The hype and hoopla of the Daytona 500 may have been dampened by rain last weekend but for many of the Winston Cup teams and drivers, the real racing begins this weekend at the historic, yet under-fire North Carolina Speedway.

The 1.017-mile North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham has played host to NASCAR Winston Cup (Grand National Division) races since 1965 with the track hosting two races a year ever since 1966. However NASCAR's seemingly endless dedication to expand and host more races in key markets may soon cost 'The Rock' one of its dates with the Spring race most likely to lose out.

So while the action on the track will be as keenly watched as ever there will also be many eyes on the skies and looking at the grandstands, hoping desperately for a good break in the weather and a 60,000 sell-out crowd.

A knock-down drag-out fight for the race win in Sunday's 393-lap Subway 400 would certainly help matters and with just about everyone harbouring just a little bit of pent up aggression after the early completion of last Sunday's 'Big Race', expect the odd spark or two to fly.

Roush Racing's Matt Kenseth enters the weekend as the defending Subway 400 Champion although Johnny Benson and the MBV Motorsports Valvoline Pontiac team are the defending track Champions courtesy of Benson's maiden trip to victory lane in last October's Pop Secret 400. However the historical odds are against both drivers this weekend as 'The Rock' boasts a current streak of nine different winners in the last nine events.

Benson, Kenseth, Joe Nemechek, Steve Park, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon have all triumphed at 'The Rock' in successive races dating back to October 1998. Of the above group however Gordon has a total of four NCS victories and last year earned himself two top seven finishes at the track.

Kenseth followed his victory performance up with an eighth place finish at Rockingham last autumn and will be looking to open his win account early in the season once again as he tries to establish himself as a Championship contender. Benson's team meanwhile appear to have a better handle of the track during the autumn race and has tallied three consecutive top-12 finishes in the second NCS event, including his win last season.

In last season's Subway 400 Benson was only 23rd at the flag and he and the James Ince-led MBV Motorsports team will be concentrating more on getting familiar with the 2003-version of the Pontiac Grand Prix than gunning for outright glory.

As usual there will be a large contingent of drivers looking to this weekend as an opportunity to avenge a poor performance at Daytona and while one could hardly call their 'performance' poor, the leader of the rebound category will be none-other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. Although this is a track that Dale Jr himself admits he isn't yet comfortable with (26th and 34th place finishes last year) he and the #8 Budweiser team needs a good finish to make up for their 36th place result at Daytona and prove that they can have the field beaten on all types of track, not just Superspeedways.

Another driver looking to bounce back from Daytona, although not in a literal sense, is Ryan Newman following his spectacular Daytona exit while Bobby Labonte and Ward Burton, who scored his maiden Winston Cup victory at 'The Rock,' will also be desperately seeking some good fortune and a tidy top ten finish.

Mark Martin spent the final laps of last year's Pop Secret 400 hunting down Benson's #10 Valvoline Pontiac only to come up agonisingly short by the end. To add to that a post race penalty saw NASCAR deduct 25 points from his tally, which left him on the back foot in his chase of then-points leader Tony Stewart. After working his way into the top five just at the right time last weekend, Martin and the #6 Roush Racing Viagra team will be one's to watch this weekend.

North Carolina Speedway is one track Tony Stewart has yet to conquer and is therefore near the top of the defending Champions wish list for 2003. Stewart finished fourth here one year ago and goes into this weekend with less pressure on his shoulders than he did one year ago owing to his seventh place run at Daytona.

Sterling Marlin will be looking for some sweet retribution after incurring the wrath of the NASCAR officials for the second year in a row at Daytona. The #40 Coors Light Chip Ganassi Racing driver was also robbed of a chance to take the win from Kenseth last year when a late race caution saw the race end under yellow for the patch of oil which, just seconds previously, Marlin and Labonte had both slipped up on to allow Kenseth into the lead.

In addition to the above qualities brought to the track by Roush Racing teammates Martin and Kenseth, fellow Roush teamsters Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton were also strong at Rockingham last season while rookie Greg Biffle in a fifth Roush Ford ran exceptionally well at Daytona. Although Chevrolet had the upper hand around the high banks of Daytona, Rockingham should level the playing field out considerably putting Roush, who were arguably the strongest non-Chevy team during Speedweeks, in a stronger position yet.

PPI Motorsports' Ricky Craven is the defending Subway 400 Bud Pole winner and he joins a list of drivers capable of springing a surprise this weekend. Included on that list are Kenny Wallace in the #23 Bill Davis Racing Stacker 2 Dodge and Mike Skinner in the Morgan McClure Kodak Pontiac who coaxed the #4 machine to its best result in ages (6th) in last year's Pop Secret 400.

Only 43 teams have elected to enter this weekend meaning nobody will go home on Friday afternoon. Larry Foyt will be assured of his first career Winston Cup start in the #14 AJ Foyt Racing Dodge although fellow Daytona 500 non-qualifier Brett Bodine has decided to skip this week's event as part of his recently announced part-time schedule with the #11 Hooters Ford.