The season-opening races for NASCAR’s top three divisions is set for this weekend at Daytona International Speedway that will culminate on Sunday with the 62nd running of the Daytona 500.
Motor Racing Network launched its 50th season starting last Saturday and has already covered NASCAR Cup Series practices, qualifying, media day and Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel as part of Speedweeks presented by AdventHealth.
With the starting lineup now set for Daytona 500, which will have a record-setting purse, the focus not only turns to the final two practice sessions and the race, but also the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 and Xfinity Series NASCAR Racing Experience 300.
Pole winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished eighth in his Duel, will lead the field to the green flag in "The Great American Race" alongside Alex Bowman. Duel winners Joey Logano and William Byron will start third and fourth, respectively.
See Also: Logano, Byron Duel Winners
The Daytona 500 will begin Jimmie Johnson’s final season as a full-time Cup Series driver. Johnson, who finished 11th in Busch Clash and will start sixth on Sunday, is a two-time winner of "The Great American Race."
"I know I’m going to keep racing for years to come but I just don’t know what that looks like," Johnson told MRN on Daytona 500 Media Day. "Letting in the experience, and being present, and enjoying it and taking a few extra minutes here and there that’s definitely the challenge I set out for myself."
Johnson joins defending race winner Denny Hamlin as the only multiple winners of the Daytona 500 in the field. Hamlin, who will start 21st, is looking to become the first repeat winner of the 500 since Sterling Marlin turned the trick in 1994-95.
"Over the second half of my career, I really have been a student of the game on how can I improve, how can I put myself in a better position to finish these races," Hamlin said.
A sell-out crowd of more than 100,000 fans will be in attendance for the Daytona 500 as Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile announced Thursday afternoon that reserved tickets are sold out for the fifth consecutive year.
Be sure to check back on Sunday morning for pre-race Daytona 500 story lines.
MRN first broadcast on Friday will be Daytona 500 practice starting at 5 p.m. ET followed by the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Austin Hill is the defending winner of the NextEra Energy Resources 250. He will begin his second season behind the wheel of the No. 16 United Rentals Toyota Tundra for Hattori Racing Enterprises at the same place he scored his first of four career wins.
"It’s awesome to work with the same group of guys again this season," Hill said. "Finishing last year with a win at Homestead was great to go into the offseason and kept everyone in a good mood. We have a lot more to do this year and we know the areas we need to work on to race for a championship when the playoffs roll around."
Daytona will also mark the debut for many drivers with new teams that include Tyler Ankrum going to GMS Racing from DGR-Crosley and Todd Gilliland moving from Kyle Busch Motorsports to Front Row Motorsports’ new Gander Truck team.
"It’s exciting to be making my first start at Daytona," Ankrum said. "I know we’ll be working with Chevy and our other manufacturer teammates. As far as strategy goes, I think we’ll be conservative until one to go. If we make it that far we’ll drop the hammer."
Zane Smith, who was fastest in the first practice session, is starting his first full-time Gander Trucks campaign driving for GMS Racing. Last season, Smith competed in 10 Xfinity Series races for JR Motorsports.
"It’s super cool to be able to start in Daytona and know you’re competing for the entire year," Smith said. "It takes a lot of pressure off me to know I can be more aggressive and try more things than what you could do if you’re part time.
Smith is one of five rookie-of-the-year candidates that include Christian Eckes, Tanner Gray, Raphael Lessard and Ty Majeski.
Johnny Sauter, a three-time winner at Daytona, topped the final practice.
MRN’s Mike Bagley and Alex Hayden will call the action from the booth for the Gander Truck race. Dave Moody, Kyle Rickey and Dillon Welch will be in the turns with Winston Kelley and Steve Post reporting from pit road.
Saturday’s MRN on-air coverage starts at 12:30 p.m. ET with final practice for the Daytona 500.
MRN’s coverage of the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series will start at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Last year Michael Annett won the race ahead of Justin Allgaier to give JR Motorsports at 1-2 finish.
"We set a lot of goals for ourselves (in 2019) and we met a lot of them, but we’re competitors, and when you don’t reach all of those goals, there’s still a lot to strive toward," Annett said. "That is kind of our mindset going into this season. Our goal was to be in the Championship 4 and we didn’t quite get there. We’re even more confident this year."
For the Xfinity Series race, Dave Moody and Jeff Striegle will have call from the MRN booth. Mike Bagley, Kyle Rickey and Steve Post will be in the turns with Winston Kelley and Dillon Welch reporting from pit road.