This year, the 54th running of the Daytona 500 will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2012. While Daytona International Speedway (DIS) officials do not release information on ticket sales, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that there were an estimated 182,000 people in attendance for the 2011 Daytona 500. reported that the 52nd running of the most popular race in motorsports drew an 8.7 overnight rating, up 13 percent from 2010. The live Fox broadcast reached 30.1 million viewers and averaged 15.6 million throughout the race, up 17 percent from 2010 (13.3 million).

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that the average ticket price for the 2011 Daytona 500 from online ticket marketplace StubHub was $206. Tickets for this year’s race from StubHub’s inventory range from roughly $60-$300 for an individual race ticket.

In 2011, NASCAR announced that the 2012 Daytona 500 would be held a week later in order to avoid a conflict with the SuperBowl in the event that the NFL decided to expand to an 18-game schedule.

It is unclear whether this might have had any effect on ticket sales and although DIS does not release figures, there are several factors leading into this season that just may contribute to an increase in ticket sales and viewership for the 54th Daytona 500.

NASCAR has made several changes for the 2012 season as a way of bringing more excitement to the sport and drawing more fans.

As is evident from Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout, the first non-points race of the season, the two-car tandem style racing that became popular at restrictor-plate tracks last year seems to be a thing of the past while pack racing is making a comeback.

NASCAR made changes to the cars in order to break up the tandems — they reduced the size of the radiator and increased the size of the restrictor plate to give cars more power and less reason to hook up with another car to gain more speed. Officials also banned radio chatter among drivers to prevent them from strategizing for tandem racing.

This is good news for fans who were mostly opposed to two-car tandem racing — according to NASCAR, surveys showed that over 80 percent of the fans polled did not like this type of racing, with several drivers also showing opposition.

“I like this kind of racing better,” said driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. “At least I know what to expect. And I feel like I’ve got a better chance with this style than I did last year,” he said.

NASCAR fans will also likely be attending this year’s Sprint Cup Series opener to watch drivers and teams making their debut, as well as drivers looking for a comeback.

Former IZOD IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick will make her Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for three-time champion Tony Stewart.

Patrick’s appearance in the Nationwide Series opener last February at Daytona broke records with ratings up 33 percent from the previous year — the hope is that the same will happen with her Sprint Cup series debut.

Fans will also be in attendance to see if fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., who earned the pole in last year’s season opener, can not only start in front, but also put an end to his 129-race winless streak.

Defending champ Stewart will be looking to earn his fourth title, while five-time champ Jimmie Johnson is hoping to get back in the groove after finishing sixth in the standings last year in his worst performance since entering the tour in 2002.

The Daytona 500 will also be the first race for the BK Racing Team that purchased the former Red Bull Racing team’s assets with drivers Landon Cassill and David Reutimann behind the wheels of the No. 83 and No. 93 Toyotas. The team was formed from a group of investors looking to have full control of their team and make it possible to run full-time and not become a start-and-park team as is the case with most low-profile operations within the sport. BK Racing is looking to the Daytona 500 as the place to prove they have what it takes to be successful.

With the new points system, two drivers ranked from 11th through 20th in points are awarded “wild car” spots based on who has the most regular-season wins. The top 10 drivers in the standings also receive three points for each win during the season.

Last year’s points race is evidence that the championship is anyone’s game. In last year’s season opener, rookie Trevor Bayne took home the trophy in his first career win in the Sprint Cup series, the first to do so since Michael Waltrip in 2001, proving that anything is possible — with the victory up for grabs, fans will be attending and tuning in to see if their driver has what it takes to win.

Last Updated on February 24, 2012