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NASCAR Preseason Thunder At Daytona: The 2012 Season Kicks Off Thursday

NASCAR - with the shortest offseason in all of proffessional sports - returns Thursday with Preseason Thunder at Daytona. The three-day test provides NASCAR the first opportunity to guage rules changes designed to break up the two-car drafting and also gives fans an idea of who will contend for the Daytona 500 pole.

Getty Images for NASCAR

NASCAR's top three divisions open in February and conclude in November, the longest season in sports. Of course, that means they also have the shortest offseason of any in sports. Still, race fans are an antsy bunch. We can't stand to be without on-track action for too terribly long, and Thursday, NASCAR is back.

Less than two months since Tony Stewart won the season-ending Ford 400 and took the Sprint Cup championship along with it, the 2012 season unofficially opens with NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona. The stock car equivalent of Major League Baseball's spring training or preseason workouts in the NFL, Preseason Thunder is a three-day test at the Daytona International Speedway featuring all of the teams and stars of the Sprint Cup circuit.

After the much-maligned "two-car tango" at Daytona and Talladega last season, NASCAR has implemented a number of rule changes to the cars designed to hinder the drivers' ability to push one another. The goal is a return of the large packs that have been the hallmark of restrictor plate racing since the style first came to be in 1988. This test marks the sanctioning body's first opportunity to see just how successful the changes will be, though the February 18 Bud Shootout will likely provide a better idea of what to expect in this year's Daytona 500.

Speaking of the Daytona 500, teams will likely take the opportunity to make single car runs in addition to the drafting session. This will give fans a great idea of who will contend for the front row and create plenty of buzz between now and February 19, which is the day of time trials for the Great American Race.

Fans wanting to follow the testing live can watch live streaming from Daytona at SPEED.com starting at 9 a.m. At 1 p.m, SPEED TV will take over live coverage. Diehard NASCAR fans should have SPEED's channel on their particular provider burned into their minds, but for fans interested in seeing what stock car racing is all about, check your local listings to find The Motorsports Authority.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.