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Storied 'Great American Race' gets new wrinkle: stages
RELATED: See the stages for every 2017 race DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Daytona 500 turns 59 on Sunday, just one year shy of a solid, round milestone number. But the otherwise ordinary anniversary has a momentous wrinkle thrown in. For the first time in its history, the "Great American Race" will be run in three stages -- 60, 60 and 80 laps -- with points incentives to the top finishers in each segment. It's an infusion of a new-school format, transposed against the backdrop of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ' most prestigious event. The significance isn't lost on the 40 drivers who will take the flag in Sunday's 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and neither is the bounty of bonus points that will be available. It's a tantalizing carrot, one that could alter teams' approaches as each race plays out this season. RELATED: Format enhancement fast facts "I think that's the biggest thing -- it's going to change the strategy," said Kevin Harvick , the 2007 Daytona 500 winner. "I think there is going to be a lot of strategy involved. Late cautions in (stages) or the timing of the (stages) … if there is an early caution … do you stay out and gain the points and pit later? There's going to be a lot of strategy that will mix the field up more than we've seen in the past. … "There's really no time to relax and I think that's going to create a bit more of a chaotic atmosphere for the fact that there is so much to get and if you don't aggressively go out and try and get those things, you're going to get behind really fast." The lure for drivers at the end of the first two stages are regular-season points awarded to the top 10, plus a bonus point for a stage winner to carry into the playoffs. That format will be in place for all 36 points-paying races through the season. The scoring system is no different for the other 35 events, but Sunday's opener has the weight of the Harley J. Earl Trophy and a career-changing victory at the end of the third stage. RELATED: Changes in NASCAR for 2017 "I'd love to get those points, obviously, at the end of each stage, but I do feel like there's going to be people that wreck at the end of the stages," said Austin Dillon , who won the Daytona 500 pole position in 2014. "So, I don't know. If I'm running in the top three and I keep in my position, I probably won't pull out of it." While on-track discretion will remain in play, the format may have an unintended effect on restrictor-plate racing at Daytona and sister track Talladega in potentially discouraging the play-it-safe tactic of laying back of the main pack. Joey Logano , the 2015 Daytona 500 winner, said he imagines that stage strategy will evolve for crew chiefs over the course of the season, but that for him, there's little strategy to dither over. "For me as a driver, nothing changes because I'm as wide-open as I can be," Logano said. "I don't have a slower gear. It's high speed all the time and I'm gonna try to pass everyone every time I can, so that part doesn't change for me." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
American Ethanol , Enogen named sponsors for June Iowa XFINITY race
RELATED: Buy tickets NEWTON, Iowa (May 3, 2016) -- Iowa Speedway today announced American Ethanol will serve as the entitlement sponsor and Enogen as the presenting sponsor for the NASCAR XFINITY Series race during Wide Opening Weekend on June 18-19. The NASCAR XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen on Sunday, June 19, represents the fifth consecutive year of the American Ethanol partnership and the fourth consecutive year with Enogen at Iowa Speedway . While the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series idles for a week, the green flag will wave at Iowa Speedway for a first-of-its-kind doubleheader weekend in central Iowa. For the first time ever, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series are paired together during Wide Opening Weekend on June 18-19. “ American Ethanol and Enogen stepping up to sponsor our NASCAR XFINITY Series race is another great indicator of the important platform Iowa Speedway and NASCAR provide to brands,” said Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small. “The adoption of biofuels grown and made in the USA, creating much needed green jobs in Iowa and across the Heartland is one of the tenets of NASCAR Green. American Ethanol has proven to be a tremendous partner not only for Iowa Speedway , but for NASCAR’s teams, fans and the industry as a whole.” American Ethanol and Enogen were the former title and presenting sponsors of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway . American Ethanol , along with Enogen, join the Iowa Corn Growers Association in renewing their long standing relationships with the speedway in 2016. “As NASCAR approaches 10 million flawless miles running on Sunoco Green E15, we’re excited for yet another opportunity to showcase the power and the high-quality performance ethanol brings to the race track,” said Jeff Broin, co-chair of Growth Energy. “It’s no secret biofuels create jobs in our country and work great in our engines. American Ethanol is proud to partner with Iowa Speedway and the NASCAR XFINITY series to show that an ethanol -based bio-fuel is the future.” Representing a wide array of ethanol supporters, from farmers to bio-engineering firms, American Ethanol was established by Growth Energy in partnership with the National Corn Growers Association to increase awareness of the value of American -made ethanol . Ethanol represents the most commercially-viable alternative to 100% petroleum-based fuel that America currently holds, and corn ethanol reduces emissions by 59 percent. “ Ethanol is helping America reduce its dependence on foreign oil, lowering prices at the pump, improving the environment with lower emissions, and growing the economy with jobs that can’t be outsourced,” said Jack Bernens, head of Enogen at Syngenta. “ Ethanol is an important success story and the American Ethanol E15 250 is an excellent opportunity to engage consumers and help increase awareness for the benefits of earth-friendly American ethanol . Syngenta is pleased to once again be working with Iowa Speedway and Growth Energy to support the ethanol industry through our sponsorship of this event to tell ethanol ’s story.” In 2011, NASCAR launched its long-term biofuels program to reduce emissions of the fuel used in all its racing series. As part of the partnership, NASCAR’s three national touring series began using Sunoco Green E15; a 15% ethanol blend bio-fuel, made from American -grown corn. By utilizing Sunoco Green E15 race fuel, NASCAR has demonstrated that ethanol -blended fuel performs when held to the highest standards. Iowa Speedway season tickets, which are currently on sale, include eight high-powered races over three weekends. Wide Opening Weekend will feature both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen during Father’s Day Weekend on June 18-19. The second weekend of racing will showcase the ARCA Racing Series 150 presented by Casey’s General Stores, the INDYCAR Series Iowa Corn 300, Indy Lights and Pro Mazda Championship on July 9-10. The 2016 race season will close on July 29-30 with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Stores 150 and NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250.
Kaz Grala sneaks by last-lap 'Big One' for win at Daytona
RELATED: Race results " Series standings " Detailed breakdown DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In the space of 100 laps, Kaz Grala went from youngest NASCAR national series pole winner at Daytona International Speedway to youngest NASCAR national series race winner at Daytona. What happened between the first green flag and the checkers, however, could fill volumes. Miraculously, Grala slipped through a wild wreck on the backstretch on the final lap of Friday night's NextEra Energy Resources 250 to win the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race contested in stages under NASCAR's new competition format. That final wreck, ignited when Ben Rhodes spun from the outside lane off the bumper of ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, wiped out veteran contenders Johnny Sauter , Timothy Peters and Matt Crafton . RELATED: In-car look at last-lap melee But Grala -- 18 years, 1 month and 26 days old -- drove through the melee as trucks bounced off each other like pinballs on either side of him. Grala claimed the trophy for his first national series victory and the five playoff points that go with a race win under NASCAR's new scoring system. Austin Wayne Self took the runner-up spot, followed by Chase Briscoe, and the father-son combination of John Hunter Nemechek and Joe Nemechek in fourth and fifth. "That was freaking awesome! I can't believe we won Daytona," Grala said in Victory Lane. "I couldn't see a lot there. I knew it was a little bit risky. It was the last lap, and we had to do what we had to do. "I saw coming out of (Turn) 2 it starting to get crazy. There wasn't going to be any way I was going to be lifting (off the accelerator). I was just going to go low, cross my fingers and close my eyes a little bit. "Luckily, it worked out for me. I just can't believe it. It's so surreal." Self put it much more succinctly. "When all hell broke loose, we were in the right spot." The race didn't wait until the last lap to get crazy. On the second lap, Briscoe, racing for the first time in the Truck Series, gave Noah Gragson's Toyota an off-center tap on the rear bumper, sending Gragson bouncing off the outside wall in Turn 1 and out of control. By the time the smoke cleared, 17 trucks -- one more than half the field -- had sustained varying degrees of damage in the wreck. RELATED: One lap in, wreck shakes up Daytona field Gragson, Austin Cindric and Ryan Truex couldn't continue. Same for Ross Chastain and Clay Greenfield . John Hunter Nemechek stayed on the lead lap but fell victim to a flat tire as Stage 2 of the race came to an end with Sauter in the lead. "I took a few hard hits out there," said Gragson, who was unhurt in the wreck. "Just a bummer. I didn't want to end the race like this, but I had a good time for the lap I got. "Felt like the 29 (Briscoe) hit me in the wrong part of the bumper going through the tri-oval. It just got me loose, and it got pointed into the outside wall." In the final 60-lap stage, all four GMS Chevrolet pitted early on Lap 68. Though Spencer Gallagher and ultimate sixth-place finisher Scott Lagasse Jr. drew speeding penalties while exiting pit road, Sauter reclaimed the lead, with Grala trailing him, when Christopher Bell 's Toyota got loose in Turn 4, slowed and spun off the bumper of Timothy Peters ' Tundra. Sauter, the defending series champion, looked to be in control of the race until John Hunter Nemechek 's spin off Turn 2 on Lap 95 of 100 caused the fifth and final caution and set up a chaotic two-lap run to the finish. Wrecked on the backstretch, Sauter was credited with a 15th-place finish but collected two playoff points for winning both the first and second stages, each lasting 20 laps. Bell, one of the preseason favorites for the championship, sustained heavy damage in three wrecks, including the last one, but his seemingly indestructible No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra made it to the finish line in eighth-place, salvaging a respectable result from a potentially disastrous night. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Kurt Busch wins his first Daytona 500 with last-lap pass
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Detailed breakdown " Shop for winner gear DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- His car damaged in a wreck on the backstretch and held together with tape, Kurt Busch grabbed the lead on the final lap of the 59th Daytona 500 on Sunday and took the checkered flag in the Great American Race as a capstone to a checkered career that has trended upward since Busch joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. In a race that featured the first test of a new three-stage race format in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series -- and featured enough twisted sheet metal to keep fabricators busy for a month -- Busch surged to the front with a run around the outside when more than half the vehicles in an 11-car lead draft sputtered and ran short on fuel. Having pushed other drivers to victory in the 500 on three previous occasions, Busch took the prize himself this time, finishing .228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney , who came from the rear of the lead pack on the final two laps. AJ Allmendinger ran third after conserving fuel over the final 20 laps, as a race that had produced eight caution flags for 40 laps ran green for the final 47 circuits. Aric Almirola finished fourth as a single car for Richard Petty Motorsports , with Paul Menard and Joey Logano coming home fifth and sixth, respectively. "I can't believe it!" Busch shouted on his team radio after claiming the 29th victory of his career and by far the most significant. "I love you guys! Thank you! Thank you!" Busch lost his rear view mirror in the middle of the final green-flag run, but it didn't matter. "There is nothing predictable about this race any more, and the more years that have gone by that I didn't win I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past," Busch said. "My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind. "It just got crazy and wild, and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run, and nobody took each other out and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this -- this Ford Fusion is in Daytona's Victory Lane!" Busch did what other drivers with seemingly stronger cars could not. Pole winner Chase Elliott was disconsolate after running out of fuel on the white-flag lap. He finished 14th. Kyle Busch won the first 60-lap stage and collected the first playoff point in series history, but on Lap 105, he spun in Turn 3 when he cut a rear tire and collected fellow Toyota drivers Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth , as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who was returning to competition after missing the final 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion. Busch fell out of the race in 38th place. Earnhardt took his car to the garage in 37th. Kevin Harvick led 50 of the 200 laps and took the second stage, but he fell victim on Lap 128 to the 17-car pileup on the backstretch that also did the most damage to the sheet metal on Kurt Busch 's car. The 2014 series champion finished 22nd, three laps down. Busch's team owner, Tony Stewart , retired from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the 2016 season. Stewart-Haas spent the winter converting from Chevrolet to Ford, but it seemed to make little difference to Busch, who won his 2004 series championship in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford. "It was a crazy race, even crazier to sit and watch it from a pit box finally," Stewart said. "If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago, if I knew it was what it took to win the race ... I ran this damn race for 18 years and didn't win it. "Kurt did an amazing job. He doesn't even have a rear view mirror. The mirror folded on him. His spotter, Tony Raines , did an amazing job. That is the most composed I have ever seen Kurt at the end of a race. He deserved this."
At place of peace, Dale Jr. still 'craves' racing
DAYTONA 500 : Starting lineup " Race-day schedule " Key info RELATED: Junior fulfilled with his career numbers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- He tested at Phoenix earlier this year, qualified on the outside of the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and on Thursday he led the bulk of his Can-Am Duel qualifying race before finishing fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr . is officially back. Today marks his return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , and no one is more pleased about it than the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports . "I really had fun," Earnhardt said Thursday evening after a strong return at a track where he's typically one of a handful of drivers expected to run well. "I hated to lose but still we have to be aware of how far we've come to get back here. To go out there and lead all those laps and be able to make some good smart moves, it felt great." The road back has been a long one for the 42-year-old Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of 2016 while recovering from a concussion. It marked the second time he had been sidelined by such an injury, and he admitted there were times he questioned what his racing future held. RELATED: Junior emerges from injury stronger, centered and ready to win "There was a lot of time during the recovery where there were days I was 90 percent sure I wasn't going to drive again," he said. "There were days when it was 50 percent. It was just moving all over the place depending on what I felt that day. Your recovery is up and down, you have good days and bad days. … "When it came down to it, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to drive anymore. I'm not going to race because of any other reason than I want to be out there." Earnhardt will roll off second alongside Elliott, the pole winner, for the 59th running of the Daytona 500. He is a two-time winner of the "Great American Race" and one of the favorites based on past success and this year's efforts thus far. RELATED: Chronicling Junior's return to racing " Dale Jr. in the 500 Restrictor-plate races are breeding grounds for multi-car crashes, with cars running two-, three- and sometimes four-wide, a dozen or more rows deep at 200 -plus mph. Earnhardt doesn't dwell on the possibility of another accident and what might result. "I don't want to wreck to sort of quantify my recovery," he said. "I think should that happen and I come out the other side of it feeling great, that will add a ton of confidence. I can't sit here and say that I know exactly how I'm going to react in those situations with confidence. So yeah, when I go through that process, there's a box or two to check that aren't checked yet." Three-time series champion Tony Stewart hung up his NASCAR uniform at the end of the '16 season. Two of Stewart's final four years driving for Stewart-Haas Racing were cut short due to injuries the Columbus, Indiana, native suffered in non-NASCAR events. But there was no apprehension about climbing back in the car following lengthy recovery periods, he said. "Never. It was more excitement to get back because you have to remember, we're drivers," Stewart, the winner of 49 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, said. "That's what we want to do, drive. "When you have an injury, all it is is a pain in the ass. It's keeping you from doing what you want to do. That's why you heard so many drivers praise Junior last year (when) he chose not to run. And that's hard." Fellow driver Martin Truex Jr . has a close relationship with Earnhardt -- the two were teammates from 2004-07 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and spend time away from the track each fall on hunting trips. "I know he's got a lot on his shoulders," Truex said. "A lot of people put a lot of pressure on him, obviously. I think in a lot of ways he sometimes feels like he needs to be here for other people. But hopefully he made the decision based on what's best for him. I think he did. I know he's excited about racing still. He obviously still loves it and wants to do it and hopefully things will all work out for him." It has been 20 races since Earnhardt won his last race and just five -- due to his shortened '16 season -- since his last top five. Sunday affords the opportunity to reset both those streaks. After that? He's yet to win a championship at NASCAR's top level, but has finished as high as third. And, yes, he did say if he wins the title in '17 "it would be hard to not call it a career." RELATED: Earnhardt Jr. would consider walking away as champion He has a new outlook and seems to be at peace with the road he's traveled. For the longest time, he said "I let racing be who I was instead of what I did. "Like Richard Petty said, I've got a whole other life beyond driving and I really believe that," Earnhardt said. "I've got a lot of things I'd love to do. Even outside of having a family, there are a lot of things in business that I'd love to see if I could succeed at. I think we got a glimpse of what that would be like; it looks pretty awesome." For now, though, the Daytona 500 and another season of crisscrossing the country await. And Earnhardt is more than OK with that. "Like I said, I crave to drive the car," he said. "I love the position I'm in with the team I'm with, (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys, and until that feeling … and that 'want' to be there is gone, I want to keep going." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
American Ethanol E15 names Chicagoland Truck race
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup kickoff weekend fueled by sponsor BUY: Chicagoland race tickets Chicagoland Speedway announced Tuesday that its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Sept. 18 will be known as the American Ethanol E15 225 (Sept. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). With support from Growth Energy, an official NASCAR Green partner, and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, American Ethanol will serve as the sponsor for the race leading into the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup event as the 10-race playoff for NASCAR's premier series opens at the Joliet, Illinois facility for the fifth consecutive year. "As we kick off our Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend, we are thrilled to welcome a partner as involved in the sport as American Ethanol ," Scott Paddock, president of Chicagoland Speedway, said in a track release. "Their commitment to reducing emissions through the cleaner burning ethanol fuel has been a vital part of NASCAR's Green Clean Air initiative. American Ethanol has proven to be a tremendous partner not only for Chicagoland Speedway, but for NASCAR's teams, fans and the industry as a whole." The event will be the 16th of the 23-race Camping World Truck Series schedule, and it will be the third event sponsored by American Ethanol , which served as a presenting sponsor for the June 13 American Ethanol Presents the Drivin' for Linemen 200 Brought to You by Ameren at Gateway Motorsports Park and as the title sponsor of the American Ethanol 200 on June 19 at Iowa Speedway. "Growth Energy is thrilled to sponsor the American Ethanol 225 and work in conjunction with Chicagoland Speedway and Illinois family corn growers to promote a homegrown, American fuel," Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, said in the track release. "The drivers at Chicagoland Speedway and across the nation rely on E15 for superior horsepower and performance, and as they will tell you, it delivers." Kyle Busch won last year's event for his fourth career Camping World Truck Series victory at Chicagoland. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Larson disappointed with finish, satisfied he 'could pass cars'
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Detailed breakdown DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kyle Larson could only shrug his shoulders and muster a smile standing on the far end of pit road following a heart-breakingly close effort at winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday. His No. 42 Target Chevrolet led Lap 199 of the 200 -lap race but he ran out of gas on the final half circuit, gliding around to finish 12th in NASCAR's "Great American Race." The 24-year-old Californian was both disappointed not to collect the trophy, but also quite encouraged to have run so well on his sport's biggest stage. "We had pitted on our window and thought I had saved enough (fuel)," Larson said. "We got single file there at the end but I knew we had to make a move and I had my fingers crossed I had saved enough. But we were half a lap short and lost the race. "Disappointing way to lose the 500, but satisfying to know we could pass cars and get to the lead and have fun. I tried my best to stay out of trouble and almost had a shot to win." Larson's Ganassi team looked strong leading into the sport's biggest race. His teammate Jamie McMurray was runner-up in Thursday's first Duel qualifier and he ran up front for significant time Sunday, too -- leading 13 laps and earning four points for his Stage 1 effort. He ultimately was caught up in a multicar accident on Lap 142 and finished 28th. Larson also picked up points in both stages -- enough to put him one point below fourth-place Daytona 500 finisher Aric Almirola in the overall standings at seventh. Larson earned five points for finishing sixth in Stage 1, and four points for finishing seventh in Stage 2. It shows great progress -- and promise -- at Daytona International Speedway giving him three straight top-12 showings. He was seventh in last year's Daytona 500 and sixth in the summer's Coke Zero 400 -- after finishing 34th or worse in his first four Cup starts at the track.
Albert: Hendrick, JGR, Penske should be prime players Sunday
RELATED: Daytona schedule " Starting lineup DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There's no such thing as a clear-cut favorite for Sunday's Daytona 500. After six days of on-track activity for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , several camps can lay claim to having an edge, but singling out one driver is akin to a roulette wheel's spin. "We come down here a lot of years. You kind of pick a guy," said Jamie McMurray , the 2010 champion of the 500 who will start third in this year's running. "If he finishes, he's going to be there in the end. I think there's 10 guys that have a legitimate shot to win this year." What is clear is that Sunday's winner of the Great American Race (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will have the benefit of a fast horse, potential assistance from teammates and the combination of an adept spotter and a frequently-used mirror. And if conventional wisdom holds serve, Team Penske , Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports should be the prime players in that game. Preliminary races -- Thursday's Duel qualifiers and last weekend's "The Clash" exhibition from a busy Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway -- have shown that a strong leading car has the ability to change lanes and stem the aerodynamic momentum from an onrushing line of cars. The Duels showed the powerful but precarious nature of leading: In the first 150-miler, polesitter Chase Elliott staved off the pack with a series of blocks to lead the final 24 laps. In the nightcap, Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- who led for 53 circuits -- zigged too late when Denny Hamlin zagged with two laps left, and Hamlin led an organized aero charge to the checkers. MORE: Logano wins 'The Clash' " Duel 1 results " Duel 2 results "Because the way the lanes form, it's just power in numbers," said Elliott, the 500's Coors Light Pole Award winner for the second straight year. "It's a power in what cars are lined up in what row, how they're stacked against you, whether they're two-wide or three-wide behind you. There certainly are guys that do a good job. Once they get out front they're tough to get by . We see that all the time at these places." RELATED: Elliott joins elite in back-to-back 'Great American Race' pole wins Momentum can be an intangible in other sports, the vibe of a winning streak or the underlying oomph of the tide turning in a certain game. In NASCAR -- and especially in the restrictor-plate genre of stock-car racing -- it's a palpable phenomenon. While aerodynamics can be a great equalizer for underdogs, the power of Penske's pair of Fords driven by Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski stands out. But so does the muscle flexed by defending 500 champion Hamlin and his flotilla of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. And it's unwise to count out Hendrick & Co.; which monopolized the front row in qualifying with Elliott and Earnhardt. MORE: Penske proves plate tracks take more than just luck One thing is all but certain, especially when it gets to crunch time with the Harley J. Earl Trophy on the line: The cat-and-mouse between the race leader and the pack will be more exacting, with far more take than give. "I'm sure that will be amped up Sunday," Elliott said after his Duel win. "I think it was similar to what you'll see."
FAQ for NASCAR's 2017 race format enhancements
RELATED: Full coverage of announcement " Official NASCAR press release Editor's note: Stage 1 for the Daytona 500 will end on Lap 60, Stage 2 will end on Lap 120 and Stage 3/race conclusion is slated to end on Lap 200 . NASCAR's race enhancements announced Monday detailed how and why races will be run in stages in 2017. Below are answers to some of the potential questions. How many stages are in a race? Three -- Stage 1, Stage 2 and the Final Stage. Stage 1 and Stage 2 will reward drivers who are leading, or in the top 10, at the conclusion of each stage. The Final Stage will determine the race winner. What is Stage 1? The green flag begins the race, and therefore Stage 1. Its length is approximately 25-30 percent of the event's total length -- it is different for each race, dependent on track size and race length -- with the ending marked via a stage checkered flag (the stage can end under caution, if necessary). Who benefits most? Drivers who are running first through 10th at the conclusion of Stage 1 will receive stage bonus points, starting with 10 points for first place, nine points for second place, down to one point for 10th place. Additionally, the driver who finishes Stage 1 first will receive one playoff point to carry into the postseason, should that driver qualify. Those can add up quickly over the course of a season. What about Stage 2? At the conclusion of Stage 1, there is a caution period for drivers to come down pit road (innovative strategies will be crucial under these enhancements.) Stage 2 will then begin with a drop of the green flag for the restart. Its length is approximately 25-30 percent of the event's total length -- it is different for each race, dependent on track size and race length -- with the ending marked via a stage checkered flag (the stage can end under caution, if necessary). What about Stage 2 bonus points? Same as Stage 1: Drivers who are running first through 10th at the conclusion of Stage 2 will receive stage bonus points, starting with 10 points for first place, nine points for second place, down to one point for 10th place. Additionally, the driver who finishes Stage 2 first will receive one playoff point to carry into the postseason. What about the final stage? Following another caution period, which gives fans another natural break in the action, the final stage begins with another green flag drop and restart. Drivers then race for the event win ... and the five bonus points that come with it. How are points distributed? The final stage produces the race results, so the end of the final stage is the end of the race. Whoever crosses the start/finish line first at the checkered flag is the race winner. Race points are then awarded to the entire field based on finishing order. The winner receives 40 points. Second place receives 35 points, third place receives 34 points, fourth place receives 33 points ... down to one point for drivers who finish 36th-40th. The maximum points a driver can earn in a race is 60 (40 for the race win plus 20 points for winning both stages). There no longer will be a bonus point for leading a lap, or a bonus point for leading the most laps. And the winner? The race winner receives five bonus points toward the postseason (this is up from three last year under the new enhancements), plus postseason eligibility. If a driver leads at the end of both Stage 1 and Stage 2, and then wins the race, then he or she would receive seven bonus points to carry into the postseason. For which series were these enhancements designed? The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will all use this enhanced format. By rewarding hard racing through the duration of the season, will there be an official regular-season champion? Yes, there formally will be a regular-season champion. That driver will earn 15 additional playoff points to carry into the postseason. Any more bonus points for points standings at the end of the regular season? Yes. In addition to the regular-season champion, drivers who finish in the top 10 of the regular season all receive some measure of playoff points to take into the postseason. Here's the breakdown: First place in regular season points earns a driver 15 playoff bonus points in addition to the points earned with race or stage wins; second place earns 10 playoff points; third place, 8; fourth place, 7; fifth place, 6; sixth place, 5; seventh place, 4; eighth place, 3; ninth place, 2; 10th place, 1. In this enhanced format, when is a race official? At the conclusion of Stage 2. How does the postseason work? Once the postseason begins, points will be reset to 2,000 for the opening round, with each driver's accrued bonus points tacked onto that total. Four drivers still will be eliminated in each round of the postseason, setting up a final four in Miami for all three national series. What is the tweak for playoff points? Playoff points earned for race wins or for leading at the end of Stage 1 or Stage 2 now will carry over round- by -round if a driver continues advancing. It's not just for the first round any more. Additionally, drivers can build off and add to those bonus points. So if a driver has 70 playoff points heading into the postseason, and then wins the playoff opener (five-point bonus), he or she would advance to the next round and carry 75 additional points -- or more, depending on his or her results over the next two races in the round. Does winning a race in the postseason still automatically qualify that driver for the next round, regardless of points? Yes. Winning trumps all. Will bonus points still carry over to Miami? No. Miami is the exception. All four drivers competing for the championship will start with the same amount of points. There will be no bonus points for this race for those final four drivers. First to the line wins the title.
Denny Hamlin, girlfriend Jordan Fish expecting second child
It's official: The Daytona 500 is a very special day for Denny Hamlin . Last year's "Great American Race" saw the Joe Gibbs Racing wheelman win by the smallest margin of victory in race history (.010 seconds) over Martin Truex Jr . And the 2017 event became perhaps even more memorable than 2016 even before the race went green, as Hamlin's longtime girlfriend, Jordan Fish, announced the pair were expecting baby No. 2 in the sweetest way. It's gonna be a good day, and an even better year!! Happy #DaytonaDay pic.twitter.com/jN0iZpsAxH — Jordan Fish (@missjfish) February 26, 2017 The couple are already parents to 4-year-old Taylor, who seems pretty excited to become a big sister. Congrats to the entire family!