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 America: Dale Jr.’s aggressiveness at Sonoma pays off, will need it at Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt was very aggressive in his final Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, and while it may have resulted in his Lap 14 accident in Turn 11, it also helped produce his third top 10 of the year and his second in a row.

“I think being offensive is better than being passive on a road course, nothing wrong with that,” said NASCAR America analyst Max Papis, who also broke down what caused Earnhardt’s bizarre spin early in Sunday’s race that also involved Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson.

“You’ve got to commit, usually the pass has happened before you actually arrive at the corner,” Papis said. “He thought that was a good opportunity, (then) committed. ”

NASCAR America’s analysts also discussed Earnhardt’s upcoming start at Daytona, which likely will be his final Cup start there. The track may be his best shot to earn a win and a spot in the playoffs.

The analysts believe the aggressiveness that was on display at Sonoma will be necessary for Earnhardt to pull a win out at Daytona.

Earnhardt’s year got off to a rough start in the Daytona 500. He was leading the race when Kyle Busch lost a tire in Turn 3 on Lap 105, spun and collected Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

Earnhardt was near the front at Talladega in May late in the race when he was forced to pit for a loose tire with less than 15 laps to go.

That leaves the 14-time most popular driver with just two more chances to win a restrictor-plate race, the format he’s earned 10 of his 26 Cup Series wins.

“They’ve got to find a way to give him a car where he can be aggressive Dale Jr.,” Jeff Burton said. “What makes him so good at Daytona and Talladega is that he doesn’t hesitate. He’s the guy setting the tempo, he’s the guy forcing the issue. … He can’t drive with caution, he can’t drive worried about if ‘is my car going to stick?’ He’s got to stick it in there and know it’s going to stick. He hasn’t had that the last several plate races.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Daytona

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NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway this weekend with the Cup and Xfinity Series.

Cup teams will compete in the Coke Zero 400, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBC and the Xfinity Series holds the Coca-Colca Firecracker 250, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – Coke Zero 400

Forty cars are entered into the 17th race of the Cup season. That would make it the sixth race this year to have the most possible cars in the field.

Darrell Wallace Jr. will be back in the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 75 Chevrolet for Beard Motorsports.

Ryan Sieg will drive the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing in his third start for the team.

Kurt Busch won the last trip to Daytona, leading only the last lap of the Daytona 500 after multiple leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps. Brad Keselowski won last year’s Coke Zero 400.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Coca-Cola Firecracker 250

There are 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this race, including four full-time Cup drivers. They are Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Joey Logano.

There is no driver announced for the No. 93 Chevrolet owned by RSS racing.

Ryan Reed won the February Xfinity race at Daytona after being involved in two crashes and leading nine laps. Aric Almirola won last year’s July race after a caution on the last lap forced NASCAR to review video and loop data and determined him the winner over Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch can afford to lose interim crew chief for Daytona

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Kyle Busch may have yet another view in his ear this weekend when he races in the Coke Zero 400.

Interim crew chief Ben Beshore may be suspended for the race after two unsecured lug nuts were found on the No. 18 Toyota after the Sonoma race.

The possible loss of Beshore comes after Busch’s usual crew chief, Adam Stevens, was suspended four races for a wheel falling off Busch’s car following a pit stop at Dover.

Daytona will be the fourth race of that suspension. NASCAR America’s analysts discussed the impact of the possible suspension for Busch, who is still looking for his first win since July of last year.

“They’re not making mistakes, they’re just finding themselves in difficult positions,” Dale Jarrett said. “This is certainly another one of those, going to a race track Kyle Busch can win at. But who you have on that pit box means a lot as for performing all through a race.”

Said Jeff Burton, “The frustration level is mounting, obviously. Kyle Busch is expecting to win races. … I think if you’re going to lose your crew chief, this is probably the race you want to lose it for. Going to Daytona, you pretty much have a plan going there. The pit strategy will be interesting with the stages, but if I was going to a race track, this would be the race I’d feel most comfortable without my crew chief.”

Watch the above video for the full segment.

Eddie Pardue named crew chief for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 car

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The Circle Sport/The Motorsports Group announced that Eddie Pardue is the new crew chief on its No. 33 Chevrolet effective immediately.

Pardue, who was the team’s head of engineering, will lead the effort on Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s car this weekend in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. This will be his first Cup race as a crew chief since 2008, when he led Greg Biffle in one race at Auto Club Speedway. He has three wins in 338 races as crew chief in the Xfinity Series dating back to 1998.

The former competition director for Red Horse Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, Pardue replaces Pay Tryson, who has been released from the team.

Tryson directed Boris Said at Sonoma Raceway, where he finished 29th. Earnhardt has been in the No. 33 in every other race. His best result in his first 15 starts was 26th in the Daytona 500.

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