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Is it already time for Daytona?

In just 36 days, one of the most spectacular events in all of sports will take place and it is an event like no other.

Some like to call it the Super Bowl of racing, but I like to call the Super Bowl the Daytona 500 of football.

Although the Daytona 500 doesn't determine the outright championship like the Super Bowl, the championship usually goes through that race.

Even though the winner doesn't always go on to be the eventual champion, it does happen, like it did just last year when Jimmie Johnson took home the checkered flag.

But winning the Daytona 500 isn't the only goal of the weekend.

Just finishing and surviving is.

The Daytona 500 is not just a day where 43 drivers and teams show up and race, it is a two-week race that actually begins at the end of December or early January.

During the two-week event at Daytona, selected drivers compete in the IROC and Budweiser Shootout events, along with everyone being forced to race their way into the 500 through one of two, 150-mile qualifying races known as the Gatorade Duel.

While teams begin preparation for the big race, and the season, almost as soon as the previous season ends, the Daytona 500 is more than just the first race; it is the kickoff of the longest season in sports.

Thirty-six races, including a 10-event raceoff, plus an All-Star event, if you are good enough, is more than most athletes could take.

But that's what these NASCAR drivers are: athletes.

NASCAR's finest event will showcase some of the finest athletes.

Although most of them are under 6'6, can't bench press 300 pounds or run a 4.5 forty, they are still superb athletes in the one of the ultimate team sports.

So when you sit down February 18 to watch the Great American Race, take time to admire the great sport NASCAR has become. If you've never been, trust me.

I loved it so much, I'll be there again.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor. He can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 122, by fax at 382-7104 or by e-mail at austin.phillips@greenvilleadvcate.com