Three Daytona storylines that could set the tone for the entire season:
What's standing in the way of both drivers is their inability to win points races at the World Center of Speed. Hamlin has an average finish of 23rd and no wins in eight Daytona starts. Martin is winless in 49 starts, averaging an 18th-place finish. Obviously, neither driver can win or lose the championship in one race, but if the trendy pick (Hamlin) or the sentimental one (Martin) are going to truly challenge J.J., then finally proving that they've put their restrictor-plate demons behind them will be a resounding statement.
RCR has already gotten off to a strong start in Daytona with Harvick winning the Bud Shootout, but we said the same thing last year when he won the prelude and finished second in the 500 only to tank the rest of the season. So maybe we shouldn't hold our breath. But a strong performance by the entire team on Sunday would at least go a long way to showing that this power is intent on bouncing back in a hurry.
There's no doubting Stewart's talent or the advantage of an affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports that gives Stewart-Haas the best engines money can buy, but the bigger question lies with Newman. He overcame an abysmal start (36th at Daytona, and 28th, 25th and 22nd in the weeks that followed) that included plenty of pit crew problems by making an impressive run, but the track gods turned on him and he fizzled in the Chase, averaging a 16th-place finish. If Stewart-Haas is going to make a run at passing
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In arguably the worst paint scheme since Ken Schrader's
Blogosphere ... start ... your ... rear bumper jokes.