NASCAR Weekend Preview: Daytona International Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 10: Paul Menard, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire

For all the lifelong aspiration, months of preparation, the week-long hype of competition, the Daytona 500 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has been a thrilling final lap pass for the victory in recent years.  Predicting a winner is no easy task.

The last two Daytona 500 champions – Kurt Busch in 2017 and Austin Dillon in 2018 – claimed the sport’s most prestigious trophy on a last lap pass – the only lap they led on the day.

No driver has won back-to-back Daytona 500s since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95 and only three drivers (also Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough) have ever accomplished the feat. The last time a polesitter won the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000. The last three races have been won by three different manufacturers.

“That’s pretty impressive only three guys have been able do it back-to-back, and I’d love to be a fourth,” the Richard Childress Racing driver said this week. “That would be very cool. It seems like a hard thing to do. This place is not easy to win at. That’s why it’s so special, and so many people haven’t won here. It’s just this place, everything has got to line up. Everything has got to line up just perfectly for you to go to Victory Lane, and that’s what it’s all about.”

In the last 15 years, only two drivers have won multiple Daytona 500s – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004 and 2014) and Jimmie Johnson (2006 and 2013).

And there is a list that includes several of the sport’s very best that are still looking for their first 500 trophy.

Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion, is winless in 14 Daytona 500 tries. Kyle Busch, the 2015 Cup champ is 0-for-14 as is popular perennial championship contender Clint Bowyer.

Truex came the closest – finishing .01-second behind Denny Hamlin in a 2016 photo finish. He will be making his first start for Joe Gibbs Racing this year – moving there from the Furniture Row Racing team where he won his championship.

“I guess it can be frustrating, but anything that big is not easy to get,” Truex said. “It’s just the way it is. You look at Dale Earnhardt, it took him 17 tries or something – 20. He won the most races at Daytona of anyone ever and he hadn’t won the Daytona 500. That just shows how hard it is to win. I don’t think that’s changed over the years.

“You look like a guy like Trevor Bayne – he came out of nowhere and won the thing and never won any other races. It’s one of those races where crazy things tend to happen. Huge stories tend to come out of it and that’s part of the reasons why it’s such a big deal.”

XFINITY SERIES READYS FOR DAYTONA

It will be hard to top the dramatic photo finish of 2018 with eventual series champion Tyler Reddick edging retiring veteran Elliott Sadler to the checkered flag. But the annual NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener has always proven itself worthy of the hype and interest.

Favorites such as Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and defending series champion Tyler Reddick will battle up-and-comers such as Austin Cindric and series’ newcomer Noah Gragson for the first bragging rights toward a championship trophy. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski are entered this weekend as well.

Since an amazing run of four consecutive wins from now-retired Tony Stewart from 2008-2011, there haven’t been any back-to-back Daytona winners and the race has proven itself one of the most exciting events of the whole race calendar.

TRUCK SERIES WELCOMES GANDER OUTDOORS

The kickoff race to the big NASCAR points racing weekend begins with what is traditionally a close-quartered action-packed NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series opener. Veteran Johnny Sauter is the defending winner and has victories in two of the last three years. Rookie sensation Kaz Grala grabbed a win in 2017 earning national attention.

Chevrolet owns the last three Daytona trophies – and Toyota won eight consecutively from 2007 (Jack Sprague) to 2014 (Kyle Busch).

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Daytona 500

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

Defending winner: Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing)

The Date: Sunday, Feb. 17

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 267 laps led in nine races. Only four active drivers are among the top-25 lap leaders – also including Kyle Busch (245 laps), Kurt Busch (205 laps) and Jimmie Johnson (148 laps). … The last top-five finish for a Daytona 500 pole- winner is fifth-place by Bill Elliott in 2001. … Hendrick Motorsports has won the last five pole positions – Jeff Gordon in 2015, Chase Elliott in 2016 and 17, Alex Bowman in 2018 and William Byron this year. …. The late Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most Daytona 500 starts before winning (20). Martin Truex Jr. has the most starts (14) among active drivers without a victory. Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer are next with 13. ….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) 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). …. Seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty holds the record for most laps led  (184 of 200) in a victory.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: NASCAR Racing Experience 300

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

Defending winner: Tyler Reddick (JR Motorsports)

The Date: Saturday, Feb. 16

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 last year is the closest margin of victory in race 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. …. 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. … 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.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: NextEra Energy 250

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

Defending winner: Johnny Sauter (GMS Racing)

The Date: Friday, Feb. 15

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 100 laps (250 miles)

What to Watch For: Defending winner Johnny Sauter became the winningest driver in this event last year scoring his third victory – all in the last six years. … Two-time series champion Matt Crafton holds the record for most starts (18). … Joe Ruttman holds the record for winning the most pole positions (2000 and 2001). … Four drivers have won from pole position: Ruttman (2001), Mark Martin (2006), Jack Sprague (2007) and Kaz Grala (2017). … The most different leaders in a single race is 17.  The most lead change is 31. … The lowest starting position for a race winner is 36th (Bobby Hamilton in 2005). … The most laps led in a race is 59 set by Mike Wallace in 2000. … 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).

Comments