NASCAR fans, rejoice. 2016 is finally here.
After a long, cold offseason, the haulers have arrived. The cars have hit the track at Daytona. The fans have swarmed to the garage to see their favorite drivers and teams up close. It feels good, doesn’t it?
Speedweeks are in full force, and in just under a week, the sport’s premier race will be run for the 58th time. And what a beginning to the festivities its been already. Here’s a quick recap of the headlines leading up to Thursday’s twin 150-mile Daytona 500 qualifying races.
Hamlin scores Sprint Unlimited victory
Under the lights on Saturday night, Denny Hamlin landed his No. 11 FedEx Toyota in victory lane after a crash-filled Sprint Unlimited. The victory, Hamlin’s third in the season-opening exhibition race, was the fourth win in the last five years in the event for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin held off a late charge from Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson. Casey Mears rounded out the top-five. Notable early-crashers from the Unlimited included the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers, who was tabbed as the replacement for injured Tony Stewart.
Elliott grabs Daytona 500 pole
Sunday afternoon, Chase Elliott got his full-time career off to quite the start. The son of 1988 Cup champion Bill, Elliott was chosen by Rick Hendrick to fill the shoes of legend Jeff Gordon in 2016 after his retirement. His lap of 196.314 mph was good enough to make him the youngest Daytona 500 pole-winner in the race’s history. The 20-year-old will be joined by Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota on the front row. Kenseth turned in a lap of 196.036 mph.
Only the front row was set Sunday afternoon. Positions 3-40 will be determined by Thursday’s twin qualifying races.
Qualifying penalties handed out to Truex Jr., SHR drivers
Sunday’s qualifying session didn’t come without incident for a few drivers. Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Bass Pro Shops Toyota was found to be in violation with one of the car’s roof flaps. After the infraction was found, NASCAR gave the team a five-minute time frame to fix the issue. Unable to resolve it in time, Truex was not allowed to make a qualifying attempt.
Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers were also penalized Sunday afternoon. Both drivers’ times were disallowed after the session when officials found the cars’ track bars to be illegal. According to Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers, it was a minor issue, calling the problem “a simple mistake.”
Thursday’s Can-Am qualifying Duel at Daytona is set to get underway at 7 p.m. ET. There you have it, folks. NASCAR is officially back.