The First-timer's guide to the Daytona 500
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Read more Inside Groove So, you’ve decided to attend your first NASCAR race -- how exciting! You’ve chosen the Daytona 500 , the greatest spectacle of stock car racing, conquered by heroes like Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and Trevor Bayne . Here are some tips and tricks on how you can make your maiden trip to this year's Daytona 500 the most enjoyable experience at the track possible. -- Wear sunscreen! The sun is hot in Daytona Beach. It's common practice to wear a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of your favorite driver's car number. Don't have a favorite driver yet? Jamie McMurray is a popular choice -- he's No. 1, really. --During the race, you'll hear a lot of people seated around you shouting, "Go Dale Jr.!" This is normal. Junior Nation has been asked to remind their driver to keep going -- he's been out of the car for a few months and his fans are trying to be helpful in case he forgot how to do his job. -- Purchase tickets well in advance of the Daytona 500 ! You can no longer arrive at the hallowed grounds of motorsports and expect to answer the Grand Marshal's three riddles to gain entry to the race. Times have indeed changed. -- Bump drafting is NOT encouraged in the line for the bathrooms. Trust me. Leave it to the professionals. -- On Lap 14 of the Daytona 500 , you'll be asked to hold up 14 fingers in honor of the now-retired Tony Stewart . Be sure to comply, lest you be ribbed and taunted by fellow racegoers for the remainder of the event. -- It's customary to perform "the wave" on each of the race's 200 laps as the pack races by where you're seated. Remind your neighbors of this if they forget. -- If you fall off your boat into Lake Lloyd, simply put yourself in a bag of rice for 24 hours to dry off. -- It'll be SUPER awkward walking into the track wearing your Scott Speed 2012 team t-shirt. Stop by the merchandise tent as soon as possible if that's the case. -- Upon gaining entry to the track, you'll be handed a race program that explains the race festivities. It's part of your ticket agreement with the track that you list the program for sale on eBay immediately following completion of the race. -- When 40 cars bolt past you at full speed after the green flag waves, the noise can be rather startling. Most race car drivers, however, are quite respectful if you give them a "shush" as they race on. Don't be shy -- race car drivers are people, too, and they're happy to comply with a fan's polite request! -- In the event of rain, the race will be delayed until the track is sufficiently dried. Avoid sitting in the grandstands for hours, thinking the cars will come back around the track any time now -- it's quite likely the cars are actually stopped on pit road, disguised by car covers! -- Do not utter the words, "Drivers, start your engines!" before the official command is given by the Grand Marshal. Reciting this phrase could startle drivers into accidentally starting their race cars sooner than expected -- and you don't want responsibility for that magnitude of disaster on your hands. -- Open bowls of cereal are not permitted in the facility. Finish those flakes and leave your bowl in the car before you attend The Great American Race! Better yet, meet up with other racing/cereal enthusiasts at one of the designated "cereal bowl zones" in the parking lot outside the track. -- You'll notice the cars look quite a bit different in person than they do on TV. That's simply because the camera adds ten pounds. Enjoy your slimmed and unfettered view of those speed machines! -- When there's a crash on the track, the cars always seem to end up at the end of skid marks. That means trouble! When you start to see skid marks appear, recite the customary Daytona skid marks chant to alert race fans around you: " Women and men 'round these hallowed grounds; hark -- now rise -- for trouble abounds!" -- Before the race begins, airplanes will fly in formation over the track -- this is called the "fly-over" and it's perfectly normal. Don't feel embarrassed -- you didn't accidentally go to the air show instead of the biggest race of the NASCAR season! -- Most food vendors within the gates of the race track do not offer free refills on cans of Monster Energy. -- Speaking of food vendors, try out some Daytona 500 specialties! Ask for the secret menu to get access to delicacies like "Race Puppies," "Busch Ears," "Cassill Greens," "Dale's Famous Gus Drops," and Daytona's own "Pasta Logano," named after the 2015 winner of The Great American Race. -- Fellow fans wearing a shirt bearing your favorite driver are required to return all high-fives and fist bumps. Promptly report any suspicious refusals to return high-fives to track security. -- If you forget to print out this guide and bring it with you to the track, just remember DAYTONA: -- DAY le Earnhardt, Jr. is a common driver for whom you can cheer in case you forget the name of your favorite driver -- TON y Stewart isn't racing in the Daytona 500 this year -- he retired. (Remember, 14 fingers on Lap 14!) -- A good idea would have been to print out the First Timer's Daytona 500 Guide. Most of all, have fun and enjoy yourself! In most cases, you can head back home at the conclusion of the race. It's the mark of a Daytona novice to accidentally sit in the grandstands for weeks following the race -- don't embarrass yourself! &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
Ryan Reed wins 'Big One'-filled XFINITY Series opener
'Cars 3' gears up for season-long ride with NASCAR
SHOP: Cars 3 NASCAR-related merchandise RELATED: Drivers thrilled to be a part of Cars 3 DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. -- Disney•Pixar's "Cars 3" is teaming up with NASCAR this year as crowd favorite Lightning McQueen prepares to return to the big screen June 16. Plans for the joint effort were shared by "Cars 3" director Brian Fee, Cristela Alonzo -- the voice of the film's elite trainer Cruz Ramirez -- and NASCAR's vice president of entertainment marketing and content development, Zane Stoddard, today at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida as fans gear up for the DAYTONA 500 (Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on FOX). Owen Wilson, the voice of Lightning McQueen, will serve as grand marshal for the 59th annual "Great American Race." NASCAR drivers Chase Elliott , Ryan Blaney , Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace will join NASCAR legends Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty as voices in the upcoming film. "'Cars 3' very much pays homage to stock car racing and its rich history," Fee said. "Our story leans into the drama, emotion and excitement NASCAR fans find at every race." "We're excited to take part in delivering the 'Cars 3' experience to our current and next generation of fans, at-track, in school, online and across the country," Stoddard added. "In addition to all the engaging NASCAR 'Cars 3' elements industry-wide, we think our fans will really enjoy the roles of several young drivers in the film." According to Lylle Breier, senior vice president worldwide marketing partnerships and special events for the Walt Disney Studios, the movie inspired an expanded program with NASCAR. "This collaboration marks the biggest between the 'Cars' franchise and NASCAR," Breier said. "We're looking forward to a fun and exciting season-long program with a host of activities." FAST FORWARD Kicking off at the DAYTONA 500 with the premiere of a new on-air promo, the NASCAR-"Cars 3" collaboration continues throughout the entire race season. * The joint effort will include a variety of marketing initiatives, including digital and social cross promotional activities and sweepstakes. * Throughout the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , races will feature a "Cars 3" at-track presence via a wide array of promotions. * A co-branded merchandise program with Fanatics -- the first of its kind for NASCAR and the "Cars" franchise -- will also kick off at the DAYTONA 500 featuring the first film-related product available for fans to purchase. Product will be available at the Fanatics Trackside Superstore continuing at race tracks throughout the season, as well as online at the NASCAR.com Superstore . * NASCAR Acceleration Nation, the sport's youth program, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be featured throughout the duration of a "Cars 3" nationwide tour. * Later this year, NASCAR and Disney will release NASCAR Acceleration Nation and "Cars 3" co-branded in-classroom learning materials for elementary school students. THE VOICES OF NASCAR The announcement included the introduction of NASCAR greats -- from rookie drivers and legends to the voices behind the sport -- tapped by Pixar Animation Studios to voice characters in the film. * CHASE ELLIOTT , 21, was named 2016's Sunoco Rookie of the Year after finishing last season 10th in the driver standings. Elliott, who pilots the No. 24 car previously driven by four-time champion Jeff Gordon , lends his voice to second-generation Piston Cup racer CHASE RACELOTT in "Cars 3." Racelott's blend of skills, track smarts and top-of-the-line technology make this rookie a real contender. * RYAN BLANEY , a 23-year-old, third-generation racer, pilots the No. 21 Ford in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. He voices third-generation racer RYAN "INSIDE" LANEY in "Cars 3." Known for his racing passion and ability to have fun on the track, Laney races with talent, speed and precision. * DANIEL SUÁREZ , who just turned 25, pilots the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . The 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion can be heard in the film voicing DANNY SWERVEZ, a next-gen racer who's ascending the Piston-Cup ladder against all odds. A mid-season replacement, Swervez is a quick learner who pushes himself to the limit. * BUBBA WALLACE , 23, won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in 2013, becoming the first African-American to win in one of the top three touring divisions since Wendell Scott in 1963. In "Cars 3," Wallace voices next-gen stock car racer BUBBA WHEELHOUSE, a fast and tenacious young racer who knows how to win. * DARRELL WALTRIP , the NASCAR Hall of Fame racer-turned-NASCAR on FOX color analyst lends his voice to DARRELL CARTRIP. Cartrip, a veteran Piston-Cup announcer also heard in "Cars" and "Cars 2," may think he's seen it all -- but this new season might still have a surprise or two in store. * SHANNON SPAKE , NASCAR on FOX correspondent and college football and basketball reporter for FOX Sports, voices on-the-track reporter SHANNON SPOKES in the film. Spokes weaves her way into the middle of the action for in-the-moment interviews, and she's not afraid to ask racers the tough questions. * HOWARD AUGUSTINE "HUMPY" WHEELER JR ., the legendary NASCAR promoter and former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway , lends his voice to iconic Dinoco team owner TEX DINOCO in "Cars 3." Tex, who met Lightning McQueen in "Cars," would love nothing more than to see No. 95 decked out in Dinoco blue. * JEFF GORDON , four-time NASCAR champion, current NASCAR on FOX analyst, and story consultant for "Cars 3," lends his voice to JEFF GORVETTE. Gorvette, whose number of top-10 finishes remains unmatched, may have hung up his racing tires -- but his heart remains on the track. His ability to succeed at all levels turned hoods wherever he raced. * RICHARD "THE KING" PETTY , team owner and champion NASCAR driver with 200 wins, returns to the role of STRIP "THE KING" WEATHERS. From his humble beginnings on the Piston-Cup circuit to the glitzy sponsorship and media attention, the champion racer now serves as crew chief for his nephew, Cal Weathers. * KYLE PETTY , retired NASCAR driver and current NASCAR commentator on NBC, helps bring CAL WEATHERS to life in "Cars 3." Weathers grew up around the track watching his uncle, Strip "The King" Weathers, tear it up. The veteran racer finds himself taking a step back to make room for the next generation on the track. * MIKE JOY is FOX Sports' lead NASCAR announcer who will call his 38th DAYTONA 500 this Sunday. He lends his iconic voice to on-the-spot radio talk show host MIKE JOYRIDE in the movie. Joyride stays one step ahead in the racing news game by keeping a keen eye on where the racing season is headed. * RAY EVERNHAM , winner of three NASCAR championships as crew chief for Jeff Gordon and current consultant to Hendrick Motorsports , lends his voice to RAY REVERHAM, Jackson Storm's crew chief, and an expert at training in the cutting edge technology and tactics being used by the next-gen racers. Evernham also serves as a story consultant for filmmakers. LIFE-SIZED CHARACTERS NASCAR fans can picture themselves with Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez -- or at least life-sized cars designed to look like the big-screen characters. The Cruz Ramirez lookalike premiered in Daytona on Thursday, alongside No. 95 -- the Lightning McQueen car made its debut at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January. Comedian and actress Cristela Alonzo got to hang with her character lookalike at the event. "I am excited to be here as race fans get to see these two life-sized characters together for the first time," Alonzo said. The Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez lookalike cars are slated to make appearances at select races throughout the season as part of a "Cars 3" nationwide tour. Joining them on the tour will be a lookalike of Lightning McQueen's on-track rival, Jackson Storm. GOING GRAND As previously announced, Owen Wilson, the voice of Lightning McQueen, will serve as grand marshal of the DAYTONA 500 this Sunday, Feb. 26. Wilson has provided the voice of the red car in all of the "Cars" films. ABOUT THE MOVIE Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that No. 95 isn't through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing's biggest stage! Directed by Brian Fee (storyboard artist "Cars," "Cars 2") and produced by Kevin Reher ("A Bug's Life," "La Luna" short), "Cars 3" cruises into theaters on June 16. &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;gt;
Dale Jr. jumps back into familiar surroundings with plenty of speed
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! " RELATED: Junior through the years DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . didn't take any credit for his qualifying effort Sunday, a 192.864 mph lap that put his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the front row for next week's season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . "Ain't much to it," Earnhardt quipped. "The car does all the work." Earnhardt, twice a winner of the "Great American Race," won't be on the pole, but he'll start alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott , giving the team a front-row sweep for the second time in the last three years. His previous wins in the 500 came from third (in 2004) and ninth ('14). Earnhardt is regarded as one of the best at restrictor-plate racing but qualifying is a solo effort. There are no other cars off which to pick up a push or gain an advantage. It's all about horsepower. But there's a bit of technique required as well. "The transitions are kind of important as far as feeding the car into the corner and also running as tight as you can on the apron without bouncing the skirt off the apron or giving up any speed , or just time adding feet to your lap by running high, at least a little bit, can make a big difference," he said. "But other than that, the driver, I don't think he's feeling like he's in control of too much. The car is doing most of the work." Sidelined for the last half of the 2016 season after suffering concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt is eager to be back behind the wheel. He chose not to compete in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, instead allowing Alex Bowman to field his entry. Bowman had won the pole at Phoenix driving in relief of Earnhardt last fall, a distinction that Earnhardt said earned the driver the opportunity. But after spending "The Clash" working as an analyst in the booth for Fox Sports, Earnhardt traded in his suit and tie for a firesuit, and eased his way back into more familiar surroundings. He was second-fastest in the opening round of qualifying; Elliott ended the session atop the board. In the final round, the No. 88 went to the top of the board with only one driver, Elliott, remaining. "I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man is happy," Earnhardt said of team owner Rick Hendrick. "I just talked to him on the phone and he's got to be thrilled with having his cars up front." Elliott's final-round run, a lap of 192.872 mph, gave the Dawsonville, Georgia, youngster his second consecutive Daytona 500 pole. It was the third straight No. 1 qualifying effort for his No. 24 team, which also started out front here in '15 with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon behind the wheel. "Obviously Dale is good down here, and we all knew he was going to be fast today," Elliott, 21, said. "That's no surprise. But I don't really care who it is. I'm not going to feel bad about beating somebody. "It's cool to share a front row with a teammate is really the biggest thing I look at with that. But Dale is a good guy. I'm happy to share the front row with him, but happier to beat him, obviously, but regardless of who it is, that's what you're trying to do, you know." Elliott and Earnhardt were the only two drivers to officially lock in their starting positions for next weekend's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The remainder of the field will be determined through the Can-Am Duels, a pair of 150-lap qualifying races scheduled for Thursday evening (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Need for speed ? Rolex 24 set to kick off motorsports season
RELATED: Full Rolex 24 schedule DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway has traditionally marked the start of Speedweeks and ushered in the beginning of the American motorsports season. This year it will also coronate IMSA's new prototype race cars billed as "the fastest, most technologically advanced machines ever in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship." It's a big week, to say the least. The 55-car field will set the starting grid today (Thursday) during pole qualifying on the 3.56-mile Daytona road course. The twice around-the-clock race starts at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday (coverage begins on FOX) and will feature NASCAR superstar and four-time champion Jeff Gordon among a long list of highly-decorated sports car stars like his Wayne Taylor Racing co-drivers Max Angelelli and brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor. It's Gordon's second Rolex start after finishing third overall with the team in 2007. New full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Austin Cindric will compete in the Daytona GT class. Longtime NASCAR road course racing standout Boris Said and IndyCar stars like Sebastien Bourdais, Indy 500 champions such as Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay to Indy 500 polewinner and Dancing With the Stars talent, James Hinchcliffe are on the entry list. They will all compete with sports car’s best like five-time Rolex winner Scott Pruett whose driving in the GT Daytona (GTD) class -- at 27 entries the largest of the four classes – and longtime prototype driver Scott Sharp. Six-time winner Chip Ganassi Racing -- the winningest team in Rolex history -- will field four cars with an all-star lineup in the GT LeMans class. Former Rolex winner Joey Hand will co-drive with sports car star Dirk Mueller and three-time IndyCar champ Bourdais. Open-wheel star-turned-sports car driver Ryan Briscoe will co-drive with Dixon in another car and former Indy 500 champ Kanaan will be among four drivers splitting the time in two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK cars. </p>
Twelve cars affected in 'Big One' in XFINITY opener
The "Big One" occurred in the waning laps of Stage 1 in the XFINITY Series Daytona opener with 12 cars involved. During a Lap 26 restart -- following a 20-car wreck on Lap 23 -- the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of polesitter Brandon Jones , the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevy of Justin Allgaier and the No. 21 RCR Chevrolet of Daniel Hemric got loose, sparking the melee. Both Jones and Allgaier hit the wall hard, bringing the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Daniel Suarez with them. Roush Fenway Racing 's Darrell Wallace Jr . and JGR teammates Matt Tifft and Erik Jones were affected as well. Other cars in the wreck included Chris Cockrum , Harrison Rhodes , Brandon Hightower , Scott Lagasse Jr. and Blake Koch . “I think the 7 got turned by somebody and I saw Erik didn’t lift, so I didn’t lift and we were trying to go through the middle, and I think me and Daniel collided there," Wallace said. "It was just unfortunate circumstances that put us there. We probably looked like a boy band group walking out all together, but I just hate it for my guys." NASCAR quickly parked the field under red-flag conditions. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;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;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Snapshot: Daytona 500
RELATED: NASCAR 101: Format fast facts " Complete starting lineup At a Glanc e Where: Daytona International Speedway , 2.5-mile tri-oval in Daytona Green flag: 2:30 p.m. ET Stage lengths: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60, Stage 2 ends on Lap 120, Stage 3/race slated to end on Lap 200 TV/Radio: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Forecast: Sunny with a high temperature of 68 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. North-northeast winds of 10 to 15 mph, with gusts up to 20 mph National anthem: Jordin Sparks, starring in "God Bless the Broken Road," DAV Ambassador Grand Marshal: Actor Owen Wilson Race distance: 200 laps, 500 miles Pit road speed : 55 mph Caution car speed : 70 mph &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR.com reporters make national series predictions
RELATED: Key changes in NASCAR " Fast facts on race enhancements NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce, Holly Cain, Zack Albert and Jonathan Merryman make their predictions for the 2017 NASCAR season: KENNY BRUCE NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Timothy Peters . Rebounds from winless '16 to ride the Red Horse to the title. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . So close a year ago; his JRM team is rock solid. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . Stepping into a title-contending car; just needs seat time to become a challenger. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Daniel Suarez . There will be hurdles for last year's XFINITY Series champ, but he's proven to be a quick study. Daytona 500 pick: Kyle Busch . It's one of the few accomplishments left for one of NASCAR's best. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick : Switch to Ford proves to be a non-issue for 2014 champion. Joey Logano : Simple game plan: Get to the front and stay there. Kyle Busch : Bad-fast car. Extremely talented driver and team. Martin Truex Jr .: Team makes silly speed ; gotta be there at the end, though. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Joey Logano . Can win a slew of races or be crazy consistent. This year he could do both. HOLLY CAIN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: John Hunter Nemechek . My repeat pick from 2016, but hoping the right (generous) sponsor sees this young talent and he gets the backing to match his potential. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler -- The veteran has been oh-so-close and this is the year it all comes together for him. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . The Furniture Row Racing 's newest team member is super-talented, highly motivated and knows how to shine even among such fantastic first-year talent. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Kasey Kahne . This will be a resurgent year for the talented 17-time Cup winner who is ready to remind people of his place in the sport. Out front. Daytona 500 pick: Denny Hamlin . Daytona has been Hamlin's playground and he's poised to be the first back-to-back 500 winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95. Championship 4: Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch and Joey Logano will decide the Cup after hugely competitive playoffs that ends in a history-making moment. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Jimmie Johnson . Reigning champ makes history with his eighth title. ZACK ALBERT NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Christopher Bell . The 22-year-old standout bookends a season that started with a Chili Bowl victory with his first national series crown. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: William Byron . A hotshot rookie for the title? Gobs of talent and JR Motorsports resources go a long way. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . First-year driver steps into a well-established team that contends for victories. Surprise playoffs qualifier: AJ Allmendinger . Planets align for the No. 47 team at one of the series' two road-course visits. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski. Team Penske 's strength shows, with one of the best in the restrictor-plate biz leading the charge in the "Great American Race." Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Denny Hamlin , Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski . The cream rises, with four organizations and all three manufacturers represented in the final bracket. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Denny Hamlin. He's been on the podium three times before. In 2017, Hamlin should make it to the top step. JONATHAN MERRYMAN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Matt Crafton . Great, consistent racer. That style will fit the new format. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . Coming off of a solid 2016, the No. 1 JRM team should be in position to win it all. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup NASCAR Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . Seat time in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car in 2015 should help the rookie seal the deal. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Erik Jones . I think the rookie wins a race in 2017 clinching a playoff berth. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski , with four wins at Talladega and one win at Daytona in the summer of 2016, Keselowski has quickly become one of the best plate-racers in NASCAR. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch . All four consistently finish races and have multiple win seasons. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Kevin Harvick . Mr. "Where did he come from?" has turned in to Mr. Consistency over the past few seasons. Consistency combined with the new points format should complement Harvick well.
Blaney's Daytona runner-up finish an early-season victory
RELATED: Results " Standings " Blaney amongst sport's next class of greats DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – All things considered, Ryan Blaney 's runner-up finish in Sunday's Daytona 500 was essentially an early season victory for the 23-year old driver. He started from the rear of the field in a backup No. 21 Motorcraft Ford, avoiding several multiple-car crashes and surviving a final-lap push to the front despite concerns about running out of gas. Any runner-up finisher – especially one in the Daytona 500 – would concede some disappointment on the day, but Blaney still left Daytona Beach deservedly feeling accomplished. And encouraged. "I thought we had a good car all day to start off," Blaney said. "We showed that definitely in the first half of the race. Then we got some damage there in one of those big wrecks about middle of the race. Kind of hurt our car a little bit." But, Blaney explained, he finally got some well-timed help going forward in the final laps. "I started kind of running out the gas there into (Turn 3), we started sputtering pretty bad," Blaney said. "Luckily made it back to the line. It was a good showing for us. It was a good way to start off the year. Stinks to be so close. But I think that's good momentum for our team, to be good at the beginning of the day, get some damage and be able to rally for a good finish." While Blaney's final lap effort was certainly dramatic, his Wood Brothers Racing team felt all along the car was good enough to challenge for the trophy. And that Blaney was good enough to challenge for the trophy. Blaney joked that not having his "rookie stripe" -- or yellow tape -- on the rear of his Ford may have helped encourage the veterans to stick with him. Of course, driving a super-fast car doesn't hurt either. "I thought our car in the Duel race was spectacular and it's a shame it got torn up, but our backup car was honestly, I felt like, just as good," Blaney said. "We came from the back really early and were able to drive up through the middle, and our car handled correctly where we could be up the middle and be aggressive when the time was right. We were able to stay up there." Blaney's crew chief Jeremy Bullins said he will arrive in Atlanta later this week feeling very encouraged by the work of the team and his driver. "Obviously, we showed speed in the 150s [Daytona qualifying race], but we tore that car up," Bullins said. "It was an easy decision to get this car out. It was built just the same, just as fast. Had a good car all day, got ourselves up front pretty quick, got a little bit of damage a couple of times and had to work on it a little bit, but phenomenal job by Ryan of timing his moves and getting back through there at the end. "We knew we were close on fuel, got him to save a little bit, which was just enough to get us to the end. Almost where we wanted to be, but really close." It is Blaney's best Daytona finish in four races (three Daytona 500 starts) and places him second in the series points standings heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway – all in all, an impressive mark for him and a fine start to the season. "Any time you get a good finish anywhere, no matter what track, it always propels you into the next week," Blaney said. "Maybe it feels a little better when it's the Daytona 500. "It doesn't mean your car is going to be great when you go to Atlanta [next week], doesn't mean your car is going to be great when you go out West. Until you get nine or 10 in, then you can kind of get a good judge of how your cars are and where your team stacks up. "No matter where it is, if you get a good finish, it definitely helps your team confidence‑wise for the next week and maybe a couple weeks after that."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. busy in final Daytona 500 tune-up
RELATED: Final practice results In Saturday’s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, Dale Earnhardt Jr . ran 30 laps at Daytona International Speedway , second only to the 36 posted by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne . The No. 88 team changed from a qualifying engine to the race engine after practice on Friday, a practice customary at the Daytona 500. But Earnhardt found his car less responsive with the new engine; in addition, the car developed a slight vibration that led to the team changing drive shafts in the car. "We changed the motor and went to the race engine today, took the qualifying motor out last night," Earnhardt explained. "I thought our car was a little better yesterday in practice. In the pack, it would develop runs a little bit better. It just seemed like I had to get a little luckier today with what was happening behind me, where yesterday the car would do some things or develop some things kind of on its own. "The thing about that is every time you get out there -- you might not even change anything -- it just depends on what kind of pack you get in, what kind of cars are around you, and your car's performance can change and kind of fool you a little bit. I'm just hoping that today was a little more laid back, not quite as many cars out there, not quite as active in the draft, and maybe that’s why we didn't see our car respond like it did yesterday." RELATED: Junior's Daytona 500 history The vibration was of particular concern. "You worry about that, because any kind of thing that is out of balance is going to hurt that straight-line speed ," Earnhardt said. "We tried to work on that and were able to fix it right there on that last run. It's just simple stuff like flipping drive shafts and things like that. "You want to get all that out of there so you don't have any doubts about anything holding your car back. Otherwise, it's been really uneventful. We haven't had any issues or problems with the car mechanically, and nothing happened on the race track, so it looks like we are going to get this thing on the grid tomorrow and ready to go." The change in drive shafts won't affect Earnhardt's second-place starting position on Sunday.
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