NASCAR Weekend Preview: Pre-Season Clash and 500 Qualifying

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Ahead of each NASCAR race weekend, Kickin’ the Tires previews the upcoming races, looking at the storylines entering the events while highlighting when and where to watch them. 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race Name: Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

Race Length: 75 laps, 187.5 miles – No stages

Track: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.)

Track Length: 2.50 miles

Track Record: 210.364 mph (Bill Elliott, 1987)

What Happened Last Year: Denny Hamlin dominated a rain-delayed Clash before the traditional Sunday qualifying sessions, leading a race-high 48 laps. But on the last lap Hamlin crashed out while attempting to block Brad Keselowski, eliminating both drivers. That allowed Joey Logano to surge ahead and claim the year’s first victory after holding off Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman.

Weekend Schedule

Saturday, February 10

Advance Auto Parts Clash final practice: 10:35-11:55 a.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)

Daytona 500 practice: 1:05-1:55 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)

Daytona 500 practice: 3:05 p.m.-3:55 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, February 11

Daytona 500 qualifying (single car, two rounds): 12:15 p.m. ET (FOX)

Advance Auto Parts Clash: 3 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1) 

What to Watch For

Joey Logano celebrates his win in Victory Lane after the 2017 Advance Auto Parts Clash (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Bragging Rights

The year-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash stands in a unique position with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tour.

Like the Monster Energy All-Star Race contested at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, the Clash serves as a rare exhibition event offered exclusively to the Cup Series’ top talents. Only previous victors of the race, pole winners and playoff participants from the previous year are deemed eligible for the event, and they race solely for the prize money and bragging rights that come with a year-opening triumph.

However, while the All-Star Race arrives near the middle of the season and on a traditional 1.5-mile oval, the Clash comes without the expectations of previous races on the year, and is much more challenging to forecast due to the turbulent nature of restrictor-plate racing.

Eight different drivers have won the event over the past 10 seasons, with only Kevin Harvick (2009, ’10, ’13) and Denny Hamlin (2014, ’16) triumphing multiple times during that stretch.

In theory the race means nothing. But as seen in the chaotic, crash-filled last lap in the 2017 edition of the Clash, to the drivers that contest the race it is every bit as important to win as a traditional points race.

Expect all 17 competitors in this year’s field to come out aggressive as they attempt to start the year with a victory.

A Switch in the Order

Last season a downpour of weekend rain delayed the Clash from its traditional Saturday night slot to Sunday morning.

After the positive reception that delay received, the race has been moved to Sunday outright for the foreseeable future.

The switch should present drivers with a slightly different challenge from previous years.

In the past the 75-lap exhibition race has been contested on its own day, far-removed from Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session. This year the race will actually be contested immediately after the time trials, forcing the 17 drivers entered in both events to adjust mentally from whatever highs or lows come from qualifying and prepare immediately for a separate race.

Given that the Cup Series has some of the world’s greatest drivers, making the switch shouldn’t be a challenge.

But the move is still unique within the Cup Series garage, so it’s something worth following.

Can the Story Win Again?

Daytona 500 qualifying has become something of an inside joke within the NASCAR community in recent years, with one of the year’s biggest stories claiming the top starting spot for the season-opening race in each of the past five seasons.

The trend began back in 2013, when Verizon IndyCar Series transplant Danica Patrick took the pole for her first Daytona 500. Austin Dillon followed in 2014, putting the No. 3 made famous by Dale Earnhardt back atop the charts in the first Cup Series race for the number since Earnhardt’s passing after a crash in the 2001 edition of the race.

Retiring legend Jeff Gordon claimed the top spot for the race in 2015, leading the field to green to start a farewell tour that would see the four-time MENCS champ in title contention all the way down to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The following year Gordon’s successor – Chase Elliott – took the top spot for his first attempt at ‘The Great American Race.’ Last season the Georgian repeated the feat, getting the better of returning Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in what would turn out to be the two-time winner’s final Daytona 500 start.

There are a few drivers that will arrive at Daytona this weekend with a similar opportunity.

Alex Bowman will have his first opportunity to qualify for the 500-mile race since beginning his tenure with HMS. William Byron will have an opportunity to kickstart the final hurdle in his meteoric ascent through NASCAR.

Darrell Wallace Jr. will attempt to become the race’s first African-American polesitter, while Daniel Suarez could become the first Hispanic driver to accomplish the feat.

For five-consecutive years a major story has come from the polesitter at the Daytona 500. Time will tell if that becomes the case once again on Sunday.

Advanced Auto Parts Clash Entry List

Entry Car No. Manufacturer Driver Team
1 1 Chevrolet Jamie McMurray Chip Ganassi Racing
2 2 Ford Brad Keselowski Team Penske
3 3 Chevrolet Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing
4 4 Ford Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing
5 9 Chevrolet Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports
6 11 Toyota Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing
7 12 Ford Ryan Blaney Team Penske
8 17 Ford Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing
9 18 Toyota Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing
10 20 Toyota Erik Jones Joe Gibbs Racing
11 22 Ford Joey Logano Team Penske
12 31 Chevrolet Ryan Newman Richard Childress Racing
13 41 Ford Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Racing
14 42 Chevrolet Kyle Larson Chip Ganassi Racing
15 48 Chevrolet Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports
16 78 Toyota Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing
17 95 Chevrolet Kasey Kahne Leavine Family Racing

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