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60th Running of the Daytona 500: What to watch for

Daytona

The 60th running of the Great American Race is almost here and it’s primed to be a good one. Countless storylines have developed over the offseason and the drivers are itching for the green flag to drop. Before that happens, here’s a few things to watch for during Sunday’s Daytona 500:

Team Penske

The Penske Fords flexed their muscles during the Advanced Auto Parts Clash last Sunday by all finishing in the top-four. Keselowski took home the victory after driving through the pack from starting in last. Bounce-back candidate, Joey Logano, finished in second, and Penske new-comer, Ryan Blaney, brought the 12 car home in fourth.

Daytona
Photo from NASCAR.com

During the Clash the trio ran 1-2-3 for a large majority of the race. Keselowski has one win back in July 2016 at Daytona, while Logano won the 500 back in February 2015. Logano also has three top-6s in his last four Daytona races.

In the Can-Am Duel on Thursday night we saw much of the same. The three Penske teammates dominated the race from start to finish. Logano led most of the Duel but Keselowski was wrecked late by Jamie McMurray as Ryan Blaney made a move on his teammate Logano for the lead.

Blaney brought home the win and Logano edged the rookie, Darell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., for 2nd. Team Penske has looked stout throughout the Clash and the Duels, look for the trio to be strong on Sunday. Blaney starts 3rd on Sunday with Logano behind him in 5th. Keselowski will be forced to use a back-up car after getting wrecked in the Duel. He’ll start back in 31st.

Roush Fenway Racing

We can’t forget about the Roush Fenway Fords. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took home two restrictor plate victories last season, and one was at the July Daytona race. He’s become a name that you expect to see leading the pack late at Daytona or Talladega. He was involved in a wreck last year during the 500 that resulted in a 31st place finish, but prior to that he finished 5th in the July 2016 Daytona race.

He’s an absolute bulldog on restrictor plate tracks. He’s known for putting his car into places that it often doesn’t fit, but somehow he makes it out the other side unscathed in most cases.

Daytona
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

In the Can-Am Duel on Thursday night he was all over the track and “caused” two wrecks because of his driving. Although, it’s more of a matter of opinion whether they were his fault. William Byron and David Gilliland spun and crashed as Stenhouse Jr. cut underneath them and took the air off their cars without ever making contact.

He ended up fourth in the Duel and will start 9th in the race on Sunday.

Stenhouse’s counterpart, Trevor Bayne, is also a winner at Daytona. While it may seem like ages ago, back in 2011 Bayne crossed the stripe first in a season where he didn’t have a full time ride. It’s worth noting that he has two top-10s in his last three races at Daytona and three in the last five. He’ll roll of 18th at the drop of the green.

Ford manufactured cars have won seven straight restrictor plate races and a total of 16 of the last 28.

The New Chevy ZL1

During the offseason Chevrolet unveiled the sleek 2018 Camaro ZL1 as the new Chevrolet model race car. Chevy tied Ford with 10 wins during the 36 race season, trailing the Toyota’s by six (16).

Daytona
Photo from @TeamChevy Twitter

Teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Leavine Family Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, and JTG Daugherty Racing all are hoping that the new Chevy model will have a little more speed than last year’s model.

The Toyota’s were the class of the field for the majority of last season. They led 5,757 laps out of the 10,611 on the season, an astounding 54.4 percent. They also won nearly half the races, including eight of the ten playoff races. Last season was the first year for the new model of Toyota Camry, and it took the Toyota driver’s some time to get going. While they did experience a slow start to the season, once they did hit their stride they never looked back for the rest of the season.

Will the new ZL1 experience the same slow start the Camry’s did last season? If so, can they bounce back and dominate down the stretch enroute to a championship just as the Toyota’s did in 2017?

Danica Patrick

Patrick is making her final Daytona 500 start of her NASCAR career. There’s a few storylines to follow with her in her final Daytona start. She’s no longer dating fellow racer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The two split during the offseason and she’s since become involved in a relationship with Green Bay Packers’ quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the two race each other since they split. When the two were together they both claimed they would race each other as if they were just another driver on the track. We’ll have to see if there’s any bad blood between the two as they hit the asphalt on Sunday.

Another thing to watch for is how aggressive she’ll be. Patrick refuses to let the guys push her around and may initiate the pushing if it means a chance to win for her. She’s never won a NASCAR Monster Energy Series race and wants to leave her mark on the sport before stepping away from it for good.

She’ll start 28th with some fast cars in front of her on Sunday.

The Great Equalizer

The draft is one of the things that makes racing on restrictor plate tracks so great. If you’re not familiar with drafting, it’s when the cars run single-file on the track, bumper-to-bumper, to maximize their speed. By racing single-file they’re much more aerodynamic, which evens out the playing field. Even if a car has sustained damage at Daytona, the draft will still make the car just as fast as the undamaged cars. Whether you’re a seasoned vet or a rookie, if you can utilize the draft properly, you can run at the front.

While its easy to predict names like Keselowski, Stenhouse Jr., and Logano to be at the front or even win the race, there’s several other names you need to watch for because of the draft. David Ragan is a name you probably haven’t heard in a while. He races for a smaller, lesser known team, Front Row Motorsports. Ragan won at Daytona in 2011 and Talladega in 2013. He’ll start 15th on Sunday.

Another name you shouldn’t sleep on is Paul Menard. While he only has one career win, he’s stepped into a competitive 21 car with Wood Brothers Racing. He’s run strong at Daytona recently, finishing 3rd and 5th in the last two races there. He’ll start 16th along side Ragan.

The Big One(s)

Daytona
Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP

The restrictor plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega, are both known for “The Big One.” The Big One, meaning a huge chain-reaction crash that takes out numerous cars, and theres usually more than one of these big pileups. If you can avoid the several small crashes and the couple big ones throughout the race, there’s a good chance you’ll have a top-10 run as the laps start to wind down. It’s not crazy to see only 20 or so cars running at full speed in the dying laps.

 

Feature image credit: AP / John Chilton

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