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Weekend Preview: Daytona International Speedway


The storylines are aplenty for the 62nd running of NASCAR’s Great American Race, the Daytona 500 and by the time cars grid at Daytona International Speedway for Sunday’s green flag (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), a new season’s worth of high aspirations will be on the line.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson will begin his farewell season with every intention of putting an exclamation point on his NASCAR Hall of Fame bound career; winning races and challenging for a record eighth title. His young teammate Alex Bowman will start on the Daytona 500 front row for the third consecutive season.

Joe Gibbs Racing, which won a modern era record 19 races in 2019 and a NASCAR Cup Series title with driver Kyle Busch, will be hoping to duplicate its unprecedented season. JGR driver Denny Hamlin is the defending Daytona 500 champion.

A crowded and highly-decorated class of six rookies – Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and Quinn Houff – will have the opportunity to establish their place at the Cup Series level. And with established teams behind them, this group of young talent may well be a force to be reckoned with even in Sunday’s 2020 opener.

First-time Daytona 500 polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his longtime crew chief Brian Pattie have started their relationship with a new team, JTG Daugherty Racing, in high-style. Both of Stenhouse’s previous Cup wins have come on big tracks like Daytona. The last polesitter to win the Daytona 500, however, was Dale Jarrett in 2000.

Only two drivers entered in the race have won it more than once – Jimmie Johnson (2006 and 2013) and Denny Hamlin (2016 and 2019). Only three drivers in Daytona 500 history have won back-to-back. The last was Sterling Marlin in 1994-95.

For his part, Johnson has been upbeat about this first race in a season of last races.

"It’s not the end of the year, so I’m very excited," said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. "All the emotions are just fun and excitement for myself, my family and team. But comparing to my first year, I showed up here not knowing if I was a Cup driver or could fit in here or was going to have a career in this sport. Insecurity was maxed. Not self-esteem, but self-confidence was low.

"I not only had to prove to the world, but I’m still trying to prove to myself that I could do it at this level. Much different headspace [today]."

Two of the last three Daytona 500s have been last-lap pass victories – 2017 Kurt Busch and 2018 Austin Dillon both led only the last lap en route to their 500 trophy.

And all of this season-opening excitement will be under the watchful eye of United States President Donald Trump, who will be attending his first Daytona 500.

XFINITY IS READY FOR DAYTONA

With the racing "graduation" of several of the last two season’s championship contenders – including two-time Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and John Hunter Nemechek all to the NASCAR Cup Series this year – the 2020 Xfinity championship field has a distinctive new competitive look.

When it comes to Saturday’s season-opening NASCAR Racing Experience 300 (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), recent years have pointed to a new trend decidedly favoring the title contenders. Series regulars have won this race in five of the last six seasons, including the last three. No one’s earned back-to-back victories since Tony Stewart won four straight from 2008-2011.

Last year the top-five finishers were all championship competitors from winner Michael Annett to fifth-place Austin Cindric. Those two, along with Chase Briscoe, veteran Justin Allgaier and the talented youngster, Noah Gragson are all considered championship favorites this year.

This Daytona Speedweeks season opening race likely has been circled on Allgaier’s calendar, in particular. He finished runner-up to Annett last year by a mere .116-second. He, the 19-year old Cindric – a two-race winner in 2019, and Briscoe, 25, who collected his second Xfinity victory last year, are certainly title favorites for 2020. Highly-touted second-generation driver Harrison Burton makes his fulltime debut.

GANDER RV & OUTDOORS TRUCK SERIES IS ALL SET FOR 2020

Only one time in its 20-year history has a driver won back-to-back NextEra Energy 250 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series races – Todd Bodine in 2008-09. And with the stacked field set for Friday night’s season-opener (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) defending winner Austin Hill faces a mighty challenge.

Three-time race winner Johnny Sauter will look to add his historic tally of trophies, but will face plenty of inspired competition from other series veterans such as newly-crowned three-time series champion Matt Crafton, Crafton’s teammate, the 2019 regular season champ Grant Enfinger and fellow title contender Stewart Friesen.

Last year’s Daytona race winner Hill made his first NASCAR Playoff appearance in 2019 and is expected to be a big player in this year’s title run, as is 2018 series champion Brett Moffitt.

Five drivers begin their Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaigns – Raphael Lessard, Zane Smith, Christian Eckes, Ty Majeski and Tanner Gray – and all of them bring stacked resumes to the series.

Former ARCA Menards Series champion Eckes won three pole positions and had three top-five finishes in eight starts for his Kyle Busch Motorsports team last year. Lessard is teaming with Eckes at series powerhouse KBM.

Majeski, a late mode champion, takes over the Niece Motorsports ride that Ross Chastain won three races in last season, qualifying for the championship. Gray comes to his fulltime NASCAR ride with the DGR-Crosley team transitioning from a hugely successful drag racing career where he hoisted the 2019 NHRA Pro Stock championship trophy.

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Daytona 500

The Place: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.)

Defending Winner: Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing)

The Date: Sunday, Feb. 16

The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 500 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: The all-time Daytona 500 lap leader is Richard Petty, who led 780 laps in 20 races. … Denny Hamlin is the active lap leader and is 12th all-time with 297 laps led in 10 races. Only four active drivers are among the top-25 lap leaders – also including Kyle Busch (282 laps), Kurt Busch (205 laps) and Jimmie Johnson (148 laps). … Only eight times in 62-year history of the Daytona 500 has the polesitter also won the race. The last to do so was Dale Jarrett in 2000. … The last top-five finish for a Daytona 500 pole-winner is fifth place by Bill Elliott in 2001. … Hendrick Motorsports has won five of the last six pole positions – Jeff Gordon in 2015, Chase Elliott in 2016 and ’17, Alex Bowman in 2018 and William Byron (2019). …. The late Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most Daytona 500 starts before winning (20). … Only three times has a driver won back-to-back Daytona 500 races – Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marin (1994-95). …. Martin Truex Jr. has the most starts (15) among active drivers without a victory. Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer are next with 14. …. The last driver to win the Daytona 500 and the Cup championship in the same year is Jimmie Johnson (2013). He also did it in 2006. …. Fireball Roberts led the most laps (170 of 200) without winning in 1961. … Twice the Daytona 500 winner has led only one lap – Kurt Busch in 2017 and Austin Dillon in 2018 . …The lowest starting position for a Daytona 500 winner is 39th (Matt Kenseth). … The most leaders in the race is 22 (2011) and the fewest is three (1972). …. The closest Margin of Victory in the Daytona 500 is .01-second when Denny Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. in 2016. …. The youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 is Trevor Bayne (20 years, 1 day in 2011). …. The oldest driver to win the Daytona 500 is Bobby Allison (50 years, two months, 11 days in 1988). … Buddy Baker’s 1980 winning speed of 177.602 mph remains the fastest Daytona 500 in history. …Seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty holds the record for most laps led (184 of 200) in a victory. … For seven drivers, a Daytona 500 victory was their first NASCAR Cup Series win – Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001) and Trevor Bayne (2011). … Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin each have two Daytona 500 wins and are the only multi-time race champions in Sunday’s field. …. Chevrolet leads all manufacturers in Daytona 500 wins (24).

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: NASCAR Racing Experience 300

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

Defending Winner: Michael Annett (JR Motorsports)

The Date: Saturday, Feb. 15

The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 120 laps (300 miles)

What to Watch For: Tyler Reddick’s win in 2018 is the closest margin of victory in NASCAR national series history – .0004-seconds, a photo finish between Reddick and Elliot Sadler. … Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart share the record for most wins (seven). Earnhardt won five consecutively from 1990-94. …. No current full-time Xfinity Series driver has won multiple times in the race. … The last driver to win both the Xfinity race and the Daytona 500 was Kevin Harvick (2007). …Former series champion Joe Nemechek has made the most starts (25) in the race. He also holds the record for most pole positions (four). … Tony Stewart’s two wins from the pole is most all-time. … Dale Earnhardt’s five consecutive wins is most all-time. …Red Farmer holds the record for most consecutive starts (19; 1963-80). … Chevrolet (31) is the winningest manufacturer. …The most drivers to lead the race is 20 (2013). … The most lead changes is 38 (2012). … The lowest starting position for a race winner is 42nd by Chad Little in 1995. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip holds the record (162.675 mph) for the fastest lap in race (1978). The fastest qualifying lap is 194.389 mph set by Tommy Houston in 1987. …. Joe Nemechek’s 105 laps led in 1998 is the most ever by a race winner and most ever by any driver, period. … Paul Goldsmith holds the record for most laps led (101) without winning the race (1967). …This race has been won by full-time Xfinity Series drivers five of the last six years. …. The last time a driver won back-to-back races was 2008-2011 when Cup champion Tony Stewart won four straight.

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: NextEra Energy 250

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

Defending Winner: Austin Hill (Hattori Racing Enterprises)

The Date: Friday, Feb. 14

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 100 laps (250 miles)

What to Watch For: Johnny Sauter is the winningest driver in this event with three victories. … Two-time series champion Matt Crafton holds the record for most starts (19) and most consecutive starts (19, 2001-19). … Joe Ruttman holds the record for winning the most pole positions (2000 and 2001) He is the only multi-time pole winner. … Four drivers have won from pole position: Ruttman (2001), Mark Martin (2006), Jack Sprague (2007) and Kaz Grala (2017). … The pole position is the winningest starting spot on the grid. … The most different leaders in a single race is 17. …. The record for lead changes is 31 (2000). … The lowest starting position for a race winner is 36th (Bobby Hamilton in 2005). … The most laps led in a race is 59; a mark set by Mike Wallace in 2000. … Toyota is the winningest manufacturer with nine victories. … The closest Margin of Victory is .016-seconds in Kyle Busch’s 2014 win over Timothy Peters. …Ty Dillon holds the record for fastest qualifying lap (188.774 mph in 2015). ….NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin’s 2006 victory marks the fastest race in history – he averaged 146.622 mph. … The 2017 race winner Kaz Grala is the youngest winner (18 years, 1 month, 26 days) in race history.

—- NASCAR Wire Service —