Cole Custer

What drivers said after Las Vegas

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Here’s what drivers had to say about their performance in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Joey Logano – winner: “Boy, we fought hard for this one today.  Man, what a battle between Blaney and I and Chase Elliott and (Martin Truex Jr.) earlier in the race, and then to see this finish with Matt finishing second is great day for Wood Brothers and for Team Penske. Man, nothing like winning the Pennzoil 400 in front of this amazing crowd with this awesome yellow car right here in the front.  Man, this is a huge win, and nice to kick off the season with a W.

“[Was the push from Stenhouse on the final restart the difference?] Yeah, it really was. You get a good start like that, and I watched him, he pushed me and then he shoved me ahead, which was great, and then the block on the 24, that was the winning move, I was able to get down in front of him and then be able to separate myself a little bit from the field. Clean air was going to be key with old tires. If I got swallowed up by a couple cars, I was just going to fall backwards really quick. Being able to get that clean air, secure that. Man, this is great getting back in Victory Lane.

“[It’s your first win with Paul Wolfe as your crew chief, one to remember] Yeah, it really is. He’s done such a great job, and it’s been fun getting to know each other, and with the whole team. The pit crew was amazing today. I think we gained a spot every time at least. Proud of the effort that everyone has put in over the offseason, to come out here the start of the West Coast Swing and get one of those cool stickers right next to my name on top of this car.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 2nd: “This is all just too surreal. Tough to be that close, but, hey, this is only the second race of the season. So it was the strength of this team. It’s so cool to have the backing of all the people that allow me to drive this thing.  It took so many people, Motorcraft, Quick Lane. To be driving this iconic car is so cool, Menards and Paul, I know you’re watching at home and proud and I can’t thank everyone in that whole family for this opportunity for it.

“Power under the hood is always good. I’m proud to have that Roush Yates power under the hood. This whole team, Greg Irwin, all of them, we were covered. It wasn’t pretty at the start, but, man, they did an excellent job. So happy to be working with this team, the fans. Thank you all so much. The journey has been pretty cool.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 3rd: “Brian (crew chief Brian Pattie) is just really good at calling races, and he apologized for that one (bad pit call). That one backfired on us that second run. We got good track position, and then we stayed out a little too long and gave up that track position. So then we were fighting kind of all race to get it back up, and he went long again, and it paid off with the caution. Our Kroger Camaro was good. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we know what we need to work on now, and it was cool to get a good solid run in this Camaro for everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing. Got to thank Hungry Jack, NOS Energy Drink and everybody that works on this car. So far so good. Two weeks, we’ve been fast this week, we weren’t bad this week, and we know what we need to work on, and I know Brian and the boys will tune it up.”

Austin Dillon – finished 4th: “We just needed some track position. Everybody is just really close. You can tell by how many cars are on the lead lap at the end of these races; it’s nuts. NASCAR did a great job to get these cars where they are. It is crazy racing out there. We saw those guys hit pit road. We were running the same lap times at the beginning of the tires to the end, so that was our best move. Luckily, we got the outside. Our teammate was doomed on the bottom. The bottom just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader. I just want to thank all of our sponsors; American Ethanol, Bass Pro Shop, Dow, everyone that helps this team. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 5th: “It was a strong day. With about 15 to go or so, I got into the outside wall and lost some spots. But we didn’t have a strong enough tire rub to cause any problems. We put rights on before that final restart. Chaos was happening in front of me and I was able to sneak through to get a top-five finish.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it. We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.

“[How important is the strong finish by the Chevrolets – six in the top 10?] It’s really rewarding to see. Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevy’s up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 6th: “We had a shot at a good finish and we capitalized on that. All-in-all, it was a good day and a win for us. It was just a good gamble call. We were terrible on restarts. It would take us ten or fifteen laps just to get going and get the car underneath us. Then, we could start fighting our way up there. There were frustrating moments over the radio, just trying to make this Coke Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE better. I know how I lose my cool a little bit, but one of the main reasons I brought [crew chief] Jerry Baxter in was to calm me down and show that light at the end of the tunnel. Every time I fired back, he said ‘I get it, you’re fine, we’re going to be fine’ and he was right. It was a good call by the team and everyone involved. Coke Energy, I appreciate them coming on board for this race. It was a great outing and it shows like we were running on some Coke Energy out there.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 7th: “We had a decent run today.  There were times where I felt like we were the best car and then there were times where I felt like we struggled.  We just didn’t quite have the long run speed all race long and we got to where we were really good in the middle of the runs and just learned a lot.  This is a little different car than I’ve ever raced before, so I’m learning how to adapt to that.  There are a lot of takeaways and I’m confident we were really close to being a winning car today.  I just wish I could re-run the weekend a little bit and work through a few things, but certainly learned a lot and very confident we can win races. … It came down to that green-white-checkered at the end and it was exactly what you would expect in a green-white-checkered, a crashfest, but it would have been interesting to see if it would have stayed green and the cars with tires could have had a shot at it, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 8th: “The caution really decided that.  I think there would have been some of us that got back close to the lead by the time we got off of turn four.  I don’t even know where we restarted, but we were seventh or so going into turn one on the last lap with a big head of steam and the caution came out.  Our Busch Light Ford was really good on the short runs.  We just kind of lost the handling as we would get deep in those runs and that kind of hurt us, but it came down to what we wanted there at the end, but we just got too far back.”

Kyle Larson – finished 9th: “I fought the balance a lot early in the race. It got better, but then we had some cautions there at the end, I would be on cycled tires and the balance would get really tight. All-in-all, it was a top-ten here and I feel good about that.”

Ty Dillon – finished 10th: “I’m just really happy with our GEICO Camaro. We got pretty tight through the middle of the race, so we started freeing it up and freeing it up. We just needed an opportunity to get some track position back there. Things went our way on that restart. I was able to find some holes and finally got aggressive there at the end. We got our first top-10 of the year, so that feels good. We ran really, really strong at Daytona, but didn’t get the result that we deserved. For our team to run the way we did today is a really exciting thing for our team.

“[What were the restarts like?] It was nuts. It was three or four-wide every single restart and you just had to find the lane that had a little bit of momentum. It was crazy, it was never the same. I think I restarted 19th and went through the middle, and we ended up 10th. I don’t really know what happened, but we just started passing cars. You just had to find the lane and you’re to process things at such a high rate of speed. You just had to be committed to where you were going.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 11th: “It was just a crappy situation. We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it. I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them. It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out. That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car. We were great on long runs. We were so good on long runs and that’s something to hold our heads up high about, it just stinks about the finish.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 12th: “That was a long day for us. We just couldn’t get our front end to work like we wanted it to work. Our car did not want to roll the middle today. We’ll be better in Fontana next week.”

Alex Bowman – finished 13th: “We had such a good car there at the end. Obviously, running down the 12 (Ryan Blaney) pretty quickly. At least looking at a second-place finish, if not, battling for a win there. Our car was so good. The caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong. Bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved. But at the same time, I’m so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously, we had it rolling there at the end.

“It’s unfortunate to not end up with a top-10, but I’m really proud of my guys. Having a shot at winning these things is really all you can ask for and this one just didn’t work out for us.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 18th: “I was loose for the majority of the day when I tried to run the bottom, but the adjustments my team made through the race helped a lot. I was able to get the top to work fairly well, especially on the long runs. I just needed a little more to fire off with, but we’ll work on that. It was great to be able to run inside the top 10 today. That’s momentum we can build on. When that final yellow came out, we decided to gamble in Las Vegas and stay out to go for the win. Unfortunately, we lined up fifth, which meant we were on the bottom for the restart. The bottom hadn’t restarted well all day, so that wasn’t in our favor and we fell backwards but ultimately had a shot at it.”

Cole Custer – finished 19th: “It’s not the result we wanted today with the Production Alliance Group/Haas Automation Mustang, but the guys worked hard on the car all day. I’m still learning a lot with the Cup car and wanted a better result. We came back from two laps down, and (crew chief) Mike Shiplett did a good job continuing to adjust on the car. I know I need to be better at restarts and some things like that, but I’m looking forward to next week and excited about working with the No. 41 team this year.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 20th: “(What happened when you hit the wall? ) He (Kurt Busch) kept blocking until I hit the fence. Then it was tire rub, blew the tire and hit the fence. That was it. … “(How are things with your new crew chief?) Everything is fine. We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.

“(How trying of a race was this?) Just unfortunate this early in the season. It’s nice to have a fast race car. Our Bass Pro Shops Toyota was really good. We were top two or three early in the first half and then the pit stop issue. We got back in traffic. I had a role on the 1 (Kurt Busch) car and he just moving up until I hit the fence on the front stretch. I thought we were going to be okay after that. Then just cut our right front tire down and pretty much ended our day. It is what it is, but luckily we got some good stage points the first two stages. We have a fast race car we can move forward with. The guys did a good job, just have to clean up pit road.”

Ross Chastain – finished 27th: “I was just overdriving there at the end for sure. It just got away from me there and got loose.  There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton. … [You looked comfortable in the car?] Yeah, the car deserved a lot better finish. Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. These guys kind of ate me alive on the restarts and I’d lose three or four spots every time, and picked the wrong lines through one and two, and then three and four again I just kept making silly mistakes that I should learn from after I make the mistake once. I just have to be better.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 30th: “(What happened at the start of the race? ) Obviously, this is just a learning process. We had an issue with the ECU box in the beginning. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, but it put us into a hole and it was difficult to get out of the hole. I feel like we could have finished somewhere in the top-25, maybe even better than that. We had to fight hard. We learned a lot of different things that we can improve for next week. It feels to get that first race in. We now know what we have to work on. We just have to go out there and keep digging.”

We will add more driver comments as they become available. Please check back.

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What drivers said after Daytona 500

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Here’s what drivers had to say about their performances in the season-opening Daytona 500:

Denny Hamlin – winner: “I think we take for granted sometimes how safe these cars are. We’re praying for Ryan (Newman). Worked really well with Ryan through this whole race. Obviously, he got turned right there. Proud of our whole FedEx team. I don’t even know what to say, so unexpected. I knew they were going to come with a big run there. My job was to just make sure I didn’t put a block up where they would wreck me so I could make it to another corner. We got to the 12 (Ryan Blaney’s) bumper and got the push from there. I knew I was going to give him a big run. The race wasn’t over and obviously it worked out well for us there at the end. Proud of this whole FedEx team, Toyota, Coke, the Jordan brand. It’s great to have my girls here and the team celebrating back-to-back. I can’t even tell you what it means to me. … We’ve definitely defied odds the last eight years or so to win the Daytona 500. I just trust my instincts and so far they’ve been good for me. I can’t do it without the car and  making it capable for me to make those winning moves.

“(Take us through the final two laps) I knew that I got out there a little too far on the backstretch. I didn’t want to check up and it was just going to increase the run that those guys had. I knew that I wanted to give them the bottom and  leave myself the top so I had some options. Great call by my spotter there, (Chris) Lambert to tuck in behind the 12 (Ryan Blaney). He told me to get behind the 12 and  entering Turn 3 I was able to link up on his bumper, similar to what I did with the 6 (Ryan Newman) and I knew I was  going to give him a shot or a run was going to be massive and he was going to do something with it. I knew it wasn’t over from my perspective. When they got together, I just wanted to get as far away as I could and then once I saw the 12 coming up, I wanted to get to his right-rear like I did with (Martin Truex Jr. in 2016) a few years ago and side draft to the line. Things really worked out perfectly there for me at the end. I’m very fortunate to be in this place, but we all have to bow our heads and pray for Ryan Newman. That’s the number one thing we should all be thinking about right now.

“(How concerned were you that you were the sole Toyota in the closing laps?) We’re defying odds. We’re obviously low on numbers there. There were just so many Fords, I knew that at the end of these races, people want to win for themselves. Alliances and all sound really, really good at the beginning, but in the end, it’s the Daytona 500 and we want to do everything we can to win. Everyone was battling for it there. We just ended up on the right side of it.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 2nd: “We pushed Newman there to the lead and then we got a push from (Hamlin). I kind of went low and he blocked that and so I was committed to pushing him to the win and have a Ford win it. I don’t know. We just got the bumpers hooked up wrong and I turned him. I hope he is alright. It looked pretty bad. I was trying to push him to the win. I don’t like saying that things just happen because I feel really bad about it. It was a close one. I just hope Ryan is alright.”

David Ragan – finished 4th: “That was the ugliest fourth-place finish I have ever had. I wasn’t disciplined enough in my strategy there with about 15 to go. I felt like things were getting a little hairy and we were 16th or 18th and that is no man’s land here at Daytona. I keyed the radio up going down the back straightaway and said I was going to back off a little. That is when they wrecked. I was pretty mad at myself for not seeing that earlier and getting that damage. Our Front Row Motorsports team with Rick Ware did a good job getting it fixed up. Those last few laps were exciting.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 5th: “We did exactly what we wanted to do. We just got a little bit of bumper damage and abandoned stage points to be around at the end to have a chance. We did at the end; we just ran out of pushers. I knew we needed to be fourth on that restart. The bottom wasn’t where we needed to be. We didn’t get a good shove and then everything jumbled up and we were able to get back close to the front. It was a solid night for the Busch Light Ford.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 6th: “That was my opportunity to win, being on the outside in fourth. I don’t know. It is just disappointing. I am frustrated because I felt like I should have been on the outside and not on the inside. That was a game winning decision there, or losing decision on our behalf, and unfortunately it didn’t transpire.”

Brendan Gaughan – finished 7th: “My last Daytona 500, my career-best finish, what an amazing finish. The Beard Oil Team, what a great job. I’m so proud of all the guys; we don’t quit. Right now, my thoughts are with Newman. Twenty-three or 24 years of this and finally a top 10 in the Daytona 500 and a chance to win. The guys didn’t quit, the pit crew didn’t quit. I love the Beard family and thank you for the opportunity. For us, this is a big deal. We’re a small team with one employee, a car chief that’s a plumber, and we come home with a top 10 in the Daytona 500. I had a shot there at the end to win. That’s Daytona, man! This stuff is wild. I do love this racing. We take this risk, love this risk and we do what we love. I still love what I do.”

Corey LaJoie – finished 8th: “The narrative kind of changed a little bit. I heard he (Newman) went straight to the hospital. That’s obviously scary. I got a big push there that last coming to the white.  I don’t know who was pushing me and I kind of stalled out and I don’t know who hooked Newman. I was hoping he would kind of bounce off the fence to the left, but he didn’t and I hit him. I don’t know exactly where I hit him. I haven’t seen a replay. It was some scary stuff. Don’t get me wrong. My car was on fire. My seat belts grabbed all sorts of areas, but it was a good day for us. I hope Ryan is OK.”

Kyle Larson – finished 10th: “I had a decent shot on some of those restarts. I couldn’t push Joey (Logano) as fast as I needed to. I felt like I was locked to him pretty well, we just weren’t making any speed. I fell way back and were able to miss some crashes there. I got shuffled out there on that last lap and just had to ride to the finish because I was so far behind the draft. A top 10 with no damage on the car is good. I just hope Newman is alright. It’s the first Daytona 500 that I haven’t gotten any damage, so that’s a good. We still got a top 10, so it’s not a bad points weekend. We finished third in the Clash and 10th here. We’ll take it and move onto Vegas. I’m excited to get on a 1.5-mile track with the new bodies.”

Austin Dillon — finished 12th: “We want to be in Victory Lane where Denny Hamlin is, but all in all, we’ve had a pretty good start to the season for this No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road/E-Z-Go Chevrolet Team. The Daytona 500 is one of those races where you want to finish towards the front because it takes a while to recover from a bad first race. To start the season in the top-13 in points is huge. We were riding around biding our time to make a run for it at the end when I saw a car swing across the field and I knew we were going to be in trouble. I got hit pretty good. I tried to keep it in the middle but ended up with some right-front damage. After that, our car was on the splitter and didn’t want to turn. Still, we survived several more wrecks to finish 12th. I was able to maintain at the end but I think we could have finished a few spots higher if we would have lined up on the outside for the final restart. I really needed other cars pushing me to help me along. We’re through Daytona and it’s a solid start to the year.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 20th: “I was alright there; I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with the 12 (Ryan Blaney). I went low to not crash him and I got called for going below the yellow line. So, I don’t know. That’s the second one I’ve been called for when I felt like it was either crash the field or go below the line. I felt like I was blocked to go down there. When you’re going 200 mph, your momentum just carries you after they throw a block on you. I’m frustrated with that and coming to pit road, we got hit, which ultimately ruined our night. (What happened with the incident with William Byron?) I was going to go block (Aric Almirola) and then when I looked, (Byron) was going to follow me down and I didn’t think he was. So, I just got into his left rear. I hated that because I felt like the Hendrick and Chevy’s were working really well together.”

Alex Bowman – finished 24th: “Obviously not the night we wanted. This Valvoline team put together a great Chevy for Daytona. I hate it for the guys because they have worked so hard. We definitely didn’t give up and did everything we could to get more laps on the track. We learned a lot this week and definitely have a notebook for the next race.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 28th: “Honestly, I really don’t know what happened. I just saw he got loose. I really thought he had it saved and I was going to roll to the outside of him. Then, it’s like when the rear tires came back underneath him, it snapped and went back the other way, and I was there to catch him. Looking back, I really wish I would have dived to the inside with as fast as we were going there. Catching those cars in front of us, I probably would have got loose and wrecked myself. It’s just tough; it’s part of this racing. I’m glad we made it a little bit further this time around; I made it to Lap 199. We could have hung out in the back and probably got a little better finish. But I came here to win and that’s what this Caterpillar Chevy team is about.”

Ryan Preece – finished 29th: “We were in position to win the race right there. You really got no help, which is sad, but the only one that was helping me was Chris Buescher. It’s hard to commit to so many people when you know at the end of the race the only person you can trust is Chris. It’s frustrating. Obviously, I can trust the 47 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) when I need his help, but as far as anyone else goes, you’re going to get left out to dry. It’s frustrating. That was the best shot to win that race. We were in a phenomenal spot.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 33rd: “(What happened in the big wreck you were involved in?) There was just guys wrecking and the 21(Matt DiBenedetto) came back across, and we ended up knocking the oil cooler out of our No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy. The car was handling good; the guys put a lot of work into it. The random roulette wheel took our number today and we didn’t get to the end. Lady Luck was not on our side. There were a lot of cars on the lead-lap and there was a really big instability with side-drafting. With 15 laps to go, do you ride still or do you go for it? I went for it.

Kyle Busch – finished 34th: “No, right there coming out of (Turn) 4 – when we were leading and guys were kind of switching from the bottom to the top. That’s when I got warning that it was starting to go away and then through the tri-oval it let go more and that is when (Joey) Logano was all over me. I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Overall, it’s just a shame. I really hate it for all my guys. I really hate it for Joe Gibbs Racing. You come off pit road after the final pit stop and you are leading the thing – it’s kind of your shot to win. All you have to do is make sure that you can keep everyone else behind you. We’ve been in that spot I don’t know how many times, and I guess we will just keep going down in history of finding new ways to lose it. I know there is another guy who has done that before and he was pretty popular. I don’t know. It sucks to be in that conversation, but we will go on another year.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 35th: “It’s been really a cool race to be a part of. You only dream of racing in races like this as a kid. That No. 22 car (Joey Logano) had been pretty aggressive all day long. I just felt like it was a matter of time before his pushes were a little much and it looks like that was the case there. But, our Ally Chevy was really strong. I hate that we were tore up in it. I’m really excited about the races ahead of us. Cliff Daniels (crew chief) did a great job leading this team, full support from Hendrick Motorsports, my family, my friends, my fans; I’m just very thankful for all of that. We didn’t get to Victory Lane today but I’m ready to get to Vegas and get to work out there.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 36th: “I just spun out. I had (Newman) in front of me, I was about to push him, just a lot of kinetic energy there. I felt we had a really good car. (Christopher Bell) was doing such a great job pushing (Newman). I didn’t think they’d have as strong of a run as they did. They just got by me on the bottom. I should have covered that better and I didn’t. It’s my fault, I kind of put myself in position for that. We led a lot laps, were certainly in position at the end and just not quite strong enough. … You definitely have to push each other and bump the heck out of each other. That is how this racing is.”

Cole Custer – finished 37th: “It looks like we had a problem with a gear. Those things are usually pretty bulletproof. I don’t know. It’s tough because we just rode around all day to position ourselves for the end and it just didn’t work out. We had a good car. I think we probably were gonna be in contention for a top 10 there, but it just doesn’t always work out sometimes.”

William Byron – finished 40th: “(Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) had given me a couple of bumps earlier before that and the car handled it fine. I think the fact that he was pushing me and sliding left across the bumper is what really got me slightly left. He moved to go out of line and misjudged that move it seemed like. Ultimately, he hit me in the left-rear quarter panel and turned me straight into the inside wall. I understand making moves and stuff. I think we were all in line to that point. It wasn’t like I was trying to block him or anything; I just don’t really know where that came from. It’s the ups and downs of racing. It goes up and down, and luckily, we got something points-wise out of this race or less we’d have one point. I guess we have 10 or 11 points going into Las Vegas. We’re going to have to rebound and rally there. I don’t know, I’m not really sure what I could have done differently.”

 

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Monday’s Daytona 500: Restart time, weather and more

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Let’s try this again.

After rain postponed Sunday’s race, Cup drivers will get back on track Monday at Daytona International Speedway to complete the Daytona 500. And the forecast looks very good for Monday’s race.

The race was halted after 20 of 180 laps with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leading.

Here are today’s details:

(All times are Eastern)

RESTART: Command to fire engines at 4:02 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:12 p.m. 

DISTANCE: 180 of the scheduled 200 laps remain to be run on the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 65. Stage 2 ends on Lap 130.

TV/RADIO: Fox’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 73 degrees and a 3% chance of rain when the race resumes.

RUNNING ORDER:

  1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Aric Almirola
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. William Byron
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Timmy Hill
  11. David Ragan
  12. Chris Buescher
  13. Matt DiBenedetto
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Ross Chastain
  16. Alex Bowman
  17. Kyle Larson
  18. Kurt Busch
  19. Austin Dillon
  20. Cole Custer
  21. Michael McDowell
  22. Tyler Reddick
  23. Ryan Blaney
  24. Bubba Wallace
  25. Reed Sorenson
  26. BJ McLeod
  27. Corey LaJoie
  28. Brendan Gaughan
  29. Ryan Preece
  30. Justin Haley
  31. Martin Truex Jr.
  32. Kyle Busch
  33. Erik Jones
  34. Christopher Bell
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Clint Bowyer
  37. John Hunter Nemechek
  38. Quin Houff
  39. Joey Gase
  40. Brennan Poole

The 2020 Daytona 500 viewer’s guide: Five things to watch over 500 miles

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Take a good look when the green flag falls for the 62nd running of the Daytona 500, because the Great American Race likely will appear quite different in 2021.

Next season will mark the debut of the NextGen car, a radical overhaul of the model that has been raced in NASCAR’s premier series for decades. The potential volatility of an unusually large group of stars in contract years could mean a dramatic reshuffling of the driver lineup for next season. And though next year’s Daytona 500 already has been announced its traditional mid-February slot (Feb. 14, 2021), the races that will follow it (or perhaps occur before) will form what’s expected to be an aggressive shake-up of the Cup schedule.

Those are three overarching topics in NASCAR entering the 2020 season that actually won’t be fully digested until well after the champion has been crowned.

But one thing remains static: The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the season, and Daytona International Speedway will have anyone’s full attention for roughly three hours today.

Here are five things to watch over the next 500 miles of Cup racing.


Jimmie Johnson’s last ride: Feting the seven-time series champion will be a weekly occurrence during his final full season of an illustrious 19 years in the Cup Series, and Daytona International Speedway will kick off the celebration by putting Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet at the front during warmup laps. A special video tribute and highlight montage will be played, honoring the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s career with accolades from peers and teammates, and there also will be an extended salute during driver introductions.

It’s fitting to heap as much praise on Johnson as possible, considering many in NASCAR believe proper credit was lacking for his accomplishments and during an unprecedented run of five consecutive championship (notably, Johnson will remain overshadowed slightly Sunday by a visit from President Trump).

Of course, the ultimate homage would be in victory lane. It’s been more than two seasons and 95 races since his last victory, but Johnson is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and showed speed in finishing second to teammate William Byron in Thursday’s second qualifying race. Though speedway races haven’t been his forte, if he can avoid being caught in the predictable rash of wrecks, he should have as good of a shot as anyone at earning a memorable win.

NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson smiles during Daytona 500 Media Day (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Blocking and big crashes: Speaking of wrecks, expect more of the same at the Daytona 500, which has been an annual demolition derby since 2017. Though drivers understand insanely higher closing rates (because of a taller spoiler) greatly have diminished the effectiveness of blocking, it won’t preclude overly optimistic moves that invariably will result in massive pileups (as in Sunday’s Busch Clash).

It’s the Daytona 500, which means every risk can be rationalized no matter how absurd and futile it might seem in retrospect.

Expect the action to be relatively tame (much like the bulk of Thursday’s qualifiers) through the first 160 laps. But over the final 100 miles, the gloves will come off, and many contenders will be left staggering.

And keep an eye on whether any more flareups involve teammates after the contretemps between Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in the Clash.


Manufacturer alliances: Because it should be easier to charge toward the front with these rules, strength in numbers will be less important than a year ago (when Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas cut a secret deal with Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolets to thwart the Ford armada). But the automakers have exuded their desire for cooperation among brands more strongly than ever over the past year at Daytona and Talladega, with Chevrolet finally getting its Camaros to work in line with the Camrys and Mustangs.

Those dynamics will change as the laps wind down, but at least through the first two stages, expect drafting partners to be chosen strictly across manufacturer lines.

However, within the last 40 laps, expect to see surges regardless of their brands by the drivers remaining who are most skilled at superspeedway racing (with Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Keselowski and Logano being among the first tier, and Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch being in the conversation after that).


(Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The champ seeks another crown: NASCAR has been at Daytona International Speedway barely a week, but its resident champion has been making headlines here since the start of the year.

From the moment Kyle Busch climbed into a Lexus during a Jan. 3 test for his Rolex 24 debut, he has carried a noticeable spring in his step at the World Center of Racing.

Undoubtedly, he feels the confidence borne of emerging from one of his most frustrating seasons in Cup with a second title, which surely makes his first Daytona 500 win (in his 15th attempt) seem even more attainable.

His record at the 2.5-mile track is spotty – a lone victory in the July 2008 race – but he finished a career-best second in last year’s season opener. A stat buff who is aware of the many stock-car greats who never won here or needed double-digit tries, Busch has all the necessary motivation to marry with the swagger.


First timers and dark horses: This season’s vaunted trio of rookies (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) comprise the best freshman class in Cup since 2006 (Hamlin, Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.), and any of them could pull the biggest Daytona 500 stunner since Trevor Bayne’s 2011 victory.

The same is true for a familiar collection of youth and veterans who have a skillset well-suited for superspeedways. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Aric Almirola, Ryan Preece and Matt DiBenedetto (now driving for Wood Brothers Racing’s storied No. 21, which has a long history at Daytona and is on the cusp of its 100th victory) don’t get mentioned often as Cup contenders but can’t be overlooked at Daytona.

Michael McDowell, David Ragan and Bubba Wallace are driving for midpack teams but aren’t necessarily long shots in this race.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Joey Logano fastest in final Daytona 500 practice

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Joey Logano topped the speed chart in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

Logano, who won his qualifying race Thursday night, posted a speed of 200.517 mph.

The top five was completed by Kevin Harvick (200.512 mph), Brad Keselowski (200.499), Clint Bowyer (200.468) and Cole Custer (200.419).

Bowyer recorded the most laps with 23.

Only 26 of 40 cars took part in the practice session.

The five Toyota cars of Joe Gibbs Racing and Leavine Family Racing did not participate. Pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also didn’t practice.

There were no incidents in the practice session.

Click here for the practice report.