Each season, NASCAR begins with its biggest race, the Daytona 500, a quirk that is unique in sports. On Sunday, the 60th annual Daytona 500 goes green at Daytona International Speedway at 3 p.m. ET and can be seen on FOX.
Alex Bowman (195.644 mph) and Denny Hamlin (195.092 mph), the 2016 race winner, share the front row after posting the fastest speeds in qualifying last weekend. Bowman is making his first start as the full-time driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, replacing the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. Heralded third-year drivers Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott start third and fourth, respectively, earning those positions by winning their Duel qualifying races on Thursday.
Defending Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch, starts 11th, alongside younger brother Kyle Busch, the 2015 Cup Series champion who is still seeking his first Daytona 500 win. If Kurt Busch wins Sunday, he will become just the fourth driver to win consecutive Daytona 500s, joining Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84), and Sterling Marlin (1994-95).
Danica Patrick will make her final career NASCAR start from the 28th position, having announced last November she would retire from NASCAR after this weekend. Patrick is the only female driver to win the Daytona 500 pole (2013) — or in any Cup Series race — and she is also the only woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, will serve as the grand marshal and give the command for drivers to start their engines. Other notables in attendance include former NFL quarterback and five-time MVP Peyton Manning, Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron, and Chipper Jones, one of baseball’s newest Hall of Famers.
SB Nation will provided continuous live coverage throughout the race.
While there has been a surprise winner or two over the last five seasons -- David Ragan (2013, Talladega) and Aric Almirola (2014, Daytona) more than qualify -- a look at drivers who’ve won the previous 20 plate races shows a lot of the same names. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have won 16 of those 20 races, an 80 percent winning clip.
Continuing a theme that has swept over the sport, NASCAR’s youth movement was on full display Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway. Twenty-four-year-old Ryan Blaney and 22-year-old Chase Elliott each won their Duel qualifying races in advance of Sunday’s Daytona 500, positioning themselves as viable contenders in the Cup Series season opener.
Patrick had to stop and compose herself multiple times when she announced last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway that her full-time racing career was coming to an end following the 2017 Cup Series season finale. That emotion was absent Saturday, Patrick explained, because she came to peace with her decision and is excited about her prospects of competing in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in May, then calling transitioning to a life outside motorsports.
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For those that had to make the changeover, Friday was about thrashing, hammering and getting a backup ready with the hope it was as good the primary. Aric Almirola, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, David Gilliland, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Larson are those who are now behind the wheel of a backup car. They will each have to fall to the rear of the starting grid.
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As anticipated, the scene surrounding Danica Patrick’s car prior to the race was chaotic. Among those wishing Patrick well before her final NASCAR race was her family and close friends, along with boyfriend and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Danica Patrick, Aaron Rodgers along with family and friends prior to the Daytona 500. pic.twitter.com/L4oEdt60Vn— Jordan Bianchi (@Jordan_Bianchi) February 18, 2018
Denny Hamlin passed pole-sitter Alex Bowman to lead the opening lap of the Daytona 500. Rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. continued his strong Speedweeks and is running second to Hamlin, with Erik Jones third, Kurt Busch fourth and Ryan Blaney fifth.
Corey LaJoie broguht the first caution on the afternoon when the engine in his No. 72 Chevrolet suffered a failure. During the caution period the field pitted where leader Denny Hamlin overshot his pit stall and was subsequently penalized one lap for getting service while the car was outside the pit stall.
Alex Bowman is leading the Daytona 500, passing defending race-winner Kurt Busch. Bowman did not race in the Cup Series last season and is making his first start on a restrictor-plate track since October 2016 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Kyle Busch is the latest Joe Gibbs Racing driver to have an early issue, joining teammate Denny Hamlin. Busch had a flat left-rear tire forcing an unscheduled green-flag pit stop, but was able to get the No. 18 car back to the pits without damaging it. He did, however, lose a lap.
Kyle Busch’s hopes of winning a first-ever Daytona 500 took a big blow following a second flat tire that caused him to crash. The accident occurred in Turn 3 and in the aftermath Jamie McMurray and D.J. Kennington also suffered damage. All three drivers were able to make repairs and return to the race, though McMurray fell a lap down while Bsuch is now three laps behind.
More tire issues for Kyle Busch. It didn't go quite as smoothly this time. https://t.co/BzSorEMhK6— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 18, 2018
The “Big One” has struck and several notables were collected in the pileup, including Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones. The crash happened on the final lap of Stage 1 when contact between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney stacked up the field and in the aftermath Suarez was tagged and sent slamming into the wall.
None of the seven drivers involved in the accident were injured.
Defending Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch won the first stage, collecting 10 championship points. Alex Bowman finished second, followed by Stenhouse, Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Michael McDowell, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Larson, and Paul Menard.
Ford, which swept all four restrictor-plate races last season, has taken control of the Daytona 500 as the race nears the halfway point (Lap 100). The manufacturer holds the top four positions with Ryan Blaney leading, Paul Menard second, Brad Keselowski third and Kevin Harvick fourth.
Danica Patrick’s NASCAR career came to an end early, as she got swept up in a wreck that started when Chase Elliott hit the wall near the front of the pack.
Brad Keselowski’s day ended as well.
Stage 2 has ended with Ryan Blaney in the lead. He’s now led 46 of 120 laps. Paul Menard and Joey Logano round out the top three. Just 21 teams are on the lead lap, while 11 of the 40 teams are now off the track for the remainder of the race.
Following two multi-car crashes that knocked out several contenders, the Daytona 500 has settled down and is in amidst the longest green-flag racing stretch of the afternoon. Ryan Blaney continues lead, with Joey Logano second and Denny Hamlin third.
A spin by rookie William Byron has setup a 10-lap shootout. Blaney is leading, with defending Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. second, defending Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch in third, pole-sitter Alex Bowman in fourth, and 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin in fifth.
The big one, late version, struck on Lap 198 when Kurt Busch got turned around by Ryan Blaney and took out a majority of the field. Denny Hamlin will take the field to start/finish line for a green-white-checker when the mess is cleaned up.
Austin Dillon wins the Daytona 500
Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 car made famous by Dale Earnhardt, took the lead late to win the Daytona 500. It was Dillon’s only lap led. Rookie Darryl Wallace Jr, driving the 43 in his first Daytona 500, finished second. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.
Dillon celebrated the victory by sliding through the infield grass just as Earnhardt did when he won his first Daytona 500, 20 years ago.