NASCAR fans, rejoice! The 2019 season officially begins this weekend, when the green flag waves on Sunday for the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Coverage on Fox Sports 1 begins at noon. Twenty drivers are entered in the non-points race that kicks off the most active and grueling race schedule on the planet. The race will be 75 laps with a competition caution at 25 laps. Seven of the 20 drivers entered have won the season opening event in the past, and there are two multiple Clash winners in the field. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have each won it three times. Brad Keselowski is the defending champion, having won the Clash last year over teammate and 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion Joey Logano. Logano is also a past Clash winner, as are Jimmie Johnson and both of the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt.
Drivers qualify for the Clash in a number of different ways. Winning a Busch Pole Award the previous season is one. Former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 winners, and former Daytona pole winners are also eligible, provided they ran a full season the previous year. And finally, drivers who qualified for the previous year’s Playoffs but aren’t otherwise eligible.
Several drivers will be in different cars than the ones in which they qualified for the Clash. Kurt Busch has moved from the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy. The former driver of that car, Jamie McMurray, will be aboard the No. 50 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. Daniel Suarez takes over Busch’s old SHR Ford, while Martin Truex Jr. will be in his old ride, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. And finally, Ryan Newman moves from the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevy to the No. 6 Ford fielded by Roush-Fenway Racing. Musical chairs, anyone?
Also on tap for Sunday is pole qualifying for the Daytona 500. Like the Indy 500, qualifying for this race is different than all others. Only the front row will be set on Sunday, with the two fastest drivers guaranteed those starting spots for the big race next Sunday. The rest of the starting positions will be determined by the finish of the two Gander RV Duel races on Thursday.
The Daytona 500, and the rest of the season for all three of NASCAR’s top series, will see a break in tradition. For its entire history, NASCAR hasn’t disqualified a winner for rules infractions (cheating, in plain language). The last two seasons saw “encumbered” wins, where the offending team was stripped of points and playoff qualification, but the win stood. Beginning in 2019, disqualification is now on the table for serious rule infractions. This is in part due to a new procedure that will complete inspection of the winning and second place cars, plus a randomly selected car, immediately after the race. If any of these cars fails the post-race inspection, they would be stripped of the win, playoff points, stage points, and be classified as last place in the race. NASCAR aims to have the post-race inspection completed within 90 minutes after the checkered flag rather than the following Wednesday at the R&D Center. In addition, there will be more severe penalties for infractions found in pre-qualifying inspections. The situation came to a head last season when teams pushed the envelope too hard and too often.
Said Scott Miller, Senior VP of Competition, “…I think that the best way for us to get our arms around that is to have a little bit stiffer deterrent.”