Daytona 500 preview: Drivers gear up for new changes to Cup Series

DAYTONA BEACH, FL (WFLA) – Daytona is buzzing and you don’t have to look far to see why.  The cars and fans have arrived, and when the Harley J. Earl Trophy arrives, it’s time to drive the Daytona 500.

Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson each know how it feels to set foot in Daytona’s Victory Lane.

“The 500 has so much history.  Daytona Beach has so much Nascar history,” said Johnson, last year’s championship winner.

“Just all the hype that comes with it, how big of a deal it is to win the Daytona 500.  You know that going into it,” said Logano, who finished second to Johnson last season.

Young drivers like Austin Dillon are itching to park their cars in a spot labeled “champion.”

“We’ve been able to get some good runs here and run up front and get some lead laps, sit on the pole, and I’ve always flipped in the catch fence here at the start/finish line,” said Dillon.

A new twist will affect everything at this year’s Daytona 500.

The Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series will split the race in three segments, awarding valuable series points to the top ten places.

It’s still all about the checkered flag in the end, but the strategy to get there will change.

“The cautions fall on very interesting spots, where it’s kind of in the middle of a pit cycle and who is going to give up a segment to maybe win another segment,” said Nascar veteran Michael Waltrip.  “Where they have the stages ending, puts us in a position to play strategy and creates more talking points.”

Johnson, a seven-time series champion, admits the new format may make it harder for his team to get the win at Daytona, but the 48 car will have something to say before the day is finished.

“This is the only race that you can win that will give you a title for the rest of the year,” he said.

“Living it once, how neat it was to win this race, and then they came along with how big of a deal that is.  It makes you want to win it again even more.”

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