Roger Diez: Rejoice! The racing season is underway
NASCAR fans, rejoice! The time is finally here, the Super Bowl is over, and the 2020 racing season has begun! This is also opening weekend for NHRA drag racing with the Winternationals at Pomona. You Formula 1 and IndyCar fans will have to wait a while yet, as your series won’t open until March 15. However, preseason testing is coming up at the Circuit of the Americas for IndyCar on Feb. 12-13 and beginning on Feb. 19 for Formula 1 at Barcelona.
But back to Daytona. Saturday the Busch Clash final practice starts at 8:35 a.m., with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and radio broadcast on the Motor Racing Network (MRN). There will be two practices for the NASCAR Cup Series, at 10:35 a.m. and noon, with coverage on the same two networks. At 1:45 it’s the ARCA Lucas Oil 200 on FS1.
Sunday at 9:30 a.m. PST on FOX, the NASCAR Cup teams will qualify for the Daytona 500. Qualifying will set the front row for next Sunday’s big race, and also determine starting positions for Thursday’s Duel races. Finishing positions in these races will determine the starting order for the second to 20th rows for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. There are 43 cars on the official entry list, which means that three teams will be packing up and heading home after Thursday’s races.
The Daytona 500 has perhaps the oddest qualifying procedure of any professional race, with the possible exception of the Indy 500. After Sunday’s qualifying, it’s back to FS1 at noon for the Busch Clash. This is an invitational race for drivers who won poles in 2019. Also included are former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners, drivers who made the 2019 playoffs, and Daytona 500 champions. Drivers must also be current Cup competitors to qualify. Twenty drivers are eligible for tomorrow’s Clash, many of them meeting several of the qualifying criteria.
So, who’s favored to win the Clash? Oddsmakers put the three Penske drivers in the top six. Former Cup champions Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are the top picks at 8-1, with teammate Ryan Blaney at 10-1 along with Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and 2019 champion Kyle Busch. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch go off at 12-1. There are six drivers clustered at 16-1: Aric Almirola, Alec Bowman, Clint Bowyer, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, and Martin Truex, Junior. Kyle Larson and Erik Jones start at 20-1 and bring up the rear are Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon at 25-1.
Previous Clash winners in this year’s field include Johnson, who scored his second Clash win last February. His first was in 2005. He will be especially motivated to add third in his final year of Cup competition. Keselowski’s only Clash victory came in 2018, with teammate Logano also winning just once, in 2017. Hamlin has taken the Clash victory three times, in 2006, 2014, and 2016. Harvick has two Clash wins to his credit, while the Busch brothers have scored one apiece.
Finally, I need to make a correction to last week’s commentary on the Rolex 24. When writing last week’s column, I put 1,111 miles for the race distance as a placeholder, intending to get the real figure later. Unfortunately, I didn’t get back to change it before publication, hence the incorrect information made it into the paper. The real distance covered by the winning No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi was 833 laps or 2,965.48 miles, the farthest distance ever traveled in the course of the Rolex 24’s history.