Racing starts this weekend in Daytona

 Racing starts this weekend in Daytona

Al Garcia

Al Garcia

This weekend marks a milestone on the NASCAR calendar as cars are finally on track once again at Daytona International Speedway. While the 62nd running of the DAYTONA 500 doesn’t take place until Sunday, February 16, there are a few NASCAR events that take place this weekend.

As always, the ARCA Menards series will run their season opener on Saturday. The ARCA Menards Series race always features some of NASCAR’s up and coming drivers, and this year is no different as Hailie Deegan, Natalie Decker, Tanner Gray and Riley Herbst are among the competitive field.

On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series drivers will qualify for the DAYTONA 500 in the morning before the Busch Clash takes place in the afternoon. The Busch Clash is an exhibition race held each year, which is comprised of about 20 Cup Series drivers. It’s a tease to the DAYTONA 500, but it finally gives fans some NASCAR action to watch after waiting all offseason.

With cars hitting the track once again, it’s time to dive into the season and take a look at what might be in store. There’s no better place to start than with reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, who many of you saw claim his second career title right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Considered by many to be the best active driver in NASCAR, Busch will be one to watch as he aims to repeat as champion.

Perhaps his stiffest competition will come from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates as Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin – both of who joined Busch in the Championship 4 in 2019 - each won more races than Busch last season and will undoubtedly have speed once again this year. The last couple of seasons, the Toyotas have been the fastest cars in the garage and once again are among the favorites to win the series title in 2020.

You can’t talk about championship favorites without mentioning Team Penske. Their trio of drivers has changed around crew chiefs after all three missed the Championship 4 last season. Veterans and past Cup Series champions Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are always poised for a playoff run, while Ryan Blaney is coming off a career-best season in which he reached the Round of 8.

Another team looking to improve upon last year is Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are returning to the team once again, while also adding rookie Cole Custer to the mix. Harvick came up just short in pursuit of a title, while Almirola and Bowyer will look to find more consistency than what they did a year ago.

A team full of young drivers trying to make the next step is Hendrick Motorsports. Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott are all under 26 years old and are the future of Hendrick Motorsports. Of course, they are looking to take the torch from seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who announced he’d be retiring from Hendrick and NASCAR at the end of the season.

It will be strange not seeing Johnson out on the racetrack after this season concludes. Johnson is one of the most iconic drivers in NASCAR history and dominated the sport for much of the past 20 years. While the sport will certainly miss someone of his stature, his departure will give his younger teammates a chance to step up and have the spotlight on them, although in the meantime, plenty of people will be pulling for Johnson to win a record eighth championship.

While everyone will keep their eye on who is competing for the ultimate goal of winning a championship, there will be some other storylines to watch. One of the most notable things to keep track of is the battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

This year’s rookie class could be a historic one as Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick will be battling in the Cup Series. Reddick is coming off back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series championships, while Custer and Bell won seven and eight NXS races last season, respectively.

There’s also much to watch in terms of contracts as well. Many prominent drivers, such as Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch with Chip Ganassi Racing, among many others, are rumored to have expiring deals at the end of the season. This could make for a crazy silly season as there is potential for quite a few drivers to be changing teams at the end of the season.

So with cars returning to the track this weekend, there is so much to look forward to this season. Whether it’s on the track or off of it, there are so many storylines that will take shape during the year and I can’t wait to see them all unfold as the pursuit for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship commences this weekend.

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

Feb. 7 Fast Lane Friday

Feb. 8-9 Championship Cup Series (CCS)

Feb. 15-16 Formula and Automobile Racing Association (FARA)

Feb. 17 Rusty Wallace Racing Experience

Feb. 21 Fast Lane Friday

Feb. 22-23 Chin Motorsports Club

Feb. 29 Performance Driving Group

2020 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Mar. 20

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Race

Mar. 21

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race

Mar. 22

Dixie Vodka 400 NASCAR Cup Series Race

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