Who will win today’s Daytona 500? NBC Sports analysts make their picks

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The wait is nearly over. The NASCAR Sprint Cup season opens today with the Daytona 500. Who will win? Here’s a look at what some NBC Sports analysts say.

Jeff Burton Dale Earnhardt Jr. … I believe Jr. wins the 500. His car is crazy fast and he knows how to manage a plate race as well if not better than anyone.

Steve Letarte — I won’t pick a winner for the 500 but my three favorites are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. I think this is going to be a classic duel between all three manufactures.

Dale Jarrett — Dale Earnhardt Jr. … Best car with best restrictor-plate driver = Victory!!

Kyle Petty — Jimmie Johnson … He’s the team leader now. I liked what I saw in the Duels. He picked up spots on pit road with a perfect stop. I think this is his year.

Parker Kligerman Dale Earnhardt Jr. … He is a closer.

Mike Massaro — Dale Earnhardt Jr. … Over the course of his career, he’s displayed an unparalleled understanding of the draft and how to use it to his advantage. That, coupled with having a strong car, which he certainly does this year, will make him incredibly difficult to beat.

Kelli Stavast — Dale Earnhardt Jr. … In four plate races last year, he had two wins and four top 3’s. It’s only been two years since his last Daytona 500 win. He looked really fast in Thursday night’s duel race and even last year’s 500 winner Joey Logano admitted that he wasn’t sure how he was going to beat Junior on Sunday. Hard to pick against him.

Krista Voda — Denny Hamlin. … Denny has become one of those drivers who is always in the mix at Superspeedway races. While his performance at the Unlimited further cemented that notion, it was actually Dale Jr.’s words about Denny, and the similarities Dale sees in the moves they both make at Daytona, that made him my pick.

Nate Ryan — Kyle Busch … Joe Gibbs Racing’s long drought in the Great American Race finally ends as the defending series champion picks up where he left off with an overdue Daytona 500 win.

Rutledge Wood — Ryan Blaney. I think fate will shine down again on the Wood Brothers team with another historic win that I hope will create an exemption with the RTA & give a charter to whoever wins the biggest race of the year 🙂

Dustin Long — Denny Hamlin. … I like what I’ve seen from his car this week and his driving style on plate tracks. It also doesn’t hurt to have a JGR car.

Jerry Bonkowski — Kurt Busch. … He is probably in the best place he’s been in personally and professionally in a long time. He kicks off a potential championship season with a win in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Daniel McFadin — Denny Hamlin. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday night it’s getting harder for him to hold the field off in plate races and Hamlin and JGR can only be denied so many times before they get it right.

Family affair: Harrison Burton celebrates first K&N Pro Series East win with parents

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Harrison Burton has been to NASCAR’s Victory Lane before. But that was when his dad, NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton, raced.

Saturday, Harrison Burton was in Victory Lane after winning his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. Both his mom and dad were there to celebrate his first NASCAR win.

The 16-year-old Burton dominated Saturday’s rain-shortened Zombie Auto 125 at Bristol Motor Speedway, earning praise from current and former NASCAR competitors.

“One of my favorite races I can recall of my dad winning was here at Bristol,’’ Harrison Burton said of his father’s victory in 2008. “Me and my sister were jumping up and down when he won. I was really, really excited to win, and I’m sure he was excited to watch me win.

“It was really cool for me and him both to share a moment like that together. Obviously, my mom, as well, who has traveled the country with me while my dad was racing.’’

So what was the family celebration like this time?

“I didn’t say much,’’ Harrison Burton, a sophomore in high school, said. “I was just kind of laughing and smiling. I gave my mom a big hug and my dad a big hug as well. I think I lifted my mom off the ground. We were just pretty excited.’’

Harrison Burton led 68 of the 70 laps run before rain ended the race early. Ruben Garcia Jr. finished second. Spencer Davis was third, Hunter Baize placed fourth and Chad Finchum was fifth.

“Me and my crew chief were kind of talking like we wanted to run the whole race and win it that way,’’ Harrison Burton said. “We were confident enough to where we felt like our car was good enough that we could win the race. I felt like it would have been kind of cool to cross the line under dry conditions and do it that way. (But) I’ll take it. I was pretty happy when it started raining to be honest. I never wanted it to rain so bad in my life.’’

Harrison Burton leads the series standings with 129 points. He’s followed by Baize (114 points), Todd Gilliland (113), Ronnie Bassett Jr. (111) and Garcia (105).

The race will shown on NBCSN at 11 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 27.

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Jeremy Clements receives swollen left eye after punch from Ross Chastain

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Jeremy Clements said he was stunned when Ross Chastain “socked me” during a red flag delay during Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinty race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Chastain and Clements had contact during the race and then Clements hit Chastain during a caution for rain. The race soon was stopped and drivers exited their cars. Clements came up from behind Chastain.

“I put my hand on his back and turned him around,’’ Clements said. “I had no intention of hitting him, and he turned around and socked me. I had no intention of fighting the guy.’’

Said Chastain: “Somebody grabbed me and turned me around and I saw red eyes and a face that wasn’t going to talk.

“It was a reaction on my part. I’ve never punched anybody in my life. I don’t know what I’d do if I could do it all over again. I can’t let people come up and grab me. It’s happened before in NASCAR and out of NASCAR. I felt like I had to stand my ground.’’

Clements went to the infield care center to ice his left eye.

“It was swollen up pretty good,’’ Clements said. “He did punch me.”

He returned and finished 17th. Chastain finished 31st after he was later involved in an accident.

NASCAR met with both drivers after the race and will review the matter to decide if there are to be any penalties.

Chastain and Clements both said they’ve had run-ins with each other through the years.

“I’ve talked to him before and it doesn’t get us anywhere,’’ Clements said after the race and before meeting with NASCAR. “I don’t know what to do. I try to race him clean all the time. He cuts you no slack and sometimes we’re running for 22nd and 23rd and (he) just door slams you. It’s uncalled for.’’

Chastain said they talked it out in the NASCAR hauler and shook hands.

“I feel bad,’’ Chastain said. “We run against each other. We work together. We buy motors from them. They build our motors, so it’s not good for me to do that. We’re good and on to Richmond.’’

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Elliott Sadler leads top-three sweep by JR Motorsports in Xfinity points

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With a season-best fourth-place finish Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Elliott Sadler increased his lead in the Xfinity Series points standings.

Sadler leads JR Motorsports teammate William Byron by 16 points.

Justin Allgaier, who trails Sadler by 60 points, gives JR Motorsports the top three spots in the standings.

The top five is completed by Ryan Reed (76 points behind Sadler) and Daniel Hemric (80 points behind Sadler).

Click here for the full points standings.

Results and stats for Xfinity Series race at Bristol won by Erik Jones

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Erik Jones led the final 21 laps in order to win the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver outran Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez for his second win of the year and his second in a row.

The top five was filled out by Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric.

Click here for full race results.