Advance Auto Parts Clash Preview: NASCAR's Kickoff to 2017

Advance Auto Parts Clash Preview: NASCAR's Kickoff to 2017

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The 2017 NASCAR season will kick off with the annual exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway, the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this NASCAR exhibition event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with many racing pools that form specifically for this race and its unique format. The Advance Auto Parts Clash is a much shorter race than the 500-mile event the following Sunday, the Daytona 500. It more closely matches the heat races that we're familiar with seeing in late model stock racing on dirt tracks all around the country. The field is much smaller, but the stakes are just as high. Thanks to the one-million-dollar purse that is paid to the field, and around $200,000 of that to the winner of this event, the competition seen in this exhibition in some ways will be more heated than what we will witness in the Daytona 500 the following week.

The racing consists of a 75-lap event that equates to 187.5 miles of racing on the famed Daytona International Speedway. The 75 laps are split into two segments by a competition caution at lap 25, with a 10-minute pit stop break in between each segment. The criteria to make the 2017 Advance Auto Parts Clash are based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having competed in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series within the last two seasons:


Pole winners from the 2016 season.
Past Advance Auto Parts

The 2017 NASCAR season will kick off with the annual exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway, the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this NASCAR exhibition event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with many racing pools that form specifically for this race and its unique format. The Advance Auto Parts Clash is a much shorter race than the 500-mile event the following Sunday, the Daytona 500. It more closely matches the heat races that we're familiar with seeing in late model stock racing on dirt tracks all around the country. The field is much smaller, but the stakes are just as high. Thanks to the one-million-dollar purse that is paid to the field, and around $200,000 of that to the winner of this event, the competition seen in this exhibition in some ways will be more heated than what we will witness in the Daytona 500 the following week.

The racing consists of a 75-lap event that equates to 187.5 miles of racing on the famed Daytona International Speedway. The 75 laps are split into two segments by a competition caution at lap 25, with a 10-minute pit stop break in between each segment. The criteria to make the 2017 Advance Auto Parts Clash are based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having competed in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series within the last two seasons:


Pole winners from the 2016 season.
Past Advance Auto Parts Clash winners, who raced full-time in 2016.
Past Daytona 500 pole winners, who raced full-time in 2016.
All 16 Chase participants from last season.

This exhibition race tends to crank out repeat winners most seasons. Like any other race at Daytona, any driver with a knack for restrictor-plate racing and ability to make the partnerships on the race track to get to the front will enjoy the most success and compete for the win. Since this race is just 75 laps, it trends towards drivers who unload a fast car right off the hauler and don't have to make many, if any, adjustments to it. As you can see in the table below, it's been won from the front row three of the last seven years. Here is a list of the last 14 year's winners of the Advance Auto Parts Clash. This should give us a good idea of the specialists for this race.

WINNERSEASONLAPS LEDSTARTING POS.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.20031319
Dale Jarrett2004115
Jimmie Johnson20051617
Denny Hamlin20061615
Tony Stewart20071114
Dale Earnhardt Jr.2008477
Kevin Harvick2009127
Kevin Harvick2010212
Kurt Busch2011317
Kyle Busch201232
Kevin Harvick20134017
Denny Hamlin2014271
Matt Kenseth20152116
Denny Hamlin20163915

This race is completely different than NASCAR's normal format, so we have to take the historical statistics in context this week. The stats can be skewed since several teams come to the Advance Auto Parts Clash with "disposable cars" and looking to hit the big payday even at the expense of wrecking the team's car. With a total purse that will exceed a million dollars, the mindset is completely different than any normal points-paying event.

This exhibition race is unlike any of the normal Monster Energy Cup Series events, so we'll handle the prognostications a bit different as well. We'll give you our picks for who'll contend for the win in the Advance Auto Parts Clash. These are the drivers who we see as the top threats to win the first race of 2017 and take the big purse in this Saturday night spectacle.

Advance Auto Parts Clash Contenders – Those in the hunt for the win

Denny Hamlin – The Joe Gibbs Racing star has become a bit of a specialist at this exhibition event in recent years. Hamlin is a three-time winner of the Clash and he's taken two of the last three that have been run. After winning last season's Clash the driver of the No. 11 Toyota went on to win the Daytona 500 the following Sunday. So this veteran driver had quite a season on the superspeedways in 2016. It will be his race title to defend this Saturday night, and we have high expectations that Hamlin will avail himself well in that regard. Right now he sits atop the heap in the Clash field and is clearly the top contender to win.

Kevin Harvick –
Harvick is also a three-time winner of the Advance Auto Parts Clash and as recently as the 2013 season. He always seems to be in the mix for the victory when it comes down to crunch time in this exhibition race. Amazingly, Harvick hasn't won the Advance Auto Parts Clash since joining Stewart Haas Racing, and considering how strong the No. 4 team has been that's almost unbelievable. We should see a hungry driver this weekend. One that is not only hungry to win this race and the nice purse that goes with it, but a driver that is hungry to prove he's the top dog to beat in the 2017 season.

Brad Keselowski –
By far the strongest driver and team on the restrictor-plate race tracks last season was Keselowski and his Penske Racing No. 2 team. He grabbed a spring victory at Talladega and summer victory at Daytona. Keselowski was also dominating in the fall Talladega race before an engine failure robbed him of three wins on the enormous ovals of Daytona and Talladega. The Penske Racing star will look to erase the heartbreak of that last superspeedway start with a powerful performance in Saturday night's Clash. Keselowski has never won this event but he's finished as high as second-place in 2014. That will surely be a motivating factor this weekend.

Kyle Busch –
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time winner of this preseason exhibition race. Busch won from the front row in 2012 in thrilling fashion. His record otherwise has been rather up-and-down in this exciting race. Busch's "go for it" attitude tends to get him more in trouble than serve him in this event. However, this year we should see a more reserved Busch enter the Advance Auto Parts Clash. He has demonstrated incredible maturity in the last couple seasons, and with it the success that comes too. Busch claimed three Top-3 finishes on the plate tracks last year, so the No. 18 team definitely has the speed to win.

Joey Logano –
The Penske Racing star will be making his ninth start in the Advance Auto Parts Clash when the engines fire up on Saturday night. It's hard to believe that the 26-year-old has been racing that long in NASCAR's top division. After some growing pains early-on in this exhibition race, it looks like the driver of the No. 22 Ford is inching closer to winning his first mega-payout and trophy in this race. Third-, fourth-, sixth- and second-place finishes each of the last four years have shown that he's in the lead pack and racing among the leaders in the closing laps. Logano has won three points-paying events between Daytona and Talladega in the last two years, so the time to win the Clash is imminent.

Jimmie Johnson –
The seven-time champion won this event in 2005, but it's been tough plowing ever since. Johnson's last five entries into the Advance Auto Parts Clash have ended prematurely with crashes. Odds dictate that this type of luck can't go on forever. Johnson and the No. 48 team are too skilled and too fast to continue crashing out of this exhibition event. He owns five-combined victories between Daytona and Talladega and that did not happen by accident. Johnson's record-tying seventh championship signals a new beginning of sorts for this driver and team. No better way to lead off your championship defense than by winning this season-opening exhibition race.

Martin Truex Jr. –
Truex Jr. has never won the Advance Auto Parts Clash, but he's finally in a position that he can reverse that fortune. Last year he had a near-brush with victory in the Daytona 500, losing by mere inches to Denny Hamlin. He's also been strong in this exhibition event of late. Truex posted a career-best runner-up finish in the Clash in 2015. This will be the Furniture Row Racing driver's sixth-career start in the Clash. If there's a sleeper in the field with the speed and talent to upstage some of the bigger names, it's certainly Truex and his No. 78 Toyota team.

Chase Elliott –
The Hendrick Motorsports prodigy is entering season two in 2017, and his first-ever Advance Auto Parts Clash this weekend. Elliott had a terrific rookie campaign last year, now he's ready to start working on the resume that will define his stardom. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet may not have won last year, but he did leave his mark on the restrictor-plate race tracks. Elliott claimed a pole position in the Daytona 500 and a pole and Top-5 finish in the spring Talladega race. Speed was not an issue, but experience was at the time. Now with four Cup starts on these big ovals under his belt, Elliott is ready to surprise.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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