By: Pete Pistone – @PPistone | MRN.com on February 10, 2018 | 7:15 P.M. EST
Austin Dillon will start from the pole for the Advance Auto Parts Clash. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season’s first competitive event takes place on Sunday with the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.
The annual non-points event will see a field of 17 drivers take part in the 75-lap race, which will include a competition caution on lap 25.
This year’s field was determined by the following criteria:
2017 Pole Award winners: Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.
Former Daytona 500 Pole Award Winners: Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson.
2017 Playoff Drivers: Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman.
Dillon will start from the pole in the race after a blind draw was held on Saturday evening.
“It’s a fan’s race,” Dillon said. “It’s a race that’s fun for the fans to watch and fun for the drivers to race in. I’m thankful that I have a chance to compete in it. Our expectations are to go out and try to win it. It’s a really cool race with a lot of prestige and to win it would help set the tone for the rest of Speedweeks. Our entire organization has worked really hard during the off season to make gains, and I’m really excited about the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that we are running.”
Dillon is one of seven Chevrolet drivers piloting the new Camaro body style. For Elliott, it’s an opportunity to debut the new car in competition as well as bringing back the No. 9, which will adorn his Hendrick Motorsports ride this year.
“It’s special to me just because of the history I’ve had with it,” Elliott said of the number. “Obviously, I would have never chosen that number to start racing if it wasn’t for my dad. I have a lot of history with it myself, with our championship in ’14, all my short track races, were all in that number. There’s a lot of time I’ve spent with the number, a lot of photos and races and things that I’ve run with it. It’s just kind of home to me and always has been my favorite number.”
Elliott’s Hendrick teammate Johnson leads all active drivers with his 15th appearance. His team will also have a different look as it starts the year without long-time car chief Ron Malec.
“Ron Malec will be missed, but he still touches our cars back at the shop,” Johnson said. “Jesse (Saunders) is more than capable of the job, I have a ton of confidence in his experience and ability, so the decision was a good one. He has been on our team since 2014 and worked under (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and Ron that entire time, so he has had a good mentor and I know he will be great.”
Harvick (2009, 2010 and 2013) and Hamlin (2006, 2014 and 2016) each have three Clash wins.
“After a couple months off the track, I’m looking forward to heading back to Daytona to get our 2018 season rolling,” said Hamlin, who has JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Jones also in the race. “There’s obviously a lot of things that happened in the off season between crew and teammate changes that we’ll have to consider as we get the season started, but I’m confident our FedEx Racing team is returning ready to win. We’ve had great success during past Speedweeks, and after a strong 2017 season, we’re more motivated than ever to perform at the highest level.”
The race will also be the first opportunity to see teams adapt to the new pit road personnel limitations. Five crew members down from the previous six will now service the cars on pit road adding a new wrinkle to stops.
“I like the move,” said last year’s Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch. “It will create a safer environment with one less guy per team out on pit road. What it does now is put more responsibility on the jack man and tire carrier.
“Yet it is just the evolution. We used to have seven guys on pit road and we thought taking the catch can man away was going to be big, but it didn’t change the game much. Now, we are down to five guys. Will it change it much, I don’t think so. What I like to do is always change it up (during practice). The car doesn’t stop in the same spot each time. I will come in there nosed-in, nosed-out and juke up a lot of our sequences so they can adapt.”
Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” will have live coverage of the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m. (ET).