FORT WORTH, Texas (February 23, 2017) – The Hendrick Motorsports front row of polesitter Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s 59th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and officially kick of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The starting positions for the remainder of the 40-car field will be set in tonight’s Can-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway (6 p.m. CT, FOX Sports 1).
Here are “5 Things You Need To Know” with the NASCAR Cup season getting underway and then making the first of two stops at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7-9 for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 doubleheader.
- “Junior Achievement” – Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver, returns to the cockpit of his No. 88 Chevrolet after missing the second half of last season due to lingering symptoms from a concussion sustained during an accident at Michigan International Speedway in June. Following a special test session at Darlington Raceway in December, he was medically cleared after experiencing vision and balance issues that potentially threatened his career. After missing 18 races last season, Earnhardt Jr., a two-time Daytona 500 winner, opened the 2017 season by qualifying second for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (1 p.m. CT, FOX).
- “Monster Deal” – Energy drink giant Monster Energy signed a multi-year deal to become the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top-tier Cup Series. Monster replaces Sprint, which had served in that entitlement role for 13 years dating to 2004. The new official name is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
- “Eight Is Enough” – Jimmie Johnson will be chasing an indelible part of NASCAR history as he pursues a record eighth Cup championship. The 41-year-old California native captured the title last year to move him into a tie with seven-time champions, NASCAR Hall of Famers and legends, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Johnson’s other title-winning years were a record five consecutive crowns from 2006-10 and another in ’13.
- “Stage Call” – NASCAR has implemented an enhanced competition format in all three NASCAR national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series) that will divide every race into three stages with each carrying championship implications. The new format is expected to increase the sense of urgency, emphasize aggressive racing and strategy, and add drama with playoff points incentivizing drivers throughout. The first two stages will be identical in length with the latter concluding near the midpoint of each of those races. The top-10 finishers of the first two stages will be awarded additional championship points. The winners of the first two stages will receive one playoff point, and the race winner will receive five playoff points. Each playoff point will be added to the driver’s reset total following race No. 26, if that competitor makes the playoffs. The 10-race championship format, formerly known as The Chase, is simply now known as the playoffs.
- “Texas-Sized Makeover” – Texas Motor Speedway began a major capital improvement project in early January consisting of a complete repave, construction of an extensive drainage system and a re-profiling of the 1.5-mile oval configuration. The renovation will add a new layer of asphalt over the existing pavement, an expansive French drainage system on the frontstretch and backstretch, and reconfigure Turns 1 and 2. That segment of the track will have the banking reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the racing surface expanded from 60 to 80 feet. The re-profiling should present some new challenges to the drivers and teams, especially the set-up of the car for a track that will no longer be symmetrical in design. The project will be completed by early to mid-March in anticipation of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader scheduled for April 7-9.
Tickets for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 doubleheader are available by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com or by calling the speedway ticket office at 817.215.8500.