Column: Previewing The Clash At Daytona & 500 Qualifying

Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – The highly-anticipated start to the 2019 edition of Speedweeks in Daytona begins for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday (at 12 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAAR Radio) with pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 followed by the Advance Auto Parts Clash (at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), which will feature 20 of the sport’s biggest names competing for the first race trophy of the year.

In so many ways this weekend will set the tone for the official season-opening race, the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and after nearly three months of downtime, teams and drivers are Ready to Race, with two capital Rs.

Team Penske started last year much as it ended it – in Daytona International Speedway Victory Lane. Brad Keselowski led teammate Joey Logano across the finish line to earn his first Clash victory at Daytona. Logano would go on to claim his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship in Homestead-Miami in November.

However, from his very first start in the Clash, Denny Hamlin has proven himself the perennial driver to beat. He became the first rookie to win the prestigious event in 2006 and has added two more Clash trophies to his case since. He and fellow three-time Clash winner Kevin Harvick are the only drivers in this weekend’s field with multiple victories.

Hamlin holds several marks of distinction in addition to his winning haul. His 48 laps led in 2017 is the most ever led in a single edition of the race. His 142 career laps led is second only to Dale Earnhardt Jr. (149) all-time. And Hamlin is one of only six drivers to win the Clash and the Daytona 500 in the same year (2016); the last time that happened was 2000 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

Interestingly, most of the drivers in Sunday’s Clash field have never won the event before. Only brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Logano join Keselowski, Harvick and Hamlin as past winners. As has always been the case, a good showing in this non-points sprint is considered a good sign of things to come as Speedweeks progresses with the Daytona 500 qualifying races next Thursday and the Great American Race the following Sunday.

“I think, anytime we ever go down to Daytona, whether it’s with a new car or whether it’s with a different rules package or what have you, we always look at the Clash as a race to watch to see exactly what’s going to happen and what characteristics you have in your racecar and things,” said Kyle Busch, who picked up his Clash win in 2012.

“It’s a learning experience for everybody, whether you’re in the race or whether you’re out of the race and not in it. For us, we’re curious to see how the car is going to race and how it’s going to handle and what it’s going to react like. I’m just looking forward to getting back to Daytona to my day job with our M&M’S Chocolate Bar Toyota Camry.”

DAYTONA 500 POLE QUALIFYING

There is no more dramatic pole qualifying than for the season-opening Daytona 500, where the front row will be earned on Sunday and the remainder of the field set through the Gander RV Duel at Daytona qualifying races next Thursday evening.

When it comes to earning the top spot, Chevrolet has dominated as of late – taking the pole position in 10 of the last 11 years. Hendrick Motorsports has a streak of four consecutive poles – from Jeff Gordon in 2015, back-to-back poles by Chase Elliott in 2016-17 and the team’s newcomer Alex Bowman last year.

The lone non-Chevrolet to win in the last decade was Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards in 2012.

The last time a pole winner has won the Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000.