2019 NASCAR Preview: Week 1 – Daytona 500

Gentlemen, start your engines..

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We’ve had Qualifying, a Clash, two Duel races to set the field, a Truck race, an Xfinity race, and five separate Cup practices.  All that is left at Daytona is the granddaddy of them all, the Daytona 500.  Officially just hours away, 40 men find it very hard to sleep tonight.  Here’s what to look for in the daylight:

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Pictured: 4 Fords in the Top 6 at the finish of Duel Race 2. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images)

–The Fords are now Mustangs, and have been running wild all week.  They qualified well (though the headlines went to Hendrick Motorsports) and have raced even better.  Paul Menard had the Advance Auto Parts Clash all sewn up until Jimmie Johnson and Mother Nature intervened.  Then came the Duels on Thursday night where Stewart-Haas driver Kevin Harvick took Race 1 and Penske’s Joey Logano claimed Race 2.  That was the first time since 1982 that one manufacturer swept both Duel races.  Look for a heavy blue oval presence on Sunday up front; starting positions 3-8 are all Fords.

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William Byron (right) poses for a photo after winning the pole award with second place Alex Bowman (left) after the Hendrick Motorsports teammates led qualifying for the Daytona 500. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

–Hendrick Motorsports has both front row cars, something that has become a bit of a habit for them.  With cars prepared to dominate wind tunnels, William Byron and Alex Bowman will have clean air early.  Qualifying and racing are two different things, however, and may not have what it takes to jockey all race.  That said, Johnson did make his way to the front for the Clash win (after spinning out Paul Menard and the majority of the field), and encountered trouble in his Duel race with an incident with Kyle Busch.  Those around the new-sponsor, new-crew chief #48 will be on high alert, and patience will probably wear thin quickly.

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Jimmie Johnson looks on from a giant screen as Martin Truex Jr.’s crew examines the damage done to his car after The Big One in The Clash. (Photo Credit: Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media)

–Joe Gibbs Racing cast out Daniel Suarez (who is now driving a Ford vacated by Kurt Busch who is driving a Chevy vacated by Jamie McMurray..) and reeled in 2017 Cup Champion Martin Truex Jr.  With the #78 team shuttering their doors this offseason, JGR remains the only big Toyota team out there.  In addition to Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, the aforementioned Truex, and their teammate Erik Jones (who won the last Daytona Cup race back in July), the only other Toyota cars are Matt DiBenedetto and Parker Kligerman in the #96 (who raced his way in on Thursday).  DiBenedetto actually has the best starting position of all of them in the Leavine Family Racing #95, rolling off 9th; he finished 7th last year.

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Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray talk in the garage before Friday’s final practice. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Jamie McMurray will put on that firesuit one more time before joining the FOX Sports team.  The 2010 Daytona 500 winner will have teammate Kurt Busch in the #1 (his old ride), and 38 other drivers who’d rather win than he.  It is actually his worst track by average, but he’s got two wins there.  Plenty of drivers through history don’t even have one.  He starts 16th.

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It’ll be impossible for Corey LaJoie’s car to avoid “hairy” situations at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey | Getty Images)

–The Underdog always finds a way to the front in this one, either through sheer luck or indomitable patience.  Chris Buescher scored not one but TWO Top 5s at Daytona last year.  Bubba Wallace almost won the 500 as a Rookie before Austin Dillon took the checkers.  Brendan Gaughan seems to do well on a yearly basis, and then you’ve got Corey LaJoie with one of the wildest wraps I’ve ever seen.  Sponsored by Old Spice (who else), his scheme is his own head and his mouth is where the grill is.  Yep.

 

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The rest of the carnage that Jimmie Johnson wrought in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway. This is what he did with 20 cars, there’ll be 40 on Sunday. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images)

The season starts with the drop of the green flag, coverage on FOX starts at 2:30pm.

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