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Lenze: Racing is back

It is that time of year ladies and gentlemen! The Great American Race is now less than a week away. The 62nd annual Daytona 500 is shaping up to be yet another classic. Drivers have been waiting all winter long to strap back in and turn up the heat in Florida.

After the usual “silly season” as some call it, we ended up with familiar faces in new places. Drivers leaving teams and finding a new home should provide some interesting story lines going into this years race. In case you missed any of the offseason madness here is a recap of some moves and driver news.

Jimmie Johnson announce that 2020 will be his last year of full-time competition in the NASCAR Cup Series. Johnson has been in the No. 48 car now for 19 seasons and after releasing a video on social media he said that this is his last chance at chasing his eighth cup championship. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made the move in the offseason from Roush Fenway Racing to JTG Daugherty Racing on a multi-year deal. Stenhouse Jr. comes over to drive the No. 47, bumping Ryan Preece into the vacant No. 37 car.

The No. 37 car was vacant for a reason. Chris Buescher filled the ride at Roush Fenway Racing left behind after Stenhouse Jr. left. Buesher has raced for RFR before in his time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where he won the championship in 2015.

With the recent retirement of Paul Menard, Wood Brothers Racing was looking for someone to fill the seat in the No. 21 car. Matt DiBenedetto, after having a great 2019 season in the Leavine Family Racing No. 95, parted ways with the team and ended up in the Wood Brothers’ ride.

The rookie class for the upcoming season will be quite the crew to watch in 2020. Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole bring a young flare to the Cup Series. Reddick will be driving the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing, Bell will drive the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing, Custer replaces Daniel Suarez in the No. 41 for Stewart-Hass Racing, John Hunter Nemechek will drive the No. 38 for Front Row Motorsports and Brennan Poole will pilot the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports.

Defending race winner Denny Hamlin would like nothing more than to start 2020 off the same way and lock himself into the playoffs. Hamlin and Johnson have the most Daytona 500 wins among active drivers with two each. “The King” Richard Petty has the most wins in this race all time with seven.

Like to play the odds? The drivers given the best odds of winning the 62nd Daytona 500 at 10-1 odds are Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Hamlin. Kyle Busch looks to repeat this year as champion and winning this race would be a great way to start that journey. He is an 11-1 favorite to win the Great American Race.

Speedweek kicked off this past weekend with the return of the Busch Clash at Daytona. Erik Jones, with a beaten and bent up No. 20, survived the wreck fest to win the first event of the 2020 season.

The front row for the Daytona 500 was set on Sunday afternoon, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scoring an upset. Alex Bowman will also lead the field to the green flag on Sunday. Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 and Bowman will be second.

The other 38 drivers will all be trying to improve their position in the Bluegreen Vacation Duels at Daytona, which are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13. and will be aired on FS1.

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. start Sunday, Feb. 16 and will be aired on FOX. Other racing action includes the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race Friday at 7:30 p.m. on FS1 and then the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2:30 p.m. on FS1.

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