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“First race back in the M&M’s car, and we’re back in Victory Lane. Pretty cool,” Busch said.

There are other feel-good stories heading into NASCAR’s biggest race of the year.

_ Danica Patrick will make her Daytona 500 debut, and the series is thrilled she’s made the full-time move to NASCAR.

_ Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, had his best season in five years in 2011 and is excited about his chances in the Daytona 500.

“I like this kind of racing better. At least I know what to expect,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like I have a better chance with this style than I did last year for damn sure.”

_ Edwards bounced back from his loss to Stewart in the title race by winning the pole for the Daytona 500.

_ There’s already some controversy, as the car for five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson failed inspection before it ever got on the track. Crew chief Chad Knaus will likely be penalized after the Daytona 500.

It’s all setting the stage for Sunday, which is shaping up to be a strong opener for NASCAR. The race probably won’t be 500 miles of three-wide racing, but if it’s anything close to the Shootout, it’s bound to be entertaining.