For NASCAR Race fans everywhere, the past week has been pure heaven. The teams have returned to the World Center of Racing to once again battle for the Harley J. Earl Trophy, and hope that the win on Sunday, sell on Monday mantra still holds true. For Front Row Motorsports, a race-winning organization competing in the NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series, the possibility of being able to win the Great American Race is a real one, and the No. 34 of David Ragan, the No. 38 of David Gilliland and the No. 35 Ford of Eric McClure are looking forward to the chance to view from Gatorade Victory Lane.
.Eric McClure, driver of the No. 35 Hefty Ultimate/Reynolds Wrap Ford, earned a career-best eighth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway last February in the Drive4COPD 300. This year, he has a chance to battle with the big boys in the 2014 Daytona 500.
"For my family, this is the biggest race in the world and the most special place in the world. This is 20 years since they (Morgan-McClure Motorsports) won it, this year," McClure added. " For us, growing up, Daytona was everything. So, the opportunity to have a chance to compete in the Daytona 500 would be a lifelong dream. For our family, there's nothing greater, and it makes it a little bit more unique and a little bit more special but adds a little bit more pressure as well."
McClure has 15 Nationwide career starts at Daytona, and is hopeful that he is able to win the battle against his nerves in 2014.
"I'm excited about the challenge. I'm trying to keep my mind distracted until it's time to go race," McClure continued. "But we'll do everything we can to get this thing in the race. Knowing the product that Front Row Motorsports puts on the restrictor-plate tracks makes us optimistic and gives us a lot of confidence. If you do your job, and nothing goes wrong, then you have a good chance to be in the show."
McClure will start 18th in Thursday's Duel #2.
David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Love's Travel Stops Ford, has 11 Sprint Cup career starts at Daytona International Speedway, and earned the pole in his first Daytona start in 2007.
"Front Row Motorsports obviously puts a lot into their superspeedway program, and we've worked really hard on the cars over the off-season," stated Gilliland. "We've got the same cars we finished first and second in at Talladega, and we've been working to make them lighter and better. Daytona is such a special place. I've got a lot of fond memories here. I'm still looking for my first Sprint Cup win, and I feel good about our chances."
Gilliland has one top-five and two top-10 finishes at the superspeedway, and with a runner-up finish in Talladega in 2013, he hopes to be the first to the checkered flag on Sunday.
"It would be a dream come true for my first win to be in the Daytona 500, and it would be a huge deal to do it with Love's Travel Stops, Gilliland added. "They've really stepped up their program with Front Row Motorsports this year and I'd love to take them to Victory Lane and spray champagne all over them."
Gilliland will line up 16th in Thursday's Duel #1.
David Ragan, driver of the No. 34 CSX "Play It Safe" Ford, has already found victory lane at Daytona in 2011, though he is ready to make his way there again this year. With 14 Sprint Cup career starts at Daytona International Speedway, he is the veteran on the young team.
"I think we're more excited for this season to get started than any other," commented Ragan. "We've got great partners like CSX back for another year, and they're getting even more involved than before. It's a great success story for us. A lot of people talk about our successes we had on track last year, which is great, but we also accomplished a lot off the track with our partners. We're going to keep reminding people of the dangers of trespassing on railroad tracks with CSX this year. We'll have the 'I Brake for Trains' sticker on the bumper of our Ford Fusion every week and we'll be handing those out to fans as well to get that message across."
Ragan has one win, three top-fives and four top-10s at the superspeedway, and hopes to add another notch to the win column this week.
"Front Row Motorsports is a legitimate threat at the plate races like here at Daytona," Ragan concluded. "With the new 'win and you're in' rules of the Chase, that could put us in, and that would be a big deal for our team and for our partners. It gives us a little extra motivation."
Ragan will line up 20th in Thursday's Duel #2.
Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter, and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtags #NASCAR,#DAYTONA500 and #ROADTODAYTONA. You can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long, and follow the latest on DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using #DAYTONARising.
Over the next week or so, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race, including a possible interview with the head of the CJ Mears Gang himself, Casey Mears, as well as other members of the NASCAR garage.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. The cars will also be on track throughout the "SpeedWeeks" leading up to the "Great American Race," including the Budweiser Duels qualifying races, which will be televised live on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
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