By Chad Parries
Lots of plot lines as the NASCAR season takes the green flag again this Sunday.
The journey begins once again Sunday.
Another 36 event NASCAR season takes its green flag this weekend with the running of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500. Chase Elliott captured the pole Sunday for the second straight season. The Rookie of the Year from 2015 will pace the field alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will be making his first start since last July after missing the entire second half of the season due to a concussion.
The rest of the starting lineup is determined by Thursday’s twin 150 mile qualifying races, however Elliott and Earnhardt’s starting spots are locked in regardless of their finishes in those.
Looking for a trendy pick? Either of those Hendrick cars on the front row may be just that. Junior has won the event twice (2004, 2013), and even though Elliott has yet to score a NASCAR victory, he was on the verge on more than occasion last year, and appears poised to take the next step, and winning the pole is certainly a great start.
Other favorites include last year’s champ, Denny Hamlin, who led the most laps in last weekend’s Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition event only to be involved in a last lap accident with Brad Keselowski. Joey Logano, the 2015 Daytona winner, who went on win, will likely be strong also as he has won three out of the last eight races on superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega.
And lets not forget the now seven time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has a pair of 500’s on his historic resume from 2006 and 2014.
Want a couple of sleepers? Austin Dillon finished in the top 10 in all four superspeedway races last year, and is coming off a career season in 2016. Clint Bowyer has been strong since he arrived in Daytona in Tony Stewart’s number 14 car and is a proven restrictor plate racer, and the longest active superspeedway winless drought belongs to former Cup champion Kurt Busch – might this finally be his time after finishing second in the 500 three times?
Or it could be like 2011 when then-unknown Trevor Bayne pulled maybe the biggest upset in NASCAR history.
With all that said, let’s stop talking and let’s start racing.
–Chad Parries is a teacher at Craig County High, a part-time journalist and a big NASCAR fan.