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.

NASCAR videos: Dillon brothers on big Xfinity crash early in Friday’s race

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Both Austin Dillon and younger brother Ty spoke with NBC after the 14-car “big one” wreck on Lap 15 of Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

For Austin Dillon, he claimed he made a mistake of not getting low enough on the track to avoid some of the carnage around him.

As for Ty Dillon, he agreed with his older brother that many of their fellow drivers simply got too excited, too soon and too early in the race.

See Austin Dillon’s video above, and Ty Dillon’s video below.


Drivers mull ways to make Unlimited, All-Star Race more ‘prestigious’

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 21:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, is introduced prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — How can NASCAR make the Sprint All-Star Race and the Sprint Unlimited more prestigious and interesting for fans?

Drivers mulled that during Thursday night’s Sprint Cup Drivers Council meeting, Denny Hamlin said.

The answer could be limiting the field for both races.

“Trying to make it as prestigious as it probably used to be,’’ Hamlin said Friday of the goal for both races. “It expanded over the last few years, the Unlimited especially, and even our All-Star event. It’s over half the field, not really that prestigious. We’d like to get some of that back. If you tighten up how you get in, maybe these guys will keep that in the back of their mind when going for a pole and they’ll go for it.

“You can tighten it up by making it a certain way to get in. The fan vote and all that stuff is cool, but it’s also gimmicky and gets a lot of people in versus making it the true race winners or pole winners.’’

The Sprint Unlimited, held the week before the Daytona 500, and Sprint All-Star Race, run the weekend before the Coca-Cola 600, will have new names next year with the series getting a new title sponsor.

That provides a good chance for NASCAR to consider changes to both events, which have lost prestige.

This year’s Sprint Unlimited had 25 cars. The exhibition race was open to 2015 pole winners, former event winners, former Daytona 500 winners and all 16 drivers who competed in the previous year’s Chase. Any remaining open spots were filled based on driver points from the previous year.

The Sprint All-Star Race had 20 cars. It is open to drivers who have won a race in the current or preceding year, past series champions, and past All-Star winners. The field also had three cars from the Sprint Showdown advance along with two fan vote winners.

Two big wrecks impact early going of Xfinity race at Daytona

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Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway has morphed into a wreckfest in the early going.

On Lap 8, a four-car wreck occurred that involved the cars of Scott Lagasse Jr., Mario Gosselin, Roy Black Jr. and Alex Guenette occurred.

But that was just an appetizer of bing-bang-boom racing when 14 cars crashed on Lap 15.

Involved were Ryan Preece, Austin Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Brandon Jones, Justin Marks, Joe Nemechek, Spencer Gallagher, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Ellis, Corey LaJoie and Brennan Poole.

“I seen the 6 (Wallace) side draft the guy in front of him and the 48 (Brennan Poole) just got into him,” said Austin Dillon, who led 10 laps before he was collected in the crash, which took his team six laps to repair before returning. “It’s just a product of guys trying too hard, too early, and a competition caution 10 laps from now. … It’s just speedway racing.”

The race was red-flagged two laps later, on Lap 17. The delay lasted 7 minutes, 40 seconds before the yellow caution flag was displayed.

The race resumed on Lap 22.

Matt Tifft out of surgery, operation ‘went exactly as planned’

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There’s great news for fans of Matt Tifft and Joe Gibbs Racing.

NBCSN’s Marty Snider reported just prior to Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race that Tifft is recovering well following surgery to remove a tumor in his brain.

“The day they discovered that brain tumor, they tested it for cancer, which turned up negative,” Snider reported. “Matt wanted to stay in the car, but doctors wanted to do the surgery right away. In fact, that surgery was tonight.

“And good news, Joe Gibbs Racing officials just told me that Matt Tifft is out of surgery, the doctors said it went exactly as planned and that he’s resting comfortably.”

It’s unclear how long Tifft will need to recover and how long he’ll remain out of his race car.

David Ragan is filling in for Tifft in Friday night’s race and started from the pole position.

Sam Hornish Jr. replaced Tifft two weeks ago at Iowa Speedway and wound up taking home the victory.

Follow @JerryBonkowski