The day NASCAR fans have been waiting for since Kyle Busch captured the Sprint Cup Series championship last November is almost here. The Daytona 500 will kick off the 2016 season Sunday afternoon with the annual pomp and circumstance of the Great American Race.
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Even though it"s just the first event of a long, 36-race campaign, it carries an amazing amount of weight. Winning the Daytona 500 is enough to make a driver"s entire season even if things don"t go exactly according to plan over the nine months that follow.
Let"s check out all of the important information for this year"s race. That"s followed by a look at the field and a preview of the action.
Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Sunday, Feb. 21, at 1 p.m. ET
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Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
|2016 Daytona 500: Lineup After Can-Am Duels|
|1||Chase Elliott||Matt Kenseth|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Kyle Busch|
|3||Joey Logano||Jamie McMurray|
|4||Ryan Blaney||Kurt Busch|
|5||Kevin Harvick||Carl Edwards|
|6||Denny Hamlin||Ty Dillon|
|7||Kasey Kahne||Kyle Larson|
|8||Greg Biffle||Danica Patrick|
|9||Chris Buescher||Brian Vickers|
|10||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Matt DiBenedetto|
|11||Austin Dillon||Michael Annett|
|12||Trevor Bayne||Landon Cassill|
|13||Brad Keselowski||Jimmie Johnson|
|14||Regan Smith||Martin Truex Jr.|
|15||David Ragan||AJ Allmendinger|
|16||Clint Bowyer||Casey Mears|
|17||Bobby Labonte||Aric Almirola|
|18||Brian Scott||Michael Waltrip|
|19||Paul Menard||Ryan Newman|
|20||Michael McDowell||Robert Richardson Jr.|
Although NASCAR has a diehard fanbase, the Daytona 500 represents its best opportunity to generate a considerable amount of mainstream attention. That goes for casual fans not only in the United States, but from around the globe as well.
Jeff Gluck of USA Today passed along some eye-popping numbers on that topic:
The #Daytona500 is sold out, track announces. That's 101,000 seats. Fans will attend from 44 countries and all 50 states.
Of course, a lot of those people will be there to cheer on one driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior gave those who arrived to Daytona early plenty to cheer about Thursday night, as he won his Can-Am Duel to earn a spot on the second row. It was an outstanding performance from the fan favorite, who won despite driving with an abundance of caution.
That"s because he loves how his car is performing this week. John Oreovicz of ESPN.com passed along comments from the top contender about trying to strike the right balance between securing a solid finish without putting the No. 88 machine in danger.
"This car is something special, and I was so nervous today about tearing it up," Earnhardt said. "I told
He"s won the season"s first race twice, and it certainly seems like he"ll be tough to beat Sunday if he can avoid any bad breaks. Marty Smith of ESPN showcased the star"s overall success at the track:
With Thurs #DAYTONA500 Q-race win, DaleJr now 3rd-all time in Daytona major race W's (17) 1. Big E (34)2. Smoke (19)4. Bobby Allison (16)
One of the other key storylines will be how rookie Chase Elliott handles the pressure. Taking over the No. 24 car from a retired Jeff Gordon and proceeding to win the pole for the Daytona 500 sets the bar pretty high for expectations.
Getting a chance to go through the entire experience, including the Can-Am Duel, should have helped him at least get a feel for the track before the green flag waves. He commented on the qualifying race and the driver who will be looking to pass him in the early going of the 500:
Had a good time last night, lots of lessons learned.
DaleJr is pretty good at this place
Ultimately, one of the many things that makes the Daytona 500 is the unpredictability. Odds Shark notes Earnhardt is the favorite, but his odds still provide value at 6-1. There are 12 drivers with odds of 20-1 or better, showcasing the wide-open nature of the race.
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It"s still hard to pick against Junior, though. He"s the rightful favorite given his performance in the Duel and his excited comments about his car this week. If he manages to escape the wrecks, he"s got a great chance to add another Daytona accolade to his resume.