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NASCAR Daytona 500 preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr. the man to beat

NASCAR: Sights and sounds of Daytona 500 practice

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers had their final practice before the running of the Daytona 500. Fans packed the Fan Zone at Daytona International Speedway to watch the team's and drivers.
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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers had their final practice before the running of the Daytona 500. Fans packed the Fan Zone at Daytona International Speedway to watch the team's and drivers.

Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway:

Three things to watch

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s performance in Thursday’s Duel qualifying race makes him a solid favorite Sunday. He understands how to plate race and how to use the air around his car as well as anybody in the field. His father, Dale Earnhardt, had similar skills.

2. Denny Hamlin compared Earnhardt’s ability to pass for the lead with a penalty kick in soccer. “It’s like, ‘OK, I committed to the right side and (he) kicked to the left,’ ” Hamlin said.

3. The four non-charter drivers – Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Robert Richardson and Michael McDowell – fill out the field that also includes 36 charter teams that were guaranteed spots. This is the first race of the new era of 40-car fields as well.

Observations

▪  As much attention as the Daytona 500 gets, it will all go out the window tonight when, after the race is finished, the sport turns its attention to next week’s race at Atlanta, where the new low-downforce aero package will be introduced.

▪  It’s not been a good week for Martin Truex Jr. He had a roof-flap problem before qualifying last Sunday and when he couldn’t get it fixed in time, was sent to the rear of the field for Thursday’s Duel qualifying race. Then he wrecked in that race. He’ll start at the rear of the field in a backup car.

▪  Christopher Bell, who walked away after his car flipped several times during a wreck at the end of Friday’s Truck race, was treated and released from a Daytona Beach hospital. That Bell could walk away – much less survive – that kind of wreck is testament to the safety precautions NASCAR has put in place since the death of Dale Earnhardt 15 years ago at Daytona.

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy team:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He’s always strong at Daytona and will be Sunday, too.

Denny Hamlin: Has become one of the Cup series’ best restrictor-plate racers.

Joey Logano: He’s on a mission to win a championship this season and would like to start it in style with a victory in NASCAR’s biggest race.

He said it

“Definitely a unique opportunity for us and our team. Joe Gibbs Racing has come (here) down with more speed this time around. – Kyle Busch

Getting there

Race facts

Daytona 500

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Track type: 2.5-mile paved trioval.

Race distance: 500 miles, or 250 laps.

Green flag: 1:31 p.m.

Weather: Sunny, high of 75.

TV: Fox.

Radio: Motor Racing Network.

 
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