RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10:  (L-R)Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Sherwin Williams Emerald Chevrolet, Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 3M/American Red Cross Chevrolet, Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet, Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 DOW Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, pose with Chevrolet executives and the NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2016 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Who is the driver to watch? NASCAR America analysts have their say

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New drivers in new places. A returning star. And one looking to be in a class all alone.

Those are just among the drivers NASCAR America’s analysts stated they’d be watching early in the season.

NASCAR America is back for a fourth season at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. NASCAR on NBC analysts Steve Letarte, Kyle Petty, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman are ready for the start of the season.

With that in mind, they each talked about the drivers they will be watching early in the season.

Steve Letarte: I’m going to have a group of them. I look at Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott. The reason I list those three is we now don’t have Jeff Gordon, we now don’t have Tony Stewart, we now don’t have Carl Edwards. Who is going to step up? There is a vacancy in the star power of the sport. I don’t think who is the most creative on Twitter and who has the coolest commercials that will fill that space. People laugh, but that’s how people in Hollywood create stars. I think it’s who shows up on the race track with fireworks in victory and that person will become a star.

Kyle Petty: I’ll be watching Clint Bowyer to see how last year has affected him — non-competitive for a full year and now will be judged against Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in the same equipment.

Jeff Burton: Everything I’ve heard about preseason testing is that Hendrick Motorsports has been stupid fast. Like not a little faster than everybody. A lot faster than everybody. I’m curious to see if that continues. I heard in Vegas that Chase Elliott was way faster than everybody else. I heard that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was way faster than everybody else at Phoenix. I’m curious to see if that can continue when it really counts.

Dale Jarrett: The top driver I’m going to be watching at the beginning, at the middle and at the end is Jimmie Johnson as he chases his eighth title. This is history that we’re talking about. I know that there will be people that will say it is a different format but that was the same way that every other driver went about winning their championship with different rules and things. I’m really anxious to see this and how Jimmie and his team perform because this is a new type of pressure. There was pressure getting to seven but now you’re talking about doing something that nobody else has done.

No. 2 on my list is Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming back. I don’t have any doubt that he’ll be back in top form at Daytona because that is his place, but how do things go from there? We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on him around any type of accidents.

Third, how does Daniel Suarez handle this situation that he really wasn’t looking at when he ended his year as the Xfinity champion? I’m sure he was expecting some races in the Cup series but not a full-time deal. How does he handle everything with that? He’s been outstanding to this point but will it continue? There’s a huge learning curve there with the different cars and the different people he will be racing against.

Parker Kligerman: I couldn’t settle on one driver to watch but rather a specific group. The 26-and-under age group. This group is spectacular and will garner intense attention all season. 

Austin Dillon – If he/ RCR can start the season strong like last year, especially at 1.5-mile tracks, I see Austin breaking RCR’s winless streak and being a player in the playoffs. New formats could hurt him in the playoffs though, as will he chase points for segments?

Kyle Larson – I look for very much the same performance as last year unless Ganassi has found a big advantage in the offseason. I don’t see them being much better, but no worse. They will make the playoffs. 

Daniel Suarez – This will be one of the most interesting stories to watch all year as we see if he can adjust to the Cup cars. No prediction, just will observe. 

Erik Jones – I feel with Daniel moving up now, Erik has something to prove. He let his similarly experienced but lesser-heralded teammate get the better of him for a championship. Erik won’t be successful focusing on one driver in a series like Cup, but I find it will be inevitable to compare the two. He won’t want to let Daniel better him again or these two could be in for a rockier relationship as the future of Toyota and JGR. 

Ty Dillon – He will be an X factor. He showed slight promise in his limited Cup starts, and Germain Racing has benefited from its RCR relationship but not to the level of JTG Daugherty. I wonder with what will obviously be increased support from RCR, what this team will be capable of? Nonetheless, he adds again to the incredible under-26 crowd. 

Ryan Blaney – I want Ryan to win a race this year. He without a doubt has the talent to do it. He has the race craft, and is one of the most calm drivers I have ever witnessed. Will his 21 team be able to cut out some of what seemed to be growing pains last year? He will also need to cut out slight mistakes late. The future is bright here in typical Penske fashion. Execution will be key. 

Chris Buescher – Wow, what a change of fortune. There will be growing pains here, but I look for Chris to be a solid top-20 car in points come the end of the season. Once again if he pulls something extraordinary again, we could be talking about a fringe playoff car. All I do know is with this addition and Ty Dillon, the top 20 in points has gotten insanely competitive. 

Chase Elliott – Must win a race. Can win a race. Will win a race. He will be a solid contender in the playoffs and garner the largest portion of the fan base out of this whole group. 

Joey Logano – Insane he is even included in this group. He will win races; many in fact. He will be a formidable contender in the playoffs if he and crew chief Todd Gordon can clean up some late-race strategy issues. As every year since 2014, I think they can be champs.  

Landon Cassill – Is actually 27 now, but I wanted to write “Do you even snap bro?” Also some curious things are occurring at that small Statesville, North Carolina, shop, looking ahead to 2018.

NASCAR America begins its fourth season at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 13 on NBCSN

NASCAR America live at 6 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap, Kurt Busch interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America recaps all the major stories that came out of the 59th Daytona 500, which was won for the first time by Kurt Busch.

The episode airs from 6 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts with Dale Jarrett from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty join them from Burton’s Garage.

Voda will interview Busch just under 24 hours after the biggest win of his NASCAR career.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 winning car has a new home for the next year

59th Annual DAYTONA 500
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Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500-winning Ford Fusion has finally stopped rolling after adding an extra few hundred feet to its mileage log.

One day after capturing “The Great American Race,” the No. 41 was placed on permanent display for the next year at Daytona International Speedway’s Daytona 500 Experience Museum during Monday morning’s traditional race winner’s breakfast.

It was the first win for Stewart-Haas Racing in its first regular season race in Ford colors and power.

Check out some of the photos of the car and the festivities:

And then, last but not least, the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 championship trophy is safely ensconced in its new home at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

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Atlanta to host 2,500th race in Cup history, last on current surface

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Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway
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This weekend’s NASCAR action at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with all three major series running, will provide some interesting storylines.

First and perhaps most important, Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 will be the last race ever held on the current track surface.

A complete repaving of the 1.54-mile high-speed quad oval track is slated to begin later this spring.

To make Sunday’s race all the more unique and momentous, it will also be the 2,500th race in Cup history.

AMS, which first opened in 1960, has had the same racing surface for the last 20 years, since its last repaving in spring 1997. That makes it the second oldest current surface in NASCAR.

During that time, it has played host to 31 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, 19 Xfinity Series races and 15 Camping World Truck Series events.

Among some of the highlights over the years on the outgoing surface:

* Dale Earnhardt’s 0.01-second margin of victory over Bobby Labonte in 2000. It would be Earnhardt’s 75th career Cup win and the second-to-last win of his storied career (won at Talladega that fall).

* In his third Cup start after the tragic death of Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick would take the re-numbered No. 29 to victory lane at Atlanta, capturing a 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon.

* Carl Edwards’ first Cup win and the first of two wins for him in both Atlanta races in 2005.

* AMS’s first-ever night race in 2009.

* Sunday marks AMS’s 102nd 500-mile race. No other track on the circuit has hosted as many races of that length.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday could also be a big day for defending and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Having won both the 2015 and 2016 Cup races at AMS, Johnson is looking to become the first driver in track history to win three consecutive races there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen won four times in as many years (1961 to 1964) at AMS, but they were not consecutive. Another Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough, also won three straight spring races (1967 to 1969), but failed to win any of the fall races those same years at the track.

Johnson is also looking to extend his overall supremacy at the track, being the only active driver to have ever won there five times in a career (all on the current racing surface).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most wins ever at AMS with nine triumphs.

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Alex Bowman driving for GMS Racing in Atlanta Truck race

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Alex Bowman isn’t getting much time off between NASCAR starts.

Two weeks after he drove Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s No. 88 in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, Bowman will make his first start this year in a race that counts. He will drive GMS Racing’s No. 24 truck in the Camping World Truck Series’ Active Pet Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bowman is filling in for Justin Haley, who at 17, is too young to race on tracks 1.5-miles long or bigger due to NASCAR rules.

The defending K&N East Pro Series champion, Haley turns 18 on April 28.

The race will only be Bowman’s second start in the Truck Series. He made his first in 2015 at Michigan International Speedway for JR Motorsports. He started 16th and finished 11th that day.

Bowman continues to capitalize on his performance last season when he helped fill in for Earnhardt in the No. 88 while he recovered from a concussion. Bowman made 10 starts in the No. 88, which included winning the pole for the fall race at Phoenix Raceway. That qualified him for the Clash, which he finished third in.

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