By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
The start of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is officially here and with it comes the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500.
For 60 years, drivers have been making the pilgrimage to the Daytona high banks to win the sport’s most prestigious race and write themselves into the record book as Daytona 500 champion. Many have attempted it, but only a select few have been able to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy in victory lane at the end of the day. Some go their entire careers without being able to accomplish that feat.
Sunday’s race will have eight former Daytona 500 winners in the field, including: Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch. Johnson is the only multiple time winner among them with two Daytona 500 victories.
Will we see a new face in victory lane on Sunday, or will it be one of the grizzled veterans flexing their muscles to make another trip to that hallowed ground? 500 miles will tell the tale.
By the Numbers
What: 60th Annual Daytona 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 1 of 36
Where: Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida (Opened: 1959)
When: February 18, 2018
TV/Radio: FOX, 2:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 2.5-mile tri-oval
Banking: 31 degrees in turns, 18 degrees in tri-oval, 6 degrees on straightaways
Race Length: 200 laps, 500 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 60 laps each, Final stage – 80 laps
Pit Road Speed: 55 mph
Pace Car Speed: 70 mph
2017 Daytona 500 Winner: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (Started 8th, One lap led)
2017 July Daytona Winner: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 17 Ford (Started 6th, 17 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Bill Elliott (42.783 seconds, 210.364 mph – 02/15/1987)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Daytona:
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 93.4 – 1 win
- Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 90.0 – 1 win
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 89.0 – 1 win
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 87.6 – 3 wins
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 86.4 – 1 win
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 84.3 – Best finish: 2nd
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 82.7 – 2 wins
- Kasey Kahne – No. 95 Chevrolet – 82.5 – Best finish: 2nd
- Jamie McMurray – No. 1 Chevrolet – 80.6 – 2 wins
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 80.5 – 1 win
At this point, we’re halfway through Speedweeks at Daytona, with both pole qualifying and the Advance Auto Parts Clash having been run last Sunday.
The front row will have journeyman driver and new full-time driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman rolling off from the pole, while 2016 Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin, will join him in second.
Brad Keselowski helped keep Ford’s restrictor plate dominance going with a win in the Clash to keep the Blue Oval win streak going into 2018 after the manufacturer has won the last seven points-paying superspeedway races, dating back to May 2016 at Talladega.
With those two events complete, all attention turns to Sunday’s Daytona 500 and the two Can-Am Duel races on Thursday that will set the remainder of the field. While we have had drama in the Duels in recent years with more cars entered that the field would allow, there won’t be any of that this year as just 40 cars showed up for the 40 positions on the starting grid.
From the Driver’s Seat
“You always hear people talk about how winning the Daytona 500 is different than winning any other race,” said 2007 Daytona 500 winner, Kevin Harvick. “Once experiencing that, I would definitely say that it’s true just because everything you do at Speedweeks during the Daytona 500 weekend is just bigger and different than any other race you go to. So, winning our sport’s most prestigious race is pretty cool and something you would definitely like to experience again.
“Winning the Daytona 500 almost makes your whole year, just for the fact that it is the Daytona 500 and the amount of notoriety and things that come with it for your team and organization are pretty high.”
Last Year’s Results
It’s not often that a Daytona 500 comes down to fuel mileage, but last year, it did.
Chase Elliott had his No. 24 Chevrolet up front for 23 of the final 26 laps, but with fuel becoming an issue for the majority of the leaders, Elliott included, disaster struck for the Hendrick Motorsports driver with just three laps to go as his car started to sputter down the backstretch, handing the lead over to Martin Truex, Jr.
Truex would suffer the same fate, as would Kyle Larson, who was the next to assume the lead on the penultimate lap.
When Larson’s tank ran dry, Kurt Busch was there to pounce, taking over the lead and never looking back en route to not only his first Daytona 500 win, but his first win at a restrictor plate race, period. Hell of a way to check that one off the list.
Ryan Blaney finished second, followed by AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, and Paul Menard to round out the top-five.
“It was an amazing win,” said Busch. “The prestige, history and value of that race and just being part of it over the years was special. Now, to go back there as the defending champion of the Daytona 500 gives me that much more motivation to do it again and make sure nobody shares in all the glory. It was a huge day. With Monster’s CEO there and announcing the entitlement sponsorship and, for us, getting back together for me with Ford. I couldn’t have written more of a fairy tale-type of race.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Thursday, February 15
- MENCS Can-Am Duel No. 1 (7:00 pm – 60 laps, 150 miles – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Can-Am Duel No. 2 (9:00 pm – 60 laps, 150 miles – FOX Sports 1)
Friday, February 16
- MENCS Practice (1:05 pm to 1:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Practice (3:05 pm to 3:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Saturday, February 17
- MENCS Final Practice (12:05 pm to 12:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Sunday, February 18
- MENCS 60th Annual Daytona 500 (2:30 pm – 200 laps, 500 miles – FOX)