Five drivers to watch this weekend at Daytona

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Keep an eye on these five drivers this weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its roots at Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin seeks to become only the sixth driver ever to win the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 in the same season, and he stands a good shot. Since 2014, Hamlin has recorded 7 Top-10 finishes in the 10 Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races, and his Daytona 500 win in February was also his fifth consecutive Daytona finish of sixth or better.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt has crashed out of this year’s 2 restrictor-plate races,  with the latter wreck at Talladega putting an end to his hyper-successful superspeedway car, “Amelia.” But with 10 restrictor-plate wins to his credit, you can never count him out at Daytona. And with a chance lost last week at Sonoma to put ground between him and the other playoff bubble drivers, he’ll be especially motivated to win and end all questions about his post-season hopes.

Kevin Harvick

It’s been a while since Harvick last won a plate race – six years to be exact (July 2010 at Daytona). But with 5 Top-10 finishes in his last 7 plate races, he’s been getting closer to ending that drought. As the Sprint Cup points leader, a good jump on the Chase Grid (currently 5th) will be his if he earns a second 2016 win this weekend.

Austin Dillon

Austin has only led 10 laps over his six Sprint Cup starts at Daytona, but he’s also come away with 4 Top-10 finishes. That includes finishing 7th in this race a year ago, even as he was sent into the catch fence in one of NASCAR’s ugliest crashes in recent memory. He finished ninth in February’s Daytona 500, and another Top-10 run is critical for him as he tries to move up and out of the bubble from 14th on the Chase Grid (+18 above the cutoff).

Jamie McMurray

Four of McMurray’s 7 career Sprint Cup wins have come on plate tracks. But since his Oct. 2013 win at Talladega, he’s only had 1 Top-10 finish on a plate track – a 4th-place effort at Talladega this past May. Still, this “wild card” race is definitely an opportunity for McMurray to score a surprise win and enter the playoffs.

Social Roundup: Reaction to Jimmie Johnson ending full-time career after 2020

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In a one-minute video posted on social media Wednesday Jimmie Johnson revealed he would end his full-time Cup career following the 2020 season.

Very quickly, the NASCAR community and Johnson’s fellow competitors took to social media to note Johnson’s news.

Here’s what they had to say:

 

Check back for more.

Jimmie Johnson announces that 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season

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Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson announced Wednesday that the 2020 season will be his final full-time Cup season.

“I know what this team is capable of and I hope that 2020 is the best yet,” he said in a video on Twitter.

Johnson’s contract expires after the 2020 season. Sponsor Ally extended its sponsorship of the No. 48 car in October through 2023. That led to questions of if Johnson would continue beyond next season. 

Johnson has 83 career Cup wins, which is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time victory list, but Johnson has not won since Dover in June 2017. He will enter the 2020 season with a 95-race winless streak. The 2020 season will be his 19th full-time campaign in Cup.

The 2019 season marked Johnson’s first without crew chief Chad Knaus. Kevin Meendering started the year as Johnson’s crew chief but was replaced by engineer Cliff Daniels in July before the race at Watkins Glen.

In their 15 races Daniels and Johnson worked together, they had four top-10 finishes with a best of eighth in the Dover playoff race.

Johnson has two Daytona 500 wins, four Brickyard 400 victories, four Coca-Cola 600 triumphs and two Southern 500 wins.

Johnson will meet with the media Thursday afternoon to explain his decision.

The timing allows Johnson to celebrate one final season in Cup and gives Hendrick Motorsports time to find his successor with a move that could lead to significant driver movement for the 2021 season.

Tentative 2020 Daytona Speedweeks schedule released

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The 2019 NASCAR season has been over for just a few days, but already things are starting to shape up for the 2020 season.

NASCAR revealed the tentative 2020 Daytona Speedweeks schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Gander RV and Outdoors Trucks and ARCA series. The 2020 Daytona 500 will be Feb. 16.

Here it is (subject to change):

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, February 6

7 a.m. – 6 p.m. – ARCA garage open

Friday, February 7

8 a.m. – 5 p.m. – ARCA garage open

1 – 5 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 – 2:30 p.m. – ARCA practice

3 – 4 p.m. – ARCA final practice

Saturday, February 8

7:30 a.m. – ARCA garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:35 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice for cars entered in the Clash

12:30 p.m. – ARCA qualifying (group qualifying)

1:35 – 2:25 p.m. – Cup practice for all cars

2:45 p.m. – ARCA driver/spotter meeting

3 – 3:50 p.m. – Cup practice for all cars

4:20 p.m. – ARCA driver introductions

4:45 p.m. – ARCA race (80 laps, 200 miles)

Sunday, February 9

8 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

10:30 a.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

12:30 p.m. – Cup qualifying impound (single vehicle / one lap all positions)

2:30 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

3 p.m. – Cup Clash race (75 laps, 187.5 miles)

Monday, February 10

No on-track activities scheduled

Tuesday, February 11

No on-track activities scheduled

Wednesday, February 12

No on-track activities scheduled

Thursday, February 13

10 am – 8 p.m. – Truck garage open

3 – 11 p.m. – Cup garage open

4:05 – 4:55 p.m. – Truck practice

5:15 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

5:30 – 5:55 p.m. – Truck practice

6:20 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

7 p.m. – Cup first qualifying race (60 laps, 150 miles)

8:45 p.m. – Cup second qualifying race (60 laps, 150 miles)

Friday, February 14

9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

9:30 a.m. – Truck garage opens

11 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice

3:10 p.m. – Truck qualifying impound (single vehicle / one lap all positions)

4:32 – 4:57 p.m. – Xfinity final practice

5:05 – 5:55 p.m. – Cup practice

6:05 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

7 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Truck race (Stages 20/40/100 laps = 250 miles)

Saturday, February 15

9:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

11 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying impound (single vehicle / one lap all positions)

11 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

12:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice

2 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity race (Stages 30/30/120 laps = 300 miles)

Sunday, February 16

9 a.m. – Cup garage open

12:30 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

1:45 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – Daytona 500 (Stages 60/120/200 lap = 500 miles)

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Tyler Reddick, Star Trek and the baby name that could have been

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Tyler Reddick lets out a heavy sigh.

In that sigh, the two-time Xfinity Series champion weighs the pros and cons of one of the most important questions that’s plagued society.

As the great philosopher Weird Al Yankovic once put it, “Only question I ever thought was hard was ‘Do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?'”

Reddick comes to his decision.

“It’s gotta be Picard,” Reddick declares to NBC Sports.

“He’s always smart, he’s one step ahead of the game most of the time. A lot of the captains, well, (William) Shatner set the brute force tone if you know what I mean. But Picard is different. He’s smart, he went about things differently and thought a different way. He’s a very, very good character. He’s my favorite for kind of those reasons.”

Why is Reddick – who is in the middle of a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, as part of his championship tour –  putting forth his take on Star Trek’s James T. Kirk vs Jean-Luc Picard debate, which has been waged since Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired on TV in 1987?

It’s because of a baby name. Or the one that could have been.

When Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity championship race in Miami, he also won a friendly bet with his girlfriend, Alexa De Leon.

With his championship, they would name their son, scheduled to be born Jan. 17, Beau.

But there was a different name, which Alexa found on the Internet and was sold on.

“Alexa really wanted our son’s name to be Ryker,” says Reddick, who at first “was all for it.”

William T. Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Why?

You can thank Commander William T. Riker,  first officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise – D.

“Every time I hear the name, I think of that character,” says Reddick.

Reddick’s fondness for Star Trek is tied to his racing career. Before he made it to NASCAR, he raced on dirt tracks. His downtime was spent on Netflix.

“I’ve been able to pretty much watch everything,” Reddick says. “That’s how I got caught up and watched it. I would travel on the road dirt racing or whatever. I would sit on Netflix and watch all of the series, kind of in the order they’re supposed to come out. There was about a year straight … that’s all I watched when I was at the house.”

Even with his love of Trek – he has a Star Fleet insignia Pop Socket on the back of his phone – he couldn’t bring himself to pull the phaser trigger on naming his son after the jazz-loving Commander Riker.

“I don’t know, I’m worried people are going to pick on me for naming my son after a Star Trek character,” Reddick admits. “As crazy as it sounds, it was one of the reasons I didn’t like the name Ryker, because I watched Star Trek so much.”

Ryker Reddick is a strong name. It’s not too late to make the change.

“I can’t now, because I’m just so headstrong,” Reddick says. “I just like the name Beau better.”

That said, Reddick isn’t just a fan of old Star Trek. He watches the series Star Trek: Discovery that debuted in 2017.

Oh, and he’ll get his Picard fix early next year. Patrick Stewart returns in the CBS All Access series Picard to play the character he last portrayed in the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis.

“(Alexa) made fun of me for being so excited about it,” Reddick says. “She said I was like, ‘fangirling.'”