Flag drops on start of 2017 NASCAR season Sunday | Roger Diez

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Fans saw a throwback to days gone by last weekend, when the Advance Auto Parts Clash ran during daylight hours, as it had done in the early days, when it was the Busch Clash. A rainy Saturday night at Daytona caused the race to move to Saturday morning. The change in time did nothing to diminish the competition, as all 17 competitors ran in a tight pack for the entire first segment. Tires became more of a factor than expected, with fresh rubber helping the Penske and Stewart-Haas Fords chase down and break up the Joe Gibbs Toyota freight train at the front. At the checker, Joey Logano was the winner by just over a second ahead of a tightly packed group comprised of Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, and Danica Patrick in second through fourth. The Clash also brought into play NASCAR’s new five minute rule, putting Kyle Larson out after crash damage couldn’t be repaired under the time limit.

Also last Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars qualified for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Toyotas and Fords had pretty much dominated practice, but when the checkered flag fell on qualifying, two Hendrick Chevrolets grabbed the top two spots; Chase Elliott on the pole and Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting alongside. Unlike any other race on the Cup schedule, the Daytona 500 only locks in the front row in qualifying. The rest of the field was set in the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday, with two drivers being dropped from the field as a result. The pole is Elliott’s second in a row, but here’s some bad news for the youngster – the last driver to win from the pole was Dale Jarrett in 2000.


On the other hand, Elliott became the first pole sitter to win a Duel race since the late Dale Earnhardt in 1996, exhibiting a masterful understanding of plate racing worthy of his dad, Million Dollar Bill Elliott, who won the 500 from the pole in 1985 and 1987. It also looked like Chases’s teammate, Junior, would come up a Duel victor, leading 53 of the 60 laps of Duel 2. But Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin made a brilliant last lap pass that left Junior the option of letting him by or wrecking them both. Junior made the wise choice and will start second on Sunday instead of 40th in a backup car.


So the stage is now set for Sunday’s 59th annual Daytona 500. Here are some interesting statistics about the race. Use them to amuse and amaze your friends during the race Sunday:

Chevrolet has won the Daytona 500 23 times, and Ford is runner up with 14 wins. Plymouth and Dodge have won four each; Mercury, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac had three wins apiece; and a Toyota has visited victory lane only once. Richard Petty is the all-time King of Daytona, with seven 500 wins. Cale Yarborough is runner up with four; Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon have won three each; two-time winners include Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth, with the last four of these competing Sunday for a third Daytona victory. Twenty-six other drivers have won the race one time, including currently active drivers Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, and Kevin Harvick.


Only nine times in NASCAR history has a driver won the Daytona 500 and the Cup Championship in the same year, and only five drivers have accomplished that feat: Richard Petty four times, Jimmie Johnson twice, and once each for Lee Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Jeff Gordon. Danica Patrick will appear in her sixth Daytona 500 Sunday, the most of any female driver by far. Janet Guthrie made two appearances in the race, and Shawna Robinson had one 500 start.


The closest Daytona 500 margin of victory was 0.001 second, set last year in Denny Hamlin’s victory over Martin Truex Jr. The 2011 race set the most records: most lead changes (74), most leaders (22), most cautions (16), and tied for most caution laps (60) and longest race distance (508 miles).


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