Daytona 500 Story Lines
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on February 23, 2014 | 9:30 A.M. EST
Rookie Austin Dillon leads the field to green as the pole sitter of the Daytona 500 and for the first time since 2001 the No. 3 returns to NASCAR’s top series. (Photo: Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There are several stories to follow in today’s running of the 56th running of the Daytona 500.
The 2014 Sprint Cup Series season is set to begin with the traditional running of “The Great American Race,” which will bring to a crescendo this week’s Budweiser Speedweeks activities at “The World Center of Racing:”
The Return of the 3
Rookie Austin Dillon leads the field to green as the pole sitter of the Daytona 500 and for the first time since 2001 the No. 3 returns to NASCAR’s top series. Not since Dale Earnhardt lost his life on the final lap of the 500 14 years ago have fans seen the iconic number on track. Dillon has handled the pressure of running the famous number with ease and is a strong contender to pick-up a win in the biggest race of the year.
Back to the Front
A number of top drivers will drop to the rear of the field after a series of incidents during the week including engine failures and crashes in preliminary races. Among the names forced to make their way from the back of the pack when the green flag flies are Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Bobby Labonte (blown engines) and Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson, among those in back-up cars.
Will Smoke Rise?
Sunday’s race marks Stewart’s first official Sprint Cup Series point race since he was sidelined last summer with broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash. Stewart remains adamant that he’s not 100 percent physically but has proven all week long that he’s more than ready to race.
Final 500 for Steve Letarte
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lose crew chief Steve Letarte to the NBC broadcast booth at season’s finish, which will end what has been an overall successful pairing. Letarte will call his last Daytona 500 today and would like nothing more than to help guide the popular Junior to Victory Lane. Earnhardt has been strong during the week but it has been ten years since his last victory in “The Great American Race.” Will the drought end on Sunday?
Johnson Chases History
Jimmie Johnson begins his quest for a record tying seventh Sprint Cup Series title, which would tie Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty in the NASCAR record book. The defending Daytona 500 winner will be using his third car of Speedweeks after crashes in both the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel qualifying race. However crew chief Chad Knaus feels the car is more than capable of winning and getting Johnson’s pursuit of Earnhardt and Petty off to a flying start.
Danica-Mania Quiets Down
A year ago Danica Patrick had the world buzzing after becoming the first woman in NASCAR history to win a Sprint Cup Series pole when she led the Daytona 500 to the green flag. However this year Patrick has mostly been a non-factor throughout Speedweeks. She blew an engine in qualifying and wasn’t able to mount a serious charge to win either the Sprint Unlimited or her Budweiser Duel. But there will still be more than a few eyes on how Patrick runs in the opening race of her sophomore season.
Rookies Make Their Debut
One of the deepest rookie fields in Sprint Cup Series history hit the track this season and look to make their mark at Daytona. In addition to pole sitter Dillon, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier are all part of the 43-car field.