Daytona Beach, Fla. — Now that the Truck Series has a Chase for the Championship, the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 has taken on a brand new level of importance.
In years past, everyone wanted to reach Victory Lane at Daytona but it was equally important to salvage a top 10 and begin the season with a clean truck and momentum towards the season-long championship. But with only eight spots in the playoffs, the need to win — and win in bunches — is paramount.
All told, it could make for an interesting restrictor plate race on Friday at the World Center of Racing.
Daniel Hemric joined Brad Keselowski Racing during the off-season with the expectation of winning a championship. Even though he doesn’t expect to make any reckless decisions on Friday night, Hemric knows becoming Chase eligible this early in the year could make the first half of the season easier for anyone with championship ambitions.
“That’s a huge deal and that’s what we’re striving for,” Hemric said. “You want to do it as early as you can to get in that playoff mindset and I promise you that’s what we’re striving for. I know I have a group around me.
“Brad’s given us everything we need to do it right and I’m looking forward to getting the job done.”
John Wes Townley won the ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona last weekend and expects the intensity to be up from that race due to the circumstances surrounding a potential Chase berth.
“It’s going to make it interesting,” Townley said. “We all want to win, but it’s going to be tough to make this Chase, so being able to win right off the bat is a huge deal.
“That’s what we’re here to do — make it easier on us for the rest of the year.”
Rico Abreu is perhaps one of the most excited drivers to have a playoff format in the Truck Series this season. Daytona will be only his third start in a Camping World Truck and knows the first half might be a struggle. He wants to be hitting his stride around mid-season when he’s potentially in position to make the playoffs.
With that said, Daytona presents a huge opportunity for him to decrease the pressure. Daytona has been a crapshoot at times, and there’s a perception that anyone can win. Despite this reputation, Abreu says he doesn’t plan to do anything out of character and just wants to finish the race.
“I think it will be as close to a win for us if we can just get to the end and finish the race,” Abreu said. “We’re still learning. I’m still learning. We’d like to win. And if we find ourself in position, I’ll give it my best shot, but this is all a learning experience for me.”
The game has changed in the Truck Series, and with it, the way drivers might approach this opening round.
Hemric already approves.
“I do. It adds a degree of uniformity across all three levels,” Hemric said. “It makes it easier for the fans to understand, maybe it was a little confusing before. It makes sense for the fans.
“From the drivers perspective, we were all a little hesitant when we first saw it in Cup, but now a few years later and seeing the effects, how can you not be excited about it?”
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