Alex Bowman, handpicked by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to replace him in the No. 88 entry for Hendrick Motorsports, will lead the field from the pole position to the green flag for Sunday's 60th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and officially open the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Joe Gibbs Racing veteran Denny Hamlin, the 2016 Daytona 500 champion, joins Bowman on the front row while the remaining starting positions for the 40-car field will be set in Thursday's The Duel at Daytona International Speedway (6 p.m. CT, FOX Sports 1).
Here are "5 Things You Need To Know" with the NASCAR season getting underway with the Daytona 500 (1:30 p.m. CT, TV: FOX, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN) and then makes its first stop at Texas Motor Speedway for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 Cup/XFINITY Series doubleheader April 6-8.
- "Mic Check" - NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. traded in his helmet for a microphone at NBC Sports as he officially retired from full-time racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series following the 2017 season. He is planning to run a few select NASCAR XFINITY Series races this year in addition to handling the NBC broadcasts in the second half of the Cup season. He also has been a part of the network's Super Bowl and Olympics coverage.
Two other prominent names that will not be returning on a full-time basis this season are former series champion Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick. Kenseth, replaced by Erik Jones in the No. 20 entry at Joe Gibbs Racing, has not announced any pending plans to compete this season. Patrick announced that she will make one final Cup start, competing in Sunday's Daytona 500 in the No. 7 entry for Premium Motorsports, as well as a final Indy-car start in the Indianapolis 500 in May.
- "Next-Gen Now" - NASCAR actually finds itself in a prime position following the retirement of several stars in recent years. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series possesses a slew of 20-something potential stars that can carry the sport into the future both on and off the track.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott, the 22-year son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, is the most prominent name of the bunch while 25-year-old Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing is the most accomplished on the Cup level at this point. He is coming off a breakthrough season with four wins in 2017.
Add in the likes of 20-year-old William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports; the 21-year-old Jones at JGR; 24-year-old Ryan Blaney of Penske Racing; the 24-year-old Bowman; and 24-year-old Darrell "Bubba" Wallace at Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR has a tremendous core of young talent. What makes this group particularly enticing is that they find themselves in quality equipment with strong, veteran organizations.
- "My Cup Runneth Over" - NASCAR has been touting this class of young drivers, but let's not forget about the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions that remain highly viable and visible in the series.
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson leads a stout six-driver contingent of former series champions that are not exactly showing any signs of slowing down.
Johnson, Kyle Busch (2015), Kevin Harvick ('14), Brad Keselowski ('12), Kurt Busch ('04) and defending champ Martin Truex Jr. combined to win 22 of 36 races in 2017 and each one of them qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs.
They are not ready to pass the torch by any means just yet.
- "Muscle Beach" - The sleek Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will be the manufacturer's new entry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500. The Camaro ZL1 will replace the Chevy SS, which registered 71 victories since its 2013 debut in NASCAR's premier series. Elliott drew the honor of turning the first laps of the Camaro ZL1 during a January test session at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Camaro ZL1's primary objective for Chevrolet is current-day relevance, in the showroom and on the speedways. From a consumer standpoint, the Camaro represents a more visible model than its predecessor. The low-volume SS, a V8-powered, four-door sedan based on the Australian-built Holden Commodore, ends its public production run this year.
- "#DaytonaDay" - FOX Sports and its partners will be supporting a number of Daytona 500 watching parties in nearly 20 states this weekend, but none will be bigger than the one at Texas Motor Speedway. The Fort Worth-based speedway hosted the "World's Largest" Daytona 500 Watching Party last year with more than 300 RVs and 3,000 fans attending the free event. The speedway is ahead of last year's pace at this point with RSVPs from more than 300 RVs/campers and over 1,700 fans.
This edition should topple last year's record numbers with favorable weather. The two-day public event begins when the gates to the South Tunnel open 8 a.m. CT Saturday for those looking to camp overnight. It also will be open for those tailgaters interested in watching the season-opening XFINITY Series Powershares QQQ 300 race from Daytona, beginning at 1:30 p.m. CT Saturday (TV: FOX Sports 1).
The weekend culminates with the 60th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. For a complete Daytona 500 Watching Party schedule of events, visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com or download Texas Motor Speedway's free mobile app.
In partnership with XFINITY, FOX Sports is supporting 250 Daytona Day House Parties in select markets while nine NASCAR race tracks are hosting viewing parties at various locations. FOX Sports and Toyota are partnering to host a viewing party from Fort Campbell, an Army installation on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee.