75-lap Clash sets Daytona 500 stage

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We’re going to get our first taste of some NASCAR Thunder this Sunday with the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, a 75 lap race broken into two segments featuring 17 drivers who either won a pole position, made the 2017 playoffs, or won a past Daytona 500 pole. It’s basically every driver who is somebody in this wild new era of NASCAR. It’s also basically the Bud Shootout Unlimited Clash.

I say wild only because all this NASCAR history passing me by makes feel as old as I’ve ever felt. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who I remember making Busch Series odds for in 1999, just retired. Daytona was his place. Daytona took his father’s life in 2001. He was always a storyline at Daytona because he was so good on the 2.5-mile high banked SuperSpeedway.

But Junior’s gone. So is Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, more drivers I saw in the lower series. But get over it already.

There’s a lot to be excited about in this new era. And we also get to see the Camaro as the Chevrolet brand this season. What took so long? I’m extremely excited about seeing how the Camaro aero package does in the draft. Something tells me they’re going to have an edge over the next two weeks. We’ll see.

Ford has been the king of the restrictor-plate packages lately and has won the past three points-paying races at Daytona and past five at Talladega. Last season Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – he no longer dates Danica Patrick – won the July Daytona race. Stenhouse also won at Talladega last year. It was the first two wins of his career. Danica will race in the Daytona 500 next week, but not full time in the series.

Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski also have Daytona wins and a couple at the other Superspeedway at Talladega. They help make Ford the dominant manufacturer during plate races. Chevy loses Earnhardt Jr.

As for 2018 rule changes, there isn’t much to worry about as far as performance. Someone close to the Cup series told me “this year is the least amount of aero changes we’ve ever had in between seasons.”

That’s basically saying Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are going to continue their march from 2017. But this week, I’m going with another Toyota built by Joe Gibbs Racing, driven by 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.

Pull out the grill, gather the family and watch some NASCAR this Sunday. Turn the volume up. Make a few bets, too.

Next week it’s the Daytona 500 and a viewing party at the South Point showroom where we can root for the three Las Vegas drivers, including Brendan Gaughan the son of South Point owner Michael Gaughan. Take some notes this Sunday, watch the Camaro in the draft and then let’s come out firing with some wagers. We’ll talk next week.

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