Clash at Daytona Starts Season

The Clash at Daytona

The Advance Auto Parts Clash unofficially begins the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The Advance Auto Parts Clash unofficially begins the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season at Daytona International Speedway.

Saturday night’s running of the annual pre-season exhibition race marks the latest edition of the annual tradition that began in 1979 and was originally known as the Busch Clash. This year’s race features 17 drivers that qualified through this unique criteria: 2016 pole winners, former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in 2016 and eligible drivers from the 2016 Chase.

The 75-lap race is split into two segments of 25 and 50 laps around the 2.5-mile oval. Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner and has been victorious three times in the Clash. He became only the third person in history last year to win both the Clash and the Daytona 500, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is anxious to get things started on a winning note again this season.

"We had a great Speedweeks last year so I’m looking forward to returning to Daytona to start the season and repeat that same success," said Hamlin. "This team has a has a strong restrictor-plate program that puts us one step closer to accomplishing that."

Hamlin is part of a strong Toyota contingent in Saturday night’s race that also includes Martin Truex Jr. The Furniture Row Racing driver will make his fifth Clash start and third for the Denver, Colorado-based team. Truex’s best finish is second place in 2015.

"Only one thing matters in the Clash and that’s winning the race," he said. "Our guys build great speedway cars and if we can stay out of trouble, I look forward to a successful run in the Clash and in the other Speedweeks events, including the Daytona 500."

Winning is the goal for every driver in Saturday’s race, but there’s also an opportunity to learn and prep for the following week’s Daytona 500. Kyle Busch is one driver who hopes a trip to Victory Lane in the Clash will bring added benefits.

"Anytime we go to Daytona - whether it’s with a new car, a different rules package or what have you, we 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," he said. "It’s a learning experience. We’re curious to see how the car is going to race, how it’s going to handle and how it’s going to react."

One team that has a different look on Saturday is Hendrick Motorsports' No. 88 entry. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the regular driver and will be back behind the wheel next week for the Duel and Daytona 500. But Alex Bowman, who filled in while Earnhardt was out with a concussion last season, won a pole to qualify for the Clash. Even though he could drive in the race, Earnhardt insisted to team owner Rick Hendrick that Bowman get a shot in the Clash.

"I’m excited for Alex to get that opportunity. I’m happy that it’s with Greg (No. 88 crew chief Greg Ives) and the guys he's worked with over the last several races," Earnhardt said. "He deserves it."

Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of the Advance Auto Parts Clash from Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) - with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App. The race will be split into two segments with a competition caution at Lap 25 separating the segments.

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