See who our staff members pick to take the checkered flag Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their picks for the Great American Race below. Who do you have? Let us know in the comments section. Zack Albert Denny Hamlin . Joe Gibbs Racing cars have shown plenty of oomph so far in Speedweeks, making Matt Kenseth another Daytona favorite. Sunday, it should be Hamlin's turn in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr. Strong all week, and probably as pumped as he's ever been about his team and his car. Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been unstoppable thus far at Speedweeks, but he's coming off one of his worst seasons to date -- making Johnson the rare "dark horse favorite." The No. 48 Chevrolet swept both Daytona races in his 2013 championship season but hadn't finished higher than 20th in the six Daytona races prior to that. Still, I've got a feeling. Stu Hothem Dale Earnhardt Jr. After last Saturday's first practice, the defending Daytona 500 champion said he had the fastest car in the field. On the 20th anniversary of the last back-to-back winner (Sterling Marlin) going to Victory Lane, Earnhardt will join Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough with three or more wins in the Great American Race. RJ Kraft Carl Edwards. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable has been as strong as the Hendrick Motorsports fleet during Speedweeks, with the veteran showing plenty of speed. It will be the organization's newest driver that brings Joe Gibbs his first trip to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 since 1993. Brad Norman Tony Stewart. His car is fast, and Stewart seems more like the 'Smoke' of old than at any other point over the past two years. Plus, he's just due for a good break at Daytona. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon. The three-time Daytona 500 champion is starting from the pole position, has a dynamic duo of Hendrick Motorsports teammates helping him in the front and his No. 24 Chevrolet SS has showcased its speed the entire week. But above all, with this event marking his final Daytona 500, Gordon has plenty of motivation to take the checkered one last time in the Great American Race. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon. The four-time Cup champion is starting his final Great American Race as a full-time driver from the pole — what more motivation does he need to do well? Three previous Daytona 500 wins under his belt doesn't hurt, either. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr. He becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin in 1995. Junior's car has looked fast all week -- he won in the Daytona Duels -- and he has a strong history in this race (series-best 99.6 driver rating, two previous Daytona 500 wins). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Sets out to inform others about being prepared for organ donation
Reddick: 'I (have) more confidence in our mile-and-a-half package'
Lap 41 damage derails three-time champion's bid for first Daytona 500 win Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Get full race results " Series standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- 0-for-17. Tony Stewart's career-long quest to win the Daytona 500 will have to wait another year. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, with a fast car throughout Speedweeks, was involved in a Lap 41 wreck that eventually put his No. 14 Chevrolet behind the wall for good Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. The three-time premier series champion took the blame for the wreck after he drifted up the track and made contact with Ryan Blaney, the result of which sent him hard into the outside wall and brought out the second caution flag of the day. Matt Kenseth, who was also fast this week and won the Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 14, was among the other cars involved to take heavy damage. "My fault, I let it get away from me," Stewart said after exiting his SHR entry and heading back to his hauler. "We were fine as long as we were two-wide, then when it got three-wide that particular lap it got away from me. I got out of the gas and couldn't get the front end caught up when I got out of the gas. "I just got tight. I was a little bit tight before that. We took two tires on the stop before that. I needed to get to that next pit stop to get it fixed." Stewart -- who does have four wins at Daytona, all coming in the summer race -- returned to the track on Lap 110, 64 laps down. On Lap 141, he brought his car back to the garage and called it a day. "It was fast enough to stay with the pack there," Stewart said. "I actually just stayed with Mike Wallace to try to help my buddy out there, but we ran as many laps as we could to get us to where we couldn't run any more laps and gain anything." Apart from points, another reason Stewart decided to pull himself out was because of the nature of the race itself. Superspeedway racing inherently lends itself to big wrecks. Kyle Busch was injured during Saturday's XFINITY Series season-opening Alert Today Florida 300 after a wreck, and Stewart thought there was no reason to take the chance for himself or his competitors. "The biggest race of the year; the last thing we want to do is stay out there and have something else happen and get in the middle of something else," he said. "That's just letting those guys have their day now." The 42nd-place finish was the third straight finish of 35th or worse for the veteran in the Daytona 500. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
No. 88 driver takes blame, maintains he 'had one of the best cars' at Daytona SHOP: Buy Daytona 500 gear RELATED: Get full race results " Series standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- You win some, you lose some. For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the "some" in question just happen to be Daytona 500s. The 2014 defending winner of The Great American Race finished third in the 57th annual running at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, leading 32 of the event's 200 laps with what he deemed earlier in the week as the fastest car in the field. Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Earnhardt made the wrong decision on a restart with 19 laps remaining that in the end proved too costly to overcome. "Jimmie (Johnson) was on the quarter panel; he was in a great spot on the guy in front of me," Earnhardt said. "I thought if I could get in behind him, he was going to shoot past to the lead, I could tuck on the quarter panel a little bit as soon as I got on that right rear quarter panel. "You know, just one of them moves. You made some good ones, you make some bad ones. I made a bad one too late. … Just got too cute there. ... Should have won the race." While Earnhardt was particularly hard on himself for the restart snafu, the No. 88 was still in a strong position on the final green-white-checkered sequence. The 12-time NMPA Most Popular Driver winner was in eighth when the final green flag dropped, but "the outside line got going really good" and he was able to advance, though there were "not enough laps to form anything" to send the 88 to Daytona's Victory Lane for the second consecutive February. If there had been enough laps, however -- or, who knows, if the yellow flag hadn't frozen the field on the final lap -- Earnhardt's car was clearly fast enough to almost move up through the field at will. It makes the third-place finish all that more bittersweet. "You don't get cars that good too often" Earnhardt said. "I had one of the best cars out there and that gave me a ton of confidence to keep digging. We were able to get back up to third place. It’s really disappointing because the Nationwide team gave me the best car and we should have won the race. I’m just really disappointed that I didn’t do everything I needed to do. "Good cars like that don’t come every week and you like to take advantage of those and when you're put in a car like that you've got to deliver and we fell a little short today." While Earnhardt won't be able to carry the momentum that comes along with being the Daytona 500 champion that clearly propelled his best season in a decade a year ago -- not to mention the peace of mind that comes with locking a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth after the first of 26 races -- Sunday's race was still about as good as the 88 team could've hoped for, given the changes it has undergone. With a new crew chief in Greg Ives sitting atop the pit box, along with some new over-the-wall pit crew members, engineers and car chief -- the speed and near-flawlessness that Earnhardt exhibited during Speedweeks was extremely encouraging. The driver addressed the first race with these new faces on Twitter after he left the Daytona media center. The whole team is n great form. Good communication. No issues today. Smooth. That's impressive 2 me out of the gate. Something 2 build on. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 22, 2015 We have some new over the wall guys, a few new engineers, a new car chief, a new crew chief. Everyone of them were prepared for Daytona. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 22, 2015 They'll get another go in a week from now at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Folds of Honor QuikTrips 500 (March 1, 1 p.m., FOX) "We are ready to go to Atlanta," Earnhardt said. "It’s going to be a fun year.” MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
18-year-old driver wanted more from strong Daytona run Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Erik Jones wrapped up his 2014 Camping World Truck Series campaign with his third win of the season, putting a stomping on the field to the tune of 114 of 126 laps led in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway. The 18-year-old Kyle Busch Motorsports driver then finished second in Friday night's 2015 season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway, making a last-lap move to position himself for -- albeit coming up just short of -- the win. Bookending seasons with an average finish of 1.5 in a pair of races? Surely, any driver would take that. However, the highly-touted NASCAR Next wheelman wasn't satisfied. "I wish we could have won the race; that's first off," Jones said on pit road following the race. "… It's unfortunate for us to finish second any day, but it's a good run for us. We just wanted to come in here and have a good day, solid day to start off the year. "Second is a great start to the season and we did what we wanted to. We came in here and didn't get wrecked and put ourselves in a position not to be making up all year." That second-place finish was looking like a certain fourth for the latter chunk of the 100-mile event, as the Brad Keselowski Racing duo of race-winner Tyler Reddick and Austin Theriault had a lock on the 1-2 spots ahead of the field. Jones said his final lap strategy was to lay back through Turns 3 and 4, hopeful that if Theriault ended up making a move on his teammate -- which is what ended up happening -- he could pull his No. 4 Toyota Tundra off both of them and attempt to make his way to the front. "It worked up to second, but just couldn't quite get to the lead," he said. Give him one more lap and there's a good chance he puts his truck in Victory Lane. Considering it was just Jones' second career restrictor-plate race, there are still lessons to be learned from finishing a position lower than he'd prefer, particularly from his experienced team owner, who has been offering his sage advice to his young padawan. "Just lots of listening. Lots of listening," Jones said. "Really talked to Kyle a lot about it last year before Talladega. Talked to him more about it here. Read a lot of data that Toyota gives us. Try to apply it all in real‑time. "I think everybody kind of knows the basics of drafting. It's not extremely complicated. It's just a matter of being able to process those during the race and being able to remember all the things you've gathered about it. Actually, I don't mind plate racing. I enjoy it. I had fun tonight. Would have had a lot more fun if we came home one position higher." You see? At all times -- Jones is focused on nothing but winning. It's the same mentality that all of NASCAR's greats shared, and one that bodes well for the future of a talented young driver that is quickly rising within the sport's ranks -- he finished 18th in Saturday's Alert Today Florida 300 XFINITY Series event. While the first win of 2015 will have to wait, it was still crucial for Jones to escape Daytona without digging himself into a points hole, something that he and his team knew could be a possibility. Instead, his momentum remains in tact and the team will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway for next weekend's Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). "That was pretty important to us," the Michigan native said. "We talked about it for the last couple weeks. When you start off Daytona and get wrecked or whatever, say you finish 30th, it really gives you a hole to dig out of for really the next four races, even if you run those well. "It's pretty important to finish well here, just get good momentum going for your season. It's my first full‑time season." Atlanta is similarly configured to the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he picked up his second win of the year in 2014. Needless to say, he's looking forward to it. "Atlanta is going to be fun. I think our mile‑and‑a‑half program is pretty strong. It was really strong last year. I think we can probably go out and hopefully contend for a win." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Six-time champion bounced back for fifth-place finish at Daytona SHOP: Buy Daytona 500 gear RELATED: Get full race results " Series standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR installed a new pit road officiating system for the 2015 season designed to increase safety and add extra levels of technological precision to ensure teams were being held fully accountable for their in-race actions. In Sunday's 57th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in the first full-field NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race under the new format, plenty of teams were hit with penalties detected by the new system -- including the typically flawless No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports crew for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. PHOTOS: Get an inside look at the new pit road technology On Lap 87, NASCAR hit the 48 team with a pass-through penalty for an infraction of having a crew member over the wall too soon, one of six teams hit during that round of green-flag stops. The only problem? Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus had no idea what they'd done wrong. "NASCAR … I would appreciate an explanation," Knaus asked over the 48 team radio. "We do not know what we did wrong." After serving the penalty, the 48 car stood in 35th place -- the last car on the lead lap. Johnson had plenty of race left to make up the track position lost -- he ultimately finished fifth -- but the Hendrick Motorsports driver really needed to battle on the 2.5-mile superspeedway to get back to the front of the pack. "(It made our day) more difficult," Johnson said. "To almost lose a lap and then come back and have to start dead last and climb my way up through the middle, I took a lot of risks to get up there. We did have to work a lot today." The biggest issue that Johnson and Knaus had with the penalty was that despite their efforts to contact NASCAR through the radio, they said no response was given -- the two still were in the dark as to what happened and why they were penalized long after the checkered flag fell in favor of race-winner Joey Logano. In essence, the penalties could've kept happening for the 48 team and they wouldn't have known how to correct them, Johnson said. "We couldn't get clarification on why we were penalized, so in order for us to make a correction for the other three or four stops, we didn't know what to do," Johnson said. "We just kind of went back to doing our thing like we had been and fortunately there were no more penalties. "We'll get clarification (from NASCAR) as the week develops. It'd be nice to know during the race so we can make an adjustment." As far as if Knaus plans on reaching out to NASCAR officials for an explanation of what went wrong prior to the Sprint Cup Series' next race, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX), the longtime 48 pit boss said "I'm sure at some point (we will)." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
But driver rebounds after fluid seen spewing from car during practice
Buescher: 'We have a good mentality around our group'
Get caught up before the 57th running of the Great American Race Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Buy Daytona 500 gear What : 57th annual Daytona 500 Where : Daytona International Speedway, 2.5-mile tri-oval in Daytona Beach, Florida When : Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 TV/Radio: FOX Sports, MRN (1 p.m. ET) Race Length : 200 laps Pit Road Speed: 55 mph Caution Car Speed: 70 mph Fuel Window: 42 laps On The Front Row " Starting Lineup Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet (201.293 mph) Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet (201.135 mph). Notable: Kyle Busch will miss the Daytona 500 after taking a hard hit with his No. 54 Toyota in Saturday's XFINITY Series season opener He sustained a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. Busch was alert but taken to Halifax Medical Center where he underwent surgery. Matt Crafton was named as the replacement driver Notable II: Gordon's Coors Light Pole Award is his fourth for the Daytona 500, and he's one of just seven drivers to win the Great American Race from the pole. Gordon and Dale Jarrett won the race from the pole in back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000. This will be Jeff Gordon's final Daytona 500. " Gordon ready for last 500 ride To The Rear Twelve drivers will drop to the back of the field before the start of the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish Jr., Trevor Bayne and Johnny Sauter, David Ragan, Ryan Newman and Bobby Labonte (backup cars); Regan Smith and Matt Crafton (replacement drivers). Notable III: Officially, the deepest in the field a Daytona 500 winner has started is 39th (Matt Kenseth, 2009). Defending Daytona 500 Winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. Notable IV: Only three drivers, Richard Petty (1973-'74), Cale Yarborough ('83-'84) and Sterling Marlin ('94-'95) have won back-to-back Daytona 500 titles. Budweiser Duel Winners Race #1 Winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet). Who Raced Their Way In: Landon Cassill (Hillman Racing No. 40 Chevrolet), Cole Whitt (Front Row Motorsports No. 35 Ford), Michael McDowell (Leavine Family Racing no. 95 Ford, J.J. Yeley (BK Racing No. 23 Toyota), Michael Annett (HScott Motorsports No. 46 Chevrolet), Ty Dillon (Circle Sport Racing No. 33 Chevrolet). Who Failed To Transfer: Ron Hornaday Jr. (The Motorsports Group No. 30 Chevrolet), Justin Marks (No. 29 RAB Racing Chevrolet). Race #2: Winner : Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet) Who Raced Their Way In: Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford), Reed Sorenson (Team Xtreme Racing No. 44 Chevrolet), Mike Wallace (Jay Robinson Racing No. 66 Toyota), Justin Allgaier (HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet, David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford) and David Ragan (Front Row Racing No. 34 Ford). Who Failed To Transfer: Josh Wise (Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Ford), Jeb Burton (BK Racing No. 26 Toyota), Alex Bowman (Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet), Brian Scott (Premium Motorsports No. 62 Chevrolet). Fastest In Practice First Practice: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford (202.643 mph). Second Practice: Michael McDowell, Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Ford (199.322 mph). Third Practice: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota (200.776 mph). Fourth Practice: Alex Bowman, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet (200.495 mph). Fifth Practice: Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (192.699 mph). Seventh Practice: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet (194.405 mph). Eighth Practice: Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota (202.106 mph). Driver rating (Best driver rating average in the Daytona 500 based on the past nine years, minimum 5 starts): Matt Kenseth, 91.6 Dale Earnhardt Jr., 90.3 They said it I: "I don't think anybody wants to be in the scenario where you have to sub under circumstances, whatever they may be. And with that said, if it happens, you want to make the most of that opportunity. And there are some guys, I don't know how many, but we'll say 200 employees because I don't know how many Stewart-Haas has, but there are a lot of people that have had their hands on that race car and have worked hard on that race car and they deserve to still have the opportunity to go out there and win that race; and that's what we’re going to try to do for them." -- Regan Smith, on filling in for the suspended Kurt Busch in the No. 41 Chevrolet They said it II: "When someone of (Jeff Gordon's) caliber isn't on the track, it definitely is going to have a big effect. Not only in the 500 next year, but the entire season. Our sport is going to be different without him there. I feel very good about Chase Elliott going into the car. We'll all have fun watching him grow and mature as a driver, see what he's capable of, kind of fill in that Jeff space that's there. I wasn't around to watch the King (Richard Petty) step down and some of the other greats that have been in our sport, so I don't know exactly how it's going to go. If Jeff Gordon isn't on the track, for 23 years he's been such a force on the track. Our sport is not going to necessarily suffer from it, but it's just not the same. It's Jeff Gordon." -- Jimmie Johnson on Jeff Gordon's final Daytona 500 appearance They said it III: "Well, I don't think it boosts our confidence a lot. Winning the Daytona 500 is a real challenge. The challenge didn't get easier tonight. One thing I am happy about is being able to get this car through the Duels without any trouble because it's such a good racecar. We'll be very careful throughout the rest of track activities the remainder of the week. I'm just excited to be able to put this car on the grid for Sunday. I wouldn't want to be driving anything else. The car's so spectacular; it's just going to be great. A proud moment to put it on the grid because I think it's such a good racecar." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his Budweiser Duels-winning No. 88 Chevrolet Former Daytona 500 Winners In Field Jimmie Johnson (2013; '06); Matt Kenseth (2012; '09); Trevor Bayne (2011); Jamie McMurray (2010); Ryan Newman (2008); Kevin Harvick (2007); Jeff Gordon (2005, '99, '97); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014; '04); Michael Waltrip (2003; '01). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule