Millions will watch when NASCAR’s 2012 racing season begins Sunday with the Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET on Fox). The stock car racing circuit has grown tremendously over the past 30 years, fueled by dizzying speeds, charismatic drivers and owners, and rivalries that gave the sport drama. Our Sports Movie of the Week, ‘Days of Thunder,’ has all of those qualities. The 1990 film was a significant moment in the growth of NASCAR as the once regionally-confined sport branched out into Hollywood.

In the film, Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is a brash, young open-wheel race car driver who wants to graduate to NASCAR. Team owner and car magnate Tim Daland (Randy Quaid) gives Trickle a shot, but the young driver has much to learn. Crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) tries to keep Trickle focused enough to capitalize on his skills. Along the way, Trickle finds a rival in Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) and meets potential love interest Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman). However, one small mistake on the track could destroy all of his dreams.

Five Reasons to Watch ‘Days of Thunder’

1. Late former NASCAR driver Tim Richmond and his crew chief Harry Hyde served as inspiration for the characters portrayed by Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall.

2. Partly because of Cruise’s role as the leading man, the film comes off as ‘Top Gun’ for auto racing. Director Tony Scott’s quick cuts and splashy use of vivid imagery moves the film at an intentionally quick pace.

3. Rusty Wallace, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and several other real life NASCAR drivers appear in the film.

4. The ‘ice cream’ and ‘rubbin’ is racin’ ‘ scenes have become essential viewing for NASCAR fans.

5. Members of the ESPN TV racing crew of the 1980s and ’90s, including announcer Bob Jenkins and reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, are included in the film.

Click the play button to watch the original trailer of the film below: