Before the NASCAR Cup Series begins its season with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, the Xfinity Series gets thing going on Saturday.
NASCAR America analysts Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty give their thoughts on the series’ headlines ahead of the opener, including veteran Elliott Sadler attempting to finish what he started last year and finally win a NASCAR championship.
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. has driven his No. 88 car a few times since last December, Sunday was the first time he had done so with stakes since July.
Earnhardt qualified second for the Daytona 500 and will start the race next to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott.
Thursday’s Can-Am Duel will be his first NASCAR Cup Series points event since a concussion forced him to miss the last 18 races of 2016. Earnahrdt spoke with Nate Ryan after qualifying.
“That’s the funny thing about racing, you realize being out of the car how much you took it for granted,” Earnhardt said. “Then you just want to get back in, then when you get back in you just want to win, then when you get close you’re disappointed. But in the grand scheme of things, this is awesome. To be back in the car, to be running well. To have such a good day, to see the 24 car do so well, it means a lot.”
On Sunday, Chase Elliott became the first repeat pole-sitter for the Daytona 500 in 15 years when he beat out Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Nate Ryan talked with Elliott about his second Daytona 500 pole in two years.
“I don’t think I can really take any credit for qualifying here,” Elliott said. “Especially how it dates back to (the No. 24 team’s) success. It kind of proves it has nothing to do with me, They definitely have a knack for it. I don’t know if it’s one particular thing. They just do a good job of focusing on all the little details that matter.”
The No. 24 team has been on the pole for six of the last nine restrictor-plate races, dating back to Jeff Gordon‘s final Daytona 500 start in 2015. It gives the No. 24 the three-straight Daytona 500 poles.
Watch the video for the rest of Elliott’s interview.
During the course of the first weekend of Speedweeks, Furniture Row Racing missed a lot of on-track time due to repeated attempts to get through inspection.
On NASCAR America, Nate Ryan and Jeff Burton discussed the cause of the team’s problems, which come as it fields two cars for the first time with Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones.
“I spent some time with (Truex crew chief) Cole Pearn,” Burton said. “All of those issues are from the fact that they’ve changed their template grids at the shop. When they expanded to two teams, they changed they way they were doing things. They ended up doing the grids improperly. Coming (to Daytona), the roofs are actually low on the car, and the deck lids were high on the car, which is the exact opposite of what you want.”
Pearn told Burton it was an “honest mistake,” and the problems go beyond the team’s Daytona cars.
“They’ve been building cars for a while; they’ve got some serious work they’ve got to do to get ready for Atlanta (the season’s second race),” Burton said. “They have a lot of work they’ll have to catch up on because the grids weren’t installed the way they’re supposed to.”
Burton and Ryan also discuss the initial successes Stewart-Haas Racing has had in their transition to Ford.
Casey Mears is sitting on the sideline during Speedweeks in Daytona Beach, but he’ll soon be racing himself in the Xfinity Series.
Mears, a veteran of 14 NASCAR Cup Series seasons, will compete in an initial 12 Xfinity races for Biagi DenBeste Racing beginning with the March 25 race at Auto Club Speedway. Mears will pilot the No. 98 Geico Military Ford.
Mears is recently departed from Germain Racing, where he drove its No. 13 Chevrolet beginning in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2010. Mears has 488 Cup Series starts since 2003 and one win, the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.
Mears will share the ride with Aric Almirola, who will drive the No. 98 for the superspeedway races.
“I’m thankful for Geico’s continued support and I’m happy we were able to get this deal put together with Biagi-DenBeste Racing,” Mears said in a press release. “Fred Biagi and Bill and Lori DenBeste are great people and I’ve always respected them and how committed they’ve been to NASCAR and building their team over the years.”
Mears last competed in the Xfinity Series in 2010. He has 93 starts in the series, but only one full-time season in 2002. he earned one win in 2006 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“It’s great to have Geico back on-board after experiencing success together early on,” team owner Fred Biagi said in a press release. “Geico is a first class company that has high standards and cares about its customers. Our philosophies line up well and we look forward to working together to have a successful year with Casey and the Geico Military Ford.”
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