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Turning Point: 2024 Daytona 500

Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway

 Feb. 18, 2:30 p.m. ET | FOX | MRN, SiriusXM

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with the Busch Light Clash in the rearview mirror and next Sunday’s race at Daytona right around the corner.

DAYTONA INFO: Weekend schedule | TV schedule | Paint Scheme Preview | Weather tracker | Buy Tickets

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denny hamlin gives a thumbs up

1. Is Denny Hamlin going to be the ‘main character’ of the 2024 NASCAR season?

Already front and center as one of the featured players in the fresh Netflix docuseries ‘Netflix: Full Speed,‘ Denny Hamlin continued to shine under the lights out in Los Angeles on Saturday night, winning the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s seemingly perpetual championship pursuit is set to begin its next chapter in a week and a half on the furious high banks of Daytona International Speedway, but was Hamlin’s Clash victory — his first in LA and fourth overall — a sign of things to come in 2024?

MORE: No. 11 snags lead late for fourth Clash win | Hamlin after win: ‘I beat your favorite driver — again‘

Hamlin has always carried a lot of “main character” energy, but this season that might come into full focus more so than ever. With future Hall of Famer Kevin Harvick’s retirement, there’s one fewer big-name veteran in the garage, and more eyes and ears will be on Hamlin as he seeks to end a near-two-decade championship drought while closing in on the top 10 in all-time Cup Series wins. Until — if? when? — Hamlin is knocked out of title contention, this appears to be story 1A for the 2024 season with the spotlight firmly planted on No. 11 until proven otherwise. We’re guessing it’s a type of pressure he’s thrilled to have and one he’s ready to embrace even further.

We already know he’s capable of beating your favorite driver. Maybe this year is when he does it when it really counts. | READ MORE: ‘I‘m (expletive) cursed‘: Hamlin‘s relentless title pursuit back in focus

denny hamlin ryan blaney and kyle busch stand on a podium

2. How much can we read into the rest of what happened in LA?

The 2024 Busch Light Clash had plenty of surprises up its sleeve — such as back-to-back Championship 4 competitor Christopher Bell not making the show — but is it way too early to make any judgments?

Boy, for a preseason exhibition race with no points on the line that ran under a compressed, impromptu schedule a day earlier than planned … the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum kind of had it all. The only question, though, is how much does it matter in terms of forecasting what we’re about to see for the next 40-ish weeks? Both Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher — one a back-to-back Championship 4 contender, the other a three-time 2023 winner — missed the show after dismal qualifying runs … could they each miss the playoffs? Sophomore standout Ty Gibbs led a race-high 84 laps … is he the 2024 driver to beat? Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney — three of the sport’s biggest personalities — finished 1-2-3 … with Kevin Harvick now in the TV booth, could this be the sport’s new “Big Three?”

MORE: Full 2024 Busch Light Clash results | Busch finishes second: ‘Definitely does sting’

The answer to all of these questions, obviously, is an emphatic — maybe! That’s the beauty of this sport; anything can, and often does, happen. While it seems unlikely two of the sport’s recent breakout drivers will miss the playoffs, the fact remains that somebody we think will make the field of 16 will indeed not make the cut; there are more capable drivers than there are spots available (see: Martin Truex Jr.’s 2022 season).

Still, there’s just not much reason to look at the results here and expect them to shake out in a similar fashion over the course of the rest of the season, which hasn’t even started yet and won’t wrap up for another nine or so months. After all, Buescher didn’t make the show last year, either, and how’d that work out for him in the long run? | READ MORE: Bell, Buescher miss out on qualifying for the Busch Light Clash

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 03: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Mobil 1 Toyota, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 03, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

3. Clash is in session 

We saw a feud between Joey Logano and Ty Gibbs spark up at Martinsville last fall — and immediately pick right back up at The Clash. Will this one boil over in 2024?

MORE: Gibbs, Logano share viewpoints on fiery Clash confrontation | In-car: Gibbs gets spun by Logano at Martinsville

RELATED: Chastain not happy with Reddick post-race | Stenhouse, Nemechek share words during break

4. Drivers who won in 2022, but not in 2023 — will they win in 2024?

Driver 2022 wins Best 2023 finish Avg. 2023 finish Career wins
Chase Elliott 5 2nd (twice) 13.1 18
Alex Bowman 1 3rd (twice) 17.2 7
Chase Briscoe 1 4th (twice) 20.3 1
Austin Cindric 1 5th 21.6 1
Austin Dillon 1 3rd 21.8 4
Erik Jones 1 3rd 20.4 3
Daniel Suárez 1 2nd 19.0 1
Bubba Wallace 1 3rd 15.9 2


5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

• At-track photos: Sights and scenes from Los Angeles | Photos
• Busch Light Clash shines after fast-paced effort to reschedule | Read more
• Daniel Suárez returns to his roots to win the King Taco La Batalla en El Coliseo | Read more
• NASCAR on Netflix: Go ‘FULL SPEED‘ with NASCAR 101, featured driver bios, more | Read more
• @nascarcasm: Fake texts to Busch Light Clash winner Denny Hamlin | See the texts
• Denny Hamlin starts season healthy and newly engaged | Read more
Drivers to win Busch Light Clash, Cup Series title in same season | See the list
• What to know about the all new NASCAR Regional platform | Read more

NASCAR Cup Series cars race across the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway. Getty Images