Storylines abound at Daytona 500

Guest column

The 2017 Daytona 500, the 59th annual running of the event, is packed with storylines that have been building throughout Speedweek.

Most notable is the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. from a concussion that forced him to miss half of the NASCAR season in 2016.

NASCAR’s most popular driver getting back in the car will certainly grab a lot of attention.

After last Sunday’s qualifying, Earnhardt Jr. will start on the front row outside of pole sitter Chase Elliott. This is Elliott’s second straight Daytona 500 pole and third straight for the No. 24 car formerly driven by Jeff Gordon.

Earnhardt Jr. is considered the odds-on favorite by most, but he will have to find a way to get past the four Joe Gibbs Toyotas driven by Denny Hamlin, last year’s Daytona 500 champion, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and rookie Daniel Suarez, who will be taking over for Carl Edwards.

Edwards surprisingly retired from NASCAR racing this past offseason.

The Toyotas dominated the season opening all-star race, The Clash, which ran last Sunday morning after the event was postponed due to rain Saturday night.

Gibbs’ cars had the win in their sights until the “Penske Boys,” Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, broke their draft up.

Keselowski made a bold move under Hamlin, who blocked causing both drivers to crash.

Logano was left with a wide-open track to take the victory in a race that provided exhilarating action from start to finish.

The Penske drivers will certainly be a force to contend with, especially with the help from Stewart-Haas Racing, which switched manufacturers from Chevy to Ford after the 2016 season concluded.

Another major story for the first points race in the newly named NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series is the new race format.

There will now be three segments broken up into 60, 60 and 80 laps, respectively. The final segment will determine the overall race winner. At the end of each of the first two segments the top 10 drivers at this time will be awarded points that will help them qualify for the playoffs, formerly known as The Chase.

If the racing plays out today like it has thus far in Speedweek, viewers are in for a great show.

The Can-Am Duel qualifying races ran Thursday night and provided fantastic racing during both 150-mile races. Elliott won the first Duel, and Hamlin edged out Earnhardt Jr. with a thrilling pass coming to the white flag and held on through the final lap.

There is a lot to live up to after last year’s last-lap pass by Hamlin, who edged out Martin Truex Jr. by inches in the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.

The race should provide excitement from green flag to checkered flag, especially with points- paying segments that will create an extra incentive to race all out.

The green flag will drop at 2 p.m.

My pick is Joey Logano to take home his second Harley J. Earl trophy.

Lynam, a native of Duncansville and former go-kart racer, is a student at the University of Pittsburgh. He occasionally comments on NASCAR.