DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Among those trying to win the Daytona 500 this year are a Florida watermelon farmer, a short-track champion from New England, a television analyst and a 22-year-old whose career nearly was derailed by a brain tumor.

The front row is the youngest in Daytona 500 history. It will be William Byron, a Liberty University student who had his wisdom teeth removed in the offseason, leading the field to green in Sunday’s showcase race to kick off the NASCAR season.

The overall look of the nation’s top racing series has undergone a transformation the last few seasons and the proof is plastered on the hood of Corey LaJoie’s car. His full facial-haired face adorns his Ford Mustang, which easily makes him the most recognizable driver among the eight Daytona 500 rookies.

“He looks like he’s going to eat you every lap,” said Clint Bowyer.

LaJoie’s paint scheme for his low-budget team is courtesy of his sponsor, Old Spice, which chose “The Great American Race” to promote its dry shampoo. bought the space on the back of Landon Cassill’s car, Bubba Wallace signed Aftershokz headphones for the race. After Casey Mears made the field – his first race in two years – a skateboard rim maker, Rim Ryderz, joined his program.

This Daytona 500 is unlike any in recent memory and truly highlights the dramatic loss of star power from just four years ago. The 2015 race featured Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip and Danica Patrick. All are now retired.

Some of the big-money sponsors in that race included Lowe’s, Target, Dollar General, GoDaddy and 5-Hour Energy. All have since pulled out of NASCAR.

But change has created opportunity – even second and third chances for a guy like Ross Chastain. The eighth-generation watermelon farmer impressed a sponsor with his work ethic and landed a career-changing ride with unexpected funding.

Ryan Preece bounced back and forth between NASCAR and New England short tracks before finally gambling on his future. He settled for a part-time job with a competitive team because he believed he could show his true talent if given the right equipment. Now he’s also a Daytona 500 rookie.

Same with Matt Tifft, who learned he had a brain tumor four races into his 2016 season.

Parker Kligerman, a part-time racer and full-time television personality, is in his second Daytona 500.

“I went off and did the TV thing,” said Kligerman. “You’ve seen drivers do that before, where they do something to up their profile, then they get back in a ride. It kind of feels like it’s finally all starting to work.”

THE BIGGEST Toyota stars skipped the final practice, with former NASCAR champs Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch among the drivers sitting out.

Michael McDowell posted the fastest lap at 191.440 mph in the No. 34 Ford. Former Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray had a top speed of 190.118 as he prepped for what is expected to be the final race of his NASCAR career.

XFINITY: Michael Annett raced to his first NASCAR national series victory in the season opener at Daytona.

Annett held off JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier on the final lap. It’s the fourth Daytona victory in five years for the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister.

Allgaier finished second for a 1-2 Chevrolet finish.

Brandon Jones was third in Toyota’s debut of the Supra in the Xfinity Series.

SAM BASS, a NASCAR artist who helped design paint schemes and program covers that illuminated an entire sport, died at age 57.

Bass, who was NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist, suffered from kidney problems.

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