: Michael Waltrip

BORN: April 30, 1963

HOMETOWN: Owensboro, Ky.

CREW CHIEF: Robert Barker

NOTES: Is this the year two-time Daytona 500 winner Waltrip finally gets his Toyota program going? While 2008 wasn't nearly as disastrous as 2007 — he climbed from 44th to 29th in the season standings, Waltrip's team couldn't seem to find the formula that Joe Gibbs Racing enjoyed after making the switch to Toyota.

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No. 57 Chevrolet

DRIVER: Norm Benning

BORN: Jan. 16, 1952

HOMETOWN: Level Green, Penn.

CREW CHIEF: TBA

NOTES: The 57-year-old Benning is going to give Daytona a shot, though it will likely be his lone Cup appearance this season if he makes the field. He plans on splitting his time between ARCA and the truck series.

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No. 60 Ford, No Fear Racing

DRIVER: Boris Said

BORN: Sept. 18, 1962

HOMETOWN: Carlsbad, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Frank Stoddard

NOTES: The road-course specialist will try to run under his own name at Daytona, where he won the pole at the summer race in 2006.

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No. 64 Toyota

DRIVER: Geoff Bodine

BORN: April 18, 1949

HOMETOWN: Chemung, NY

CREW CHIEF: Doug Richert

NOTES: Bodine won the Daytona 500 in 1986, but he hasn't run in the Sprint Cup Series since 2004. He will try to qualify for Daytona for owner Larry Gunselman. Brother Todd Bodine could get the nod at Fontana and Las Vegas.

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No. 66 Toyota, Prism Motorsports

DRIVER: Terry Labonte

BORN: Nov. 16, 1956

HOMETOWN: Corpus Christi, Texas

CREW CHIEF: Bill Henderson

NOTES: The two-time Cup champion, driving a part-time schedule in Cup since 2004, will try to qualify for Daytona with the newly former Prism team. But he will give up his seat to Dave Blaney for the rest of the season.

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No. 71 Chevrolet, TRG Motorsports

DRIVER: Mike Wallace

BORN: March 10, 1959

HOMETOWN: St. Louis, Mo.

CREW CHIEF: Butch Hylton

NOTES: Younger brother of former Cup champion Rusty Wallace has 188 Cup starts in 17 years career, including two in 2008. Wallace has three career wins at Daytona, including victories ARCA, a Nationwide event in 2004 and the inaugural truck race in 2000. Team bought equipment from and has technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

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No. 75 Chevrolet, Cope-Keller Racing Team

DRIVER: Derrike Cope

BORN: Nov. 3, 1958

HOMETOWN: Spanaway, Wash.

CREW CHIEF: Rich Markle

NOTES: The 1990 Daytona 500 champion will give it another shot at Sprint Cup after failing to qualify for a race last year. He plans to attempt to qualify at Daytona, hoping a solid finish will help him expand his Cup schedule.

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No. 77 Dodge, Penske Racing

DRIVER: Sam Hornish Jr.

BORN: July 2, 1979

HOMETOWN: Defiance, Ohio

CREW CHIEF: Travis Geisler

NOTES: The former Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar Series champion had a tough first season in Cup. Didn't finish better than 14th in any race and wound up 39th in driver points.

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No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing

DRIVER: Regan Smith

BORN: Sept. 23, 1983

HOMETOWN: Cato, NY

CREW CHIEF: Jay Guy

NOTES: The 25-year-old Smith, last year's Rookie of the Year, takes over for Joe Nemechek after what was really a so-so 2008 in which he finished 34th in the points standings while driving the No. 01 car for DEI. Still looking for his first top-10 in Cup.

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No. 82 Toyota, Red Bull Racing

DRIVER: Scott Speed

BORN: January 4, 1983

HOMETOWN: Manteca, Calif.

CREW CHIEF: Jimmy Elledge

NOTES: The former Formula One regular has been a darling of Red Bull Racing for years, and the team had no problem letting A.J. Allmendinger go to open up a spot for the brash Speed. Now it's time to see if his open-wheel skills can translate into NASCAR. The 26-year-old says he wants to avoid the drama, but given his temperament — he put an opponent into the wall on purpose during an ARCA race last year — who knows how long that will last. Will make only his sixth Cup start at Daytona.

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No. 83 Toyota, Red Bull Racing

DRIVER: Brian Vickers

BORN: October 24, 1983

HOMETOWN: Thomasville, N.C.

CREW CHIEF: Ryan Pemberton

NOTES: Made major strides in his second season with Red Bull, leaping from 38th to 19th in the standings thanks to second-year team's significant improvement. Has 172 starts and one Cup victory and is still only 25. Should make for an interesting combination with new teammate Scott Speed, a brash former open-wheel driver. Gets a new crew chief in Pemberton, who comes over from Michael Waltrip Racing.

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No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports

DRIVER: Joe Nemechek

BORN: Sept. 26, 1963

HOMETOWN: Lakeland, Fla.

CREW CHIEF: Philippe Lopez

NOTES: The veteran driver goes to work for himself after leaving Furniture Row Racing following a 37th-place finish last year. Hopes a strong performance at Daytona will help him secure sponsorship for the full season.

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No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

DRIVER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

BORN: October 10, 1974

HOMETOWN: Kannapolis, N.C.

CREW CHIEF: Tony Eury Jr.

NOTES: NASCAR's most popular driver didn't really make the impact he wanted during his first year on the circuit's most powerful team. Earnhardt won just one race, using a little bit of luck to win at Michigan in the summer with fuel strategy. He qualified for the Chase only to fade to 12th. Has won only three times in the last four years and will need to develop better chemistry with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. to have any hope of catching up to teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

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No. 96 Ford, Hall of Fame Racing

DRIVER: Bobby Labonte

BORN: May 8, 1964

HOMETOWN: Corpus Christi, Texas

CREW CHIEF: Todd Parrott

NOTES: Labonte makes the jump to Hall of Fame after spending the last three years at Petty Enterprises. Hasn't won since 2003 and the 2000 series champ hasn't finished better than 12th in points since 2004.

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No. 98 Ford, Yates Racing

DRIVER: Paul Menard

BORN: Aug. 21, 1980

HOMETOWN: Eau Claire, Wisc.

CREW CHIEF: Larry Carter

NOTES: Menard moves to Yates Racing after spending most of his career driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Grabbed one pole and one top-10 — a second at Talladega. Finished 26th in points. Gets a full-season ride and inherits the owner points from Travis Kvapil's No. 28 ride last year.

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NO. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

DRIVER: Carl Edwards

BORN: August 15, 1979

HOMETOWN: Columbia, Mo.

CREW CHIEF: Bob Osborne

NOTES: Will this be the year Edwards finally breaks through? He put together a dazzling stretch run during the Chase last fall to put some pressure on Jimmie Johnson by winning three of the last four races. His most memorable moment, however, may have been in a race he didn't win: his go-for-broke last fall at Kansas — when he drove deep into the corner in an effort to pass Johnson on the last lap only to slam into the wall — showed how badly he wanted to win the championship. Should be right there again in 2009.

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