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THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN THE MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES THIS SEASON
With the NASCAR set to drop the green flag this weekend in Daytona Beach, Fla., there are several drivers, teams and storylines to keep an eye on as the season gets ready to speed into full gear. Here are three things to watch in the 60th annual Daytona 500 (1:30 p.m. CT / TV: FOX):
- Now in his third full season with Hendrick Motorsports, Chase Elliott is still looking for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. Daytona International Speedway in the Daytona 500 could be the perfect stage for the 22-year-old pilot to record his first victory. Elliott’s father, Bill Elliott — one of the most popular drivers in the sport’s history — recorded his first Daytona 500 win the same year that Chase was born in 1985. Chase started on the pole in each of his previous two Daytona 500 starts, but finished 37th in his rookie campaign and 14th last February. The Can-Am Duel on Thursday will determine where he’ll start on Sunday, but beginning the season with a win in the brand-new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 could be just the confidence boost he needs to have that breakout season so many have been waiting for him to have. Maybe the switch from the No. 24 to his father’s famed No. 9 will provide all the luck he needs.
- With so many bright young stars in the sport, it’s easy to forget that there are still some veterans with plenty of fight left in them. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and even the newly-crowned Martin Truex Jr. are still more than capable of winning another championship. In fact, the five have combined to win 11 of the last 12 titles. But, five of the last six champions have been first-time title winners, so that puts all the pressure on the up-and-coming stars like Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon and even Sunday’s pole-sitter Alex Bowman. After all, each has what the other wants. For the veterans, it’s youth; for the younger drivers, it’s championships.
- With the over-the-wall pit crew cut from six to five, teams might come up with some pretty interesting ways to make the adjustment. Look for this to play a pivotal role in a driver’s win (or loss), especially early this season. It’s likely that the team that finds the right combination early on will have a leg (or perhaps a tire) up on the field. From a fan’s perspective, this could make for some must-see TV.