Advance Auto Parts Clash

We get our first taste of some NASCAR Thunder this Sunday with the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, a 75-lap race broken into two segments featuring 17 drivers who either won a pole position, made the 2017 playoffs, or won a past Daytona 500 pole. It's basically every driver that is somebody in this wild new era of NASCAR.

Let's call it the Bud Shootout Unlimited Clash.
“The Clash is a nice way to kick off the season,” said 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex Jr. “It’s mostly just a fun race to knock the rust off and learn a little bit about the competition and who will be strong. We’ll be racing against all the fast guys in the Clash and that’s a good measuring stick for Speedweeks. Both the Clash and pole qualifying will give us a feel for our race package and to see where we stand against the competition.”
Truex is the new face of NASCAR. Sure, he's a bit vanilla, but he's the champ, the best. Kyle Busch can still pay the villain and stir the pot. Kyle Larson is going to be a champion someday. Denny Hamlin hopes to grab his first title soon while still having a sweet Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson, and his 83 career Cup wins, keeps calling himself grandpa among his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates who have zero wins in their career. Chase Elliott, one of those winless drivers, will be driving the No. 9 from now on, the same number his father drove to a Clash victory in 1987.
So while Cup stalwarts like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are no longer in the series, I think the sport is in good shape moving forward. Attendance shouldn't be the only measuring tool.
How about a party with these three. I've still got a mellowed, wiser Kevin Harvick and I've got Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano against the world keeping everyone in the series on their toes.
I also like Erik Jones -- he's going to win soon. Ryan Blaney looks like a future champ. And I still have my variety of older drivers to root for like Ryan Newman, Las Vegan Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer
The first affect I'm feeling that this season is really different is Earnhardt Jr. not being at Daytona. It seems like just yesterday I was making odds on him in the 1999 Busch Series. Daytona was his place and was almost always listed as the favorite to win.  Daytona was his special place. Daytona took his fathers life in 2001. He was always a storyline at Daytona because he was so good on the 2.5-mile high banked SuperSpeedway.
I think what I'm most excited about 2018 is the Camaro ZL1 as the Chevrolet brand this season. What took so long? A Lumina, really?
I can't wait to see how the Camaro aero package does in the draft.
“I don’t think the XFINITY Camaro will help us one bit,” said Jamie McMurray regarding the possibility of some familiarity with the new car. “I think it is different. I think the bodies are different. I don’t know, to be honest with you. I am pretty sure they are different, so I wouldn’t say that if there is anything to correlate between the two.”
Something tells me they're going to have an aero edge over the next two weeks. We'll see.
“The one thing in today’s world that is different than it was five or 10 years ago, is that the whole car is set-up off simulation and part of that program is that they take aero maps into account and they can kind of adjust the balance based on the aero maps," said McMurray, a two-time Daytona winner who is 15-to-1 to win Sunday.

"And so, we have all that information and so if the aero map is a little different or if a rules change comes into play, they kind of adjust the set-up for that. And it all makes sense. It’s not like it was 10 years ago where it was a little bit of a guess. So, I think it’s a different time now.”
Ford has been the king of the restrictor-plate packages lately and have won the past three points-paying races at Daytona and past five at Talladega. Last season Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -- he no longer dates Danica Patrick -- won the July Daytona race. Stenhouse also won at Talladega last year. It was the first two wins of his career.
Danica will race in the Daytona 500 next week, but not full time in the series and didn't attempt to qualify for this race, although eligible. I sure wish her six years in NASCAR went a little better. 
Team Penske drivers Keselowski and Logano also have Daytona wins and a couple at the other Superspeedway at Talladega. They help make Ford the dominant manufacturer during plate races. They also get Blaney as a new official teammate. Paul Menard takes over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, but didn't qualify for the Clash. Logano won this race last season, the first Ford to win the Clash since 2004 (Dale Jarrett).
As for 2018 rule changes, there isn't much to worry about as far as performance. Someone close to the Cup series told me "this year is the least amount of aero changes we've ever had in between seasons."
That's basically saying Truex and Kyle are going to continue their march from 2017. But this week, I'm going with another Gibbs Toyota Racing driven by 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.
Pull out the grill, gather the family and watch some NASCAR this Sunday. Turn the volume up. Make a few bets, too.
Next week it's the Daytona 500 and a viewing party at the South Point Showroom where anyone can root for the three Las Vegas drivers, including Brendan Gaughan the son of South Point owner Michael Gaughan. Take some notes this Sunday, watch the Camaro in the draft and then let's come out firing with some 500 wagers next week.
Welcome back, NASCAR. We missed you!
Top-5 Clash Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (7/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (6/1)
4) #9 Chase Elliott (8/1)
5) #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12/1)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2018 - 3:20 PM ET

Joey LOGANO 7/1
Denny HAMLIN 7/1
Kyle BUSCH 7/1
Kevin HARVICK 8/1
Chase ELLIOTT 8/1
Martin TRUEX JR 10/1
Kyle LARSON 12/1
Jimmie JOHNSON 12/1
Erik JONES 15/1
Kurt BUSCH 15/1
Ryan BLANEY 15/1
Jamie McMURRAY 20/1
Austin DILLON 25/1
Ryan NEWMAN 25/1
Kasey KAHNE 30/1
Joey LOGANO - 110
Denny HAMLIN - 110
Kyle BUSCH - 120
Kyle BUSCH - 120
Kevin HARVICK - 110
Chase ELLIOTT - 110
Martin TRUEX JR - 110
Kyle LARSON - 110
Martin TRUEX JR - 110
Ricky STENHOUSE JR - 110
Kyle LARSON - 110
Ricky STENHOUSE JR - 110
Erik JONES - 110
Jimmie JOHNSON - 110 

Odds Subject to Change