NASCAR is all abuzz with what's new, from yet another revised points system — meant to give the final race of the season more of a "playoffs" feel — to the return to competition of Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 car (driven by Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon). But even as the Daytona 500 kicks off a fresh season on Sunday, teams still have to contend with the same old leader — the sport's formidable six-time and defending champion: "The road to the Sprint Cup championship any year goes through Jimmie Johnson," says Fox NASCAR commentator Mike Joy. "That's who you have to beat."
As always, plenty of folks are lining up to try, including Tony Stewart — who's still healing from the terrible leg injuries that sidelined him for the last three months of the 2013 season — and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., racing his last season with crew chief Steve Letarte, who plans to jump to the TV booth next year. "Dale Jr. and Steve Letarte have such a bond, and both of them want to complete their partnership on a really high note," says Joy. "They're both highly motivated about making the Chase [playoffs] and winning races. They have unfinished business."
But first there's the Daytona 500, where anything can happen on race day — as Johnson knows all too well. "In 2012, Jimmie got caught up in a crash in the first lap; in 2013, he won the race," says Joy. "The 500 is either feast or famine."
The Daytona 500 airs Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m./ET on Fox. For the first time ever, the race will also be streamed live via the Fox Sports Go app and at foxsportsgo.com.