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NASCAR race preview: Daytona 500

by Mike Haag | Posted on Sunday, February 18th, 2018

News, notes and photos courtesy of NASCAR

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race (Non-Points): Can-Am Duel At Daytona

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Thursday, Feb. 15

The Time: 7 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 5:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio                   

Distance: Two races, each 150 miles (60 laps)

Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet, and Erik Jones, driver of the #20 Circle K Toyota, race during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 11, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Monster Performer: Kurt Busch Eyes Daytona 500 Repeat

Kurt Busch led only the final lap in last season’s Daytona 500, putting his No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford in Victory Lane in Monster Energy’s first race as entitlement sponsor.

He’ll go for an encore in Sunday’s 60th running of The Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Only three drivers have won back-to-back DAYTONA 500s: Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Martin (1994-95).

Before his break-through win, Busch finished runner-up in the Daytona 500 three times. He is one of 15 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions to win a Daytona 500.

Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford, poses for a photo during the Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Encore Presentation? Truex Hopes To Top Dream Season With 500 Victory

Oh so close.

That was the storyline that followed Martin Truex Jr. throughout the 2016 season. After finishing runner-up to Denny Hamlin in the closest Daytona 500 in history (the margin of victory was .01 seconds), Truex was forced to relive that thrilling moment repeatedly.

Finishing second wasn’t Truex’s calling card last season, however. He won seemingly everything – a season-high eight races, the regular season championship and, of course, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Does that foretell a redemption song for the New Jersey native? Maybe.

To do so, Truex will have to up his restrictor plate game considerably. Over his last seven restrictor-plate starts, Truex has an average finish of just 26.7. 

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 10, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

On the bright side, he has finished in the top 10 in two of the last three Daytona 500s.

Turning Back The Clock: Past Winners Try To Recapture Daytona Magic

Eight past Daytona 500 winners are in this year’s field: Kurt Busch (2017), Denny Hamlin (2016), Joey Logano (2015), Jimmie Johnson (2013, 2006), Trevor Bayne (2011), Jamie McMurray (2010), Ryan Newman (2008) and Kevin Harvick (2007).

Johnson is the only active driver with multiple Daytona 500 wins.

Drivers in the field who have won at Daytona in the summer, but not the 500, include: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Brad Keselowski (2016), Aric Almirola (2014), David Ragan (2011) and Kyle Busch (2008).

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet, talks to his crew chief, Chad Knaus, during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Chasing 8: Johnson Readies To Surpass Petty, Earnhardt With Eighth Championship

Dale Earnhardt. Richard Petty. Jimmie Johnson.

They’re tied atop the NASCAR record book with seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships.

Entering his 17th full-time season, Johnson can overtake the two NASCAR Hall of Famers with an eighth title.

Although he finished a disappointing (by his standards) 10th in last year’s standings, Johnson is still an elite performer. The 42-year-old Californian has won at least three races in each of the last six seasons and he’s never completed a campaign without multiple wins.

For his career, Johnson boasts 83 wins, 222 top fives and 341 top 10s. A checkered flag at Daytona would tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth all-time with 84 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins.

William Byron, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, walks to his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Rookie Sensation Byron Could Take Monster Energy Series By Storm

William Byron has shown no signs of having a learning curve hold him back in his two NASCAR national series seasons. 

Byron won a rookie-record seven races in 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series action. He topped his Truck Series performance in 2017 by winning four times and capturing the championship in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Yes, he earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in both series.

The 20-year-old will make his much-anticipated Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut driving the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, where he won the summer Xfinity Series race last year.

Byron takes over the car number of 24 from Chase Elliott, who will now drive the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this season. Elliott’s predecessor in the No. 24 – four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon – won three Daytona 500s.

Byron can join Erik Jones as the only driver to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in all three series.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 10, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Air Apparent: Brad Keselowski the New Restrictor Plate King

It has often been said that Dale Earnhardt could ‘see the air,’ giving him a distinct advantage in the draft – a necessary tool whenever the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hits either Daytona or Talladega.

Across the different NASCAR eras, the names of those who have worn the crown as ‘King of Plate Racing’ has been shared by Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Now, it rests on the head of Brad Keselowski, who again triumphed in a plate race, last Sunday in the preseason Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona.

Keselowski has six plate wins in points races overall, five of which were at Talladega (including his first career win in 2009). His lone win at Daytona came in the July race of 2016.

By Keselowski’s standards, his Daytona 500 record is subpar, as he’s finished 20th or worse in the last three 500s. His best finish was third in 2014.

If he were to win on Sunday, he’d join a short list of drivers who pulled off the Clash-500 sweep: Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1987), Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Denny Hamlin (2016).

Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Alex Bowman shuns early season pressure, snags Daytona 500 Pole

Two years ago, Alex Bowman was out of a NASCAR ride and unsure of his future in the sport. Now, Bowman is a Daytona 500 pole winner. Oh, how quickly things change.

Bowman secured his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole on Sunday after guiding his No. 88 Chevrolet to a 195.644 mph lap around the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. The run ensured Bowman the first starting position in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel 1 as well as next Sunday’s 60th annual Daytona 500.

Bowman enters the 2018 season under a great deal of scrutiny, as the 24-year-old Tucson, Arizona, native has inherited the famous Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 ride popularized by recently retired fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

But if Sunday is any indication, Bowman appears to be handling the pressure with ease.

Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy Chevrolet, talks to the media during the Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

One More Time With Feeling

Danica Patrick will compete in what is expected to be her final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday in the Daytona 500.

She picked a good one for her swan song.

Patrick’s Daytona 500 career is filled with history-making superlatives, as she is the first female to win a pole, lead laps and score a top-10 finish in The Great American Race. All of those came in the 2013 edition.

This time around, she’ll pilot the No. 7 car, which brings her career full circle. Patrick also drove the No. 7 at the start of her career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2010.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, race during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 11, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Among Favorites Entering Daytona 500

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. now sitting on the sidelines, the title of “NASCAR’s Superspeedway King” is officially up for the taking. We mentioned Brad Keselowski earlier, but could Ricky Stenhouse Jr. be the man to fill that void?

After a 2017 season that saw Stenhouse collect two wins and one pole at NASCAR’s two superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega), Stenhouse enters the 2018 Daytona 500 as one of the favorites to win the race. Should he win on Sunday, Stenhouse would be the first driver since Earnhardt Jr. in 2002 to win at least three out of his last four superspeedway starts.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Bubba Wallace To Star In New Facebook Watch Docu-Series: As Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. prepares to make history in the 2018 DAYTONA 500, fans can follow his inspirational journey to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace,” a new docu-series premiering Feb. 15 on Facebook Watch.

Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #43 Click n’ Close ChevroleKevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Ford, talks to the media during the Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The eight-part series was produced by NASCAR Productions and will chronicle Wallace’s road to Daytona International Speedway – from his earliest racing days to his debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as the new full-time driver of the No. 43 Click n’ Close Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Two episodes will air per day from Thursday through Saturday in the lead-up to the 60th running of the DAYTONA 500, while the series’ final two episodes will be available next week. 

Facebook Watch is a video platform created to bring episodic content, community and conversation together on Facebook. The platform is home to a wide variety of sports shows, including reality, documentary and live sports.

FOX & NASCAR Productions Premiere Daytona 500 Race Classic SpecialsTo commemorate the historic 60th running of the Great American Race, FOX Sports and NASCAR Productions will debut two Race Classics during Daytona Speedweeks. On Thursday, Feb. 15 at 10 p.m. ET, FS1 premieres “NASCAR Race Classic: 1988 Daytona 500” featuring Bobby and Davey Allison’s one-two finish. Immediately following the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday, Feb. 16, FS1 debuts “NASCAR Race Classic: The 1998 Daytona 500” highlighting Dale Earnhardt’s elusive win. Both specials are hosted by Jeff Gordon and complemented by an encore presentation of the third “Beyond the Wheel” short film series at 6 p.m. ET on Friday.

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.