NASCAR – Start Your Engines
Once again, after what to most fans seems like an eternity, the Daytona 500 signals the start of the NASCAR season. Yes, the big show is Sunday and this year’s spotlight was immediately on rookie Chase Elliot. The new addition to the Hendrick Motorsports team won the pole for the Daytona 500. For the second year in a row, the #24 Chevrolet secured the top spot. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon announced Elliot’s run from the broadcast booth. It was the first time since 1992 that someone other than Gordon was in the driver’s seat of the famous #24. At 20 years old, Elliot is the youngest driver to accomplish the feat. The Elliot family is no stranger to success at “The Great American Race.” Chase’s father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliot, won the Daytona 500 twice during his successful career.
It’s not uncommon for a son to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to earning the pole at Daytona. The Elliot’s became the fourth father-son combination to earn the Daytona 500 pole. They join Richard Petty (1966) and Kyle Petty (1993); Bobby Allison (1981) and Davey Allison (1991) and Dale Earnhardt (1996) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2011). Bill Elliot definitely had the most success at Daytona, landing the pole in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 2001. Getting the pole in his rookie season is a great start for Chase, but by no means does it ensure victory.
A rookie winning the pole at Daytona isn’t uncommon, as a matter of fact, it’s become more the norm than the exception in recent years. Chase Elliot is the third rookie in the last four years to secure the spot in the NASCAR season opener. It’s always great to start at the front of the pack, especially as a rookie, but it doesn’t secure the top spot when the checkered flag flies. In 2013 Danica Patrick won the pole and led for five laps, but finished eighth and in 2014 Austin Dillon led only one lap and finished in ninth. Expectations are high for Elliot, but people might want to temper those a little and realize this is the kid’s first big race. Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that the media and fans need to “give the kid a break” when people start comparing Elliot to his father. Elliot himself even said that his team has a lot of work to do this season and that he has “a lot to learn before Sunday.”
Elliot outran 43 other drivers with a top speed of 196.314 mph and proved he can live up to Gordon’s #24 legacy. He also showed that he could help Hendrick’s team be contenders again. Hendrick’s team took a backseat to Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske in 2015. Gibbs cars continued the momentum from last season, putting Matt Kenseth on the front row for the race in Daytona. Denny Hamlin also showed that the team hasn’t lost a step since Kyle Busch won the Sprint Cup title back in November when he took the checkered flag in last Saturday’s exhibition race.
Gibb’s team was by far the most successful in the time trials, placing all of their cars in the top 10. Busch was the fourth fastest. Carl Edwards was ninth and Denny Hamlin was tenth. JGR was the only multicar team in Sunday’s time trials, but it’s been 23 years since they were able to win the 500. Dale Jarrett won the only Daytona 500 for JGR back in 1993.
Daytona International Speedway at 1:30pm
Once again many top ranked teams lost last week. As foreshadowed last week, “overrated”, Maryland lost to an unranked Wisconsin team and fell from #2 to #6, leaving #4 Iowa as the top ranked team from the Big Ten. Iowa will also drop however, after losing to unranked Penn State on Wednesday night. #1 Villanova, however, keeps on winning and is one of the rare teams this year to keep a hold on the top spot for consecutive weeks. #2 Kansas moved into the spot vacated by Maryland by defeating Oklahoma State and #3 Oklahoma. OK remained at #3 despite the loss to Kansas, however they will drop after losing on Wednesday night to unranked Texas Tech. Texas Tech should be ranked next week however, after defeating three straight ranked teams for the first time in their school’s history. The big rivalry game of the week was on Wednesday night between #20 Duke and #5 North Carolina. Duke moved back in the top 25 last week and will probably climb even higher in the rankings after upsetting the Tar Heels in NC on Wednesday night.
Things won’t get any easier for North Carolina as they take on #11 Miami on Saturday. The Hurricanes defeated Duke back in January and are riding a nine gaming winning streak. If the Canes can pull off the victory over the Tar Heels, they will surely move into the top ten. Miami is facing a tough stretch in their schedule – their next four opponents are ranked teams: (5) N. Carolina, (7) Virginia, (18) Louisville and (19) Notre Dame. If the Canes were to win out, they could be a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
(11) Miami @ (5) North Carolina – Saturday at 1pm