Although professional racing in America began with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, this weekend marks the opening volley in two of the most popular racing series in the United States; the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series and the NHRA Mello Yello drag racing series. NASCAR will of course be at Daytona, with the Advance Auto Parts Clash scheduled for Sunday at noon. And the NHRA’s top guns will face off at the Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
The Clash is a non-points race for 2017 pole winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners, and 2017 Playoff drivers not otherwise qualified. The 2017 pole winners are: Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Martin Truex Jr. Past Daytona pole winners are: Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson. Last season’s Playoff drivers not otherwise eligible are Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, and Ryan Newman. Eligible but not participating are: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Danica Patrick.
Advance Auto Parts Clash and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup practice will air today on Fox Sports 1. Daytona 500 qualifying is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Sunday, followed by the Clash at noon. Qualifying is on Fox, the Clash on Fox Sports 1. Sunday’s qualifying will set the front row for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500, with the remainder of the grid set according to the results of the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday. Only 40 cars are on the entry list for the Daytona 500, and it will be the only time in memory there will be no entries bumped out of the field.
For straight-line race fans, the NHRA season will kick off this weekend with the Lucas Oil Winternationals at Pomona. Among the top five picks favored to win in Top Fuel are two women: Leah Pritchett is ranked No. 2 behind Steve Torrence, and Brittany Force is No. 5 following Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown. Funny Car favorite is Robert Hight, followed by Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Courtney Force, and Jack Beckman. Bo Butner is the Pro Stock favorite, with Greg Anderson and Tanner Grey second and third. Erica Enders is the lone female favorite in the class in fourth, with Jason Line rounding out the top five. Qualifying runs will take place today with eliminations Sunday. Action will air primarily on Fox Sports 1. Check TV listings for times.
While Fox will broadcast the first half of the NASCAR season and NBC the second half, there has been a changing of the guard as far as TV coverage of professional racing is concerned. The NHRA will move from ESPN/ABC to Fox Sports. Formula One will migrate from NBC Sports to ESPN/ABC. The IndyCar series will continue to air the bulk of their races on NBC Sports with a select few, most noticeably the Indy 500, broadcast on ABC. You might want to set your DVR recording preferences accordingly. I know I will.
However, Formula One fans (especially male fans) will notice one major difference for 2018. The series new ownership has announced they’ll eliminate the use of “grid girls.” These ladies are typically local modeling talent hired from each host country to decorate the grid prior to the race start. Although they’ve been a staple of F1 pre-race pageantry for decades, the new owners felt that they didn’t fit their “brand image.” I for one will miss them.
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