Jeff Hammond: Off-season excitement builds great storylines for Speedweeks

February 17, 2017

The 2017 NASCAR season is at long last upon us. The first thing we're going to look at is Toyota's brand-new Camry and if they'll lose anything in the process with their superspeedway program.

Last year, they were masterful at being able to put their cars up front and keep them up front throughout the entire Daytona 500. I mean they were almost a “juggernaut” to a certain degree. Whenever they wanted to go to the front, they went to the front.

Certainly, after last year’s dominating performance, you’ve got to look at the Toyotas as the favorites to have another huge Daytona Speedweeks.

But they are far from the only story.

What you have to look at —here again, in my opinion — as good as the Penske teams have been in the past with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, a lot of the time they couldn’t get any help from any of the other Fords.

I’m really curious to see how Stewart-Haas, who for the first time will race Fords at Daytona, factors into what looks to me like the new way to race.

Will they be able to hang with the Toyotas and run their own race and make it work to their advantage like Toyota did a year ago?

You can never forget the Hendrick organization because, let’s face it, they are the defending champions and Jimmie Johnson has had success at Daytona.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and I think Chase Elliott is going to be better than what he was a year ago when he crashed after starting on the pole.

So I think we’ve got some unique battles that are going to roll into Daytona.

Everybody that’s going to wind up running there is going to get that opportunity to kind of showcase what their talents are.

When the Can-Am Duel 150 Daytona 500 qualifying races roll around Thursday night, that’s going to be a glimpse of what we can expect in the Daytona 500.

And hopefully, by the time the checkered flag falls to end the 59th annual Daytona 500, we’ll all walk away talking about what a great Speedweeks it was.