Daytona 500 on the horizon as sports focus shifts to NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, and Erik Jones, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The Super Bowl confetti is all but swept up and with the echoes of the NFL season fading away, and the NASCAR season will take center stage in the world of sports in a matter of days with the Daytona 500.

Once the haulers enter the gates of the Daytona International Speedway, the smells and sounds of stock car racing won’t be far behind.

Some might say the season really began on Jan. 31. That’s when Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Buddy Baker and Waddell Wilson were part of the 11th Class to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Edsel Ford II received the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Before the green flag drops on the Daytona 500, the track will be busy with a number of events beginning this Saturday, February 8. NASCAR’s Premier Series cars hit the track for the first televised show of the season (Fox Sports 1) at 11:35 a.m.

That day, fans can tune in for the Busch Clash Final Practice, and Daytona 500 first and second practices. Everything finishes off with the first official race of the year, the ARCA Menards Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire.

The best part of the Cup Series first weekend comes Sunday as it hits network television for the first time. Qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. on Fox.

There will be changes coming, beginning with faces in new places.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will move from Roush Fenway Racing to the No. 47 at JTG Daugherty Racing. Chris Buescher takes over Stenhouse’s seat in the RFR No. 17.

With Paul Menard stepping back from full-time racing, Matt DiBenedetto will replace him in the Wood Brothers No. 21.

Daniel Suarez was let go by Stewart-Haas Racing landed with Gaunt Brothers Racing in the No. 96 in a late deal.

Joey Gase leaves Motorsports Business Management to take over the Rick Ware Racing No. 51. Daniel Hemric appears to be heading back to the Xfinity Series after being let go by Richard Childress Racing running a part-time schedule for JR Motorsports.

Meanwhile, This season there are six drivers that will compete for Rookie of the Year, Quin Houff (No. 00), Tyler Reddick (8), Brennan Poole (15), John Hunter Nemechek (38), Cole Custer (41), and Christopher Bell (95).

The biggest change is to the series’ name. Now simply known as the NASCAR Cup Series, there will be no title sponsor this year as Monster Energy has moved on, but they did offer to stay on for another year to help with the transition. Instead, there will be a mix four sponsors, Coca-Cola, Xfinity, GEICO, and the return of Busch Beer in a kind of rotating race deal.

The Daytona 500 will be the official start to NASCAR’s Premier Series season and will be televised by Fox on Feb. 16 at 2:30 p.m.

You can follow Ted Fleming on Twitter @TedFleming13.

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