Bump & Run: Don’t overlook these drivers

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There’s much to talk about just days before engines fire at Daytona International Speedway. But for all the conversations about enhancements to the points system, Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s return and Carl Edwards‘ departure, there are other key areas you might be missing.

Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, who will be on NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long to discuss drivers you might be overlooking and more in this week’s Bump & Run.

Who is one driver people might not be paying much attention to but should this year?

Dale Jarrett: Chase Elliott is not being talked about a lot this year, but I really expect a lot of him. I think that we’re looking at a two or three wins kind of season for him. I think that he showed that kind of potential. As we get closer to the playoffs, this will be someone who we just won’t be talking about will he make the playoffs, but what impact he’ll have. I really think that the things he was able to learn — and sometimes you learn a lot more by not closing the deal — I think that it was a great learning year, still a great year, as a rookie. I think he’s someone to pay attention to.

Kyle Petty: The driver I’m watching is Austin Dillon. I thought last year he made big progress. He became the RCR team leader on and off the track. He showed more maturity on and off the track. RCR needs to produce wins this year. I know they want to, but they are in a need-to situation to survive. I don’t believe people (fans) are paying attention to him because of RCR’s recent performance. I believe Austin will surprise people this year.’’

Nate Ryan: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This is the fifth season in NASCAR’s premier series for the driver whom Jack Roush once said would be remembered as the greatest ever to run for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse is five years’ removed from the promise of consecutive Xfinity Series championships. If he finishes outside the top 20 in points for a fourth straight year, it’s worth pondering what the future might hold (particularly given Roush’s seemingly tenuous sponsorship situation). Stenhouse previously was coveted by other powerhouse teams. If he can exhibit at least flashes of the potential he showed in Xfinity, it could help shore up his future prospects (even if they don’t include Roush).

Dustin Long: I’ll be watching Kyle Larson. He’s shown improvement and scored his first Cup win last year. The key is his team. Can it provide him the equipment to excel and put him in situations to take advantage of? With Stewart-Haas Racing now at Ford, there’s a chance for Chip Ganassi Racing to climb up to the No. 2 spot at Chevrolet behind Hendrick Motorsports. If this team steps up, Larson could score multiple wins.

How do you forecast the rookie of the year battle in the Cup Series?

Dale Jarrett: I think this comes down to two drivers who are both very talented. I think that Erik Jones may have got his thought process off a little bit and maybe cost him even a better chance at winning that Xfinity championship last year. I think he’s going to be an outstanding Cup driver. I really believe that he’ll put himself in position to win some races. Will he able to do that? We’ll have to see because it’s tough. He’s going to be racing basically a teammate, certainly a Toyota teammate in Daniel Suarez. You have to look at the teams they are with. Even though Jones’ deal is a new car with Furniture Row Racing, the experience he has surrounding him and the ability to work with everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing still will be a huge benefit. Suarez, I know he’s trying to grasp all of this. He’s such a talented young man. There will be a lot for him to learn, tracks, the different cars. It’s going to be a steeper learning curve for him, but I think he’ll give Jones a run for his money in that. I really believe at the and of the year that Erik Jones is the rookie of the year.

Kyle Petty: The rookie battle is up for grabs as far as I’m concerned. I know Erik Jones is a favorite and I believe last year he showed why. My concern is he’s driving a second car for a team that has just broken into that elite level of Cup racing. Can he and a startup new team help himself and Martin Truex Jr., or will his addition to the team as a whole take Furniture Row back a step? If that’s the case, advantage Daniel Suarez. He may not have had the year Erik did as a driver, but he won the Xfinity championship. Also he’s driving the 19 car that Carl Edwards was within a handful of laps of winning the Cup championship in. Driving for a team that’s “been there, done that” has its advantages! I’m a fan of Ty Dillon and believe talent-wise he stacks up against Erik and Daniel pretty evenly; equipment-wise, I’m taking a wait and see attitude.

Nate Ryan: Even though Daniel Suarez beat him for the Xfinity championship last year, the rookie of the year title is Erik Jones’ to lose. Jones is the most accomplished of the class and already has proven adept in Cup cars. He will be joining a formidable Furniture Row Racing team with a championship-caliber teammate in Martin Truex Jr. Suarez is in a Toyota of equal quality and made great strides last season, but his development will remain ongoing this year (just as it was in the 2015-16 Xfinity seasons). It might be a fair fight by the end of the season, but Jones will have the upper hand for at least the first half. Among the rest of the rookies, Ty Dillon will deliver respectable performances but won’t contend for top-15 finishes.

Dustin Long: I agree with my colleagues that Erik Jones is the favorite for all the reasons they’ve mentioned. That said, I’ll be interested to see how Daniel Suarez performs with the No. 19 team, noting what Kyle stated about that team’s experience and personnel. I think this could be among the more fascinating rookie races in recent years with Jones finishing with winning the crown.

Watch Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Check out the logo for the 60th Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Fans crowd the infield prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Sure, it’s been roughly 24 hours since Kurt Busch won the 59th Daytona 500.

But it’s not too early to start ramping up to the next entry of the “Great American Race.”

Daytona International Speedway has already unveiled the logo for the 60th Daytona 500, which is scheduled to be run on Feb. 18, 2018.

Check out it out below.

Denny Hamlin, girlfriend Jordan Fish expecting second child

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Denny Hamlin didn’t make it back-to-back wins in the Daytona 500 on Sunday, but he still had a good day.

Hamlin’s longtime girlfriend, Jordan Fish, tweeted just before the “Great American Race” that their first child, 4-year-old daughter Taylor, will soon have a brother or sister.

Fish tweeted a photo of Taylor wearing a “Big Sister In Training” shirt that told the whole story.

Congratulations to the couple and the soon-t0-be addition to their family.

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Matt DiBenedetto delivers Go Fas Racing best Cup Series result in team history

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #32 EJ Wade Construction Ford, practices for the 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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It took 99 starts, a revolving door of drivers and the crash fest that was the 59th Daytona 500.

That’s all it took before Matt DiBenedetto was able to give his new NASCAR Cup Series team, Go Fas Racing, its best result in team history, finishing ninth in Sunday’s “Great American Race.”

DiBenedetto, driving the No. 32 Ford owned by Archie St. Hilaire, simply survived.

Despite being in the 17-car wreck on Lap 128, DiBenedetto’s car stayed in one piece and, after a last pit stop, had enough gas to take advantage of the misfortune of others. The result is his second top 10 in two seasons.

“That’s a heck of a way to start the year,” DiBenedetto said after the race. “Holy cow. We survived. We got in that one crash and we hit pretty hard. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s gonna be a long day,’ but the guys did a great job patching it up. It still ran fine. I had good speed. The motor ran great all day, so it was cool.”

Starting his third full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, DiBenedetto rolled off 25th in his second Daytona 500 start. The native of Grass Valley, California, had an average running spot of 21.35.

As the laps wound down, teams ahead of DiBenedetto began dropping off as their fuel tanks dried up. The 25-year-old driver had no idea what position he was in as he took the checkered flag.

“No, I didn’t honestly,” DiBenedetto said. “The whole race we were pitting multiple times just trying to make sure it was fixed properly and taking our time and we just kept picking them off one at a time and it turned out to be a great day.”

It was DiBenedetto’s best day since he earned an emotional sixth-place finish in last year’s spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Then, DiBenedetto was with BK Racing, which he decided to leave following the season.

“It was definitely different,” DiBenedetto said. “This one was a little bit more survival. … I would say they’re different feelings, but being in the Daytona 500 in the first place is unbelievable. So I’m gonna say this one does feel really good just because it’s the Daytona 500 and it’s been my dream since I was five to even be in it. So to get a top 10 in it, I’m just checking off all these dreams come true.”

Go Fas Racing made its Cup Series debut in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway with Scott Speed driving its No. 95 Ford.

DiBenedetto is the 23rd driver to take the reigns of a Go Fas Racing car, but the first to drive full-time.

“We’ve taken the team and brought in some really good people,” DiBenedetto said. “I’m so lucky to have my crew chief, Gene Nead, who came in and assembled some of the best guys we could possibly get, so we have some real quality people, some of the folks that were at BK with me. It’s amazing to have that tight of a group, where they are so dedicated to follow me and Gene wherever we go.

“That’s special. You don’t find that often, so we have such a great relationship and I think that’s where we’re gonna turn a lot of heads this year and surprise everybody. You’re only as good as the people around you and we have really good people. I’m fortunate to have them. We’re gonna turn some heads. We have 15 employees total versus some people who have 400-500, but we have 15 good, quality people and our goal is to over-achieve all year.”

It’s doesn’t hurt to start in the Daytona 500.

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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.