The NASCAR Report - Daytona 500 preview

NASCAR returns for the 61st annual Daytona 500

Credit to: https://partyfixx.co/ecategory/daytona-500-tickets-event-guide/ for the photo

The time has finally arrived. After months of preparation, this Sunday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series takes to the high banks of Daytona for the crown jewel of them all, the Daytona 500. It's a new start and the slate is clean and for two-hundred laps, it's anyone's race.

Over the past three months, there have been a multitude of changes that has shaken up NASCAR's landscape. For starters, NASCAR is under new management in 2019 as former Vice CEO Jim France will take over as acting Chairman and will be in charge of all day to day operations. The first major change he and his staff made this year was the decision to strip the winner if they are to fail post-race inspection. This decision was met with high praise from both fans and journalists alike and for the most part, many would consider this change a step in the right direction. It would appear that France could very well could be the guy that takes the sport and brings it back to prominence in the public eye.

For all of speed-weeks, the big story has been the apparent return to form for Hendrick Motorsports. Last Sunday when it was time to qualify, Hendrick drivers William Byron and Alex Bowman swept the front row to clinch their starting spots in the 500. The team then backed up their dominance of the week with Jimmie Johnson went on to win the rain shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash. After a dismal 2018, many questioned what was wrong with the most prestigious teams in NASCAR but everything appears to be back to normal for this team. Look for this team to be a serious threat for all of 2019.

The driver that I have winning this year is Ryan Blaney. Over the past week, he and his team have not been quite as fast as i would have expected. After a disappointing qualifying effort, some have been quick to write him off but after an impressive showing in the second Can-Am Duel, Blaney and his team showed why you shouldn't sleep on him. While his average finish of 22.38 at the plate tracks hasn't been ideal, it is important to note that in In last year's race, he led a race high 118 laps before he was involved in a multi-car crash with three laps to go. This year, I think he will be vindicated for last season and capture his third career victory in the Great American Race and cement himself as one of the favorites in the run for the championship in 2019.

If you are looking for underdogs for this race, then look no further than Chris Buescher. Coming into this race, he enters at +8800 odds to win which I think is pretty good value considering that last season at Daytona, he finished fifth in both the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in July and while he may not have lead any laps those races, he did a good job of keeping his nose clean and got a great result because of it. Overall, despite struggling to find speed in practice or qualifying, he did run well in his Can-Am Duel Race as he finished seventh. Overall, I think that for the most part when it comes down to the end of these races, he always seems to find himself right around the lead pack and if everything could go right and he can make the right move in the draft, we could see the Texas native go to victory lane.

It's shaping up to be an intriguing Daytona 500, and if for any reason you prefer not to hear the television broadcast, you can catch the race live on ESPN 97.5 starting at 12:30 as they bring you flag to flag coverage of the race.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Martinsville, Virginia for the First Data 500. This is the first race of the round of eight and a win for any of the drivers that made it to the next round automatically earns a trip to Homestead-Miami for a chance at the championship. This track is no stranger to controversy considering how narrow it is and how there isn't much room to pass. Over the past two fall races here, there has been a conflict of some sort, in 2017 Denny Hamlin rooted Chase Elliott out of the way for the lead with two to go then last year, Joey Logano gave Martin Truex Jr the chrome horn for the lead on the final corner to win and move on to Homestead. If one thing is for sure, this is a can't miss race and should play a huge role in who gets to contend for a championship.

Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to win his 36th career win at Kansas after fending off Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. The race was relatively clean until a caution came out for Ryan Blaney. This completely bunched up the whole field and led to three more cautions including a multi-car incident involving Daniel Suarez, Daniel Hemric and playoff contender Joey Logano. As Denny Hamlin was about to cross the finish line to take the white flag and make the race official, the yellow light came on and forced another restart. This was important for a number of reasons considering it gave Chase Elliott and the rest of the field a chance to overtake Hamlin but in the end, it made no difference because there was no stopping the Virginia native as he led a race high 153 laps.

While Hamlin might have won the race, the focus was on both Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski as they were the final two cars battling for the last spot in the round of eight. While Brad's car was good early, he faded towards the closing stages and went one lap down but in the final twelve laps it looked like Brad was going to do just enough to move on to the next round but after multiple cautions, it appeared that Chase Elliott was going to be able to gain the spots needed to overtake Keselowski but then unexpectedly, Joey Logano was involved in a late race caution which would put him in the final spot. When it was all said and done, Brad was not able to beat neither his teammate Joey Logano or Chase Elliott and was eliminated from championship contention. It was definitely a tough break for the 2012 champion considering it has been a good season for him. On the flip side, it was a huge shot in the arm for Chase Elliott and Joey Logano as they were able to overcome adversity and keep their championship hopes alive.

Coming into this next round, many would consider Hamlin the odds on favorite at Martinsville. And while he hasn't won here since 2015 this is still a track that Hamlin has dominated in the past. Overall, he has five victories here and has led over 1,000 laps and while a lot has changed since his last victory here, it is obvious that Hamlin knows how to get around this place. Over the years, Hamlin has done everything but win a title. This year has been easily his best season since 2010 and now he appears to be the championship favorite going into the next four races. I look for Hamlin and his Fedex Camry to be one to watch on Sunday.

The driver that I predict will win come sunday is Martin Truex Jr. Over the course of Truex's illustrious 13 year career, it is hard to believe that he has only won one race at a short track when he won this year at Richmond in May. As I wrote earlier, Truex was a corner away from claiming his first short track win here at Martinsville but was knocked out of the way by Joey Logano. I think come Sunday, Truex will get his redemption and take his seventh victory of the year and will be the first driver to clinch his ticket to Homestead. It will be interesting to see what he does should be in a position to where he would have to move someone out of the way considering he has gone on record by saying he isn't that kind of driver but I don't know if he will have too. Look for Truex to take the Bass Pro Shops Toyota to victory lane.

The eight drivers still alive are Kyle Busch, Truex, Hamlin, Logano, Kevin Harvick, Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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