We are just about one month away from the Daytona 500, and as we mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt, there are many questions that are lingering around the "Birthplace of Speed" as we get ready for the 2011 Sprint Cup season.

1. Will Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally take the next step and become a true force in the sport?

 There are few more popular drivers in NASCAR than Junior, but as he gets ready for 2011, even his biggest fans would be hard pressed to say he is a serious contender to challenge for a Sprint Cup title. He has to win quickly and consistently to prove he is a true challenger.

2. Can Jimmie Johnson win a sixth consecutive Sprint Cup championship?

It is hard to bet against the No. 48, but last year we did see the gap close. There are teams out there that are ready to make a true title chase, but for now you have to put Johnson in the favorite's role because he has earned it.

3. Will this be Carl Edwards' year?

There is no doubt he was the best car over the final few weeks of the 2010 season. Edwards can drive, and he has the team around him to make him a true contender. Now it's up to his mental toughness to get him over the hump and take him to the next level.

4. Did Joe Gibbs teach Denny Hamlin how to win?

Going into Homestead, the final race of the 2010 season, the Sprint Cup championship was Hamlin's to lose. As we all know by now, the No. 11 did not close the deal, and there were many who questioned whether Hamlin had the champion in him. No doubt super motivator Gibbs will have him ready for another run in 2011.

5. Who will be the surprise racer of 2011?

There are a few to look out for, and two of them are running for the Red Bull Toyota team -- Brian Vickers and his new teammate Kasey Kahne. Greg Biffle is also ready to step back into the spotlight.

6. Will NASCAR put a stop to Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series?

That would be a shame, but it wants a chance to develop new stars. Hello, Danica Patrick -- can she get that top-10 finish?

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Check out his blog, Watch this!