Friday, Jan 28

It All Comes Down to This

The Daytona 500. The one race all drivers want to win. Some define a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career by whether or not a driver has a win in The Great American Race. Many people look at the Daytona 500 as the biggest race in NASCAR. In reality, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR. A race that started out as a dream for Bill France, Sr. and his family has turned into a time-honored tradition that drivers and fans alike fantasize about.

This Sunday, February 21st, 40 of NASCAR’s best will look to add their name to the NASCAR history books. An opportunity for one driver and team to earn their place among hall of famers and heroes. A chance for a driver to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy and place their car in Daytona’s museum for the year. All of this sounds so sweet to every driver and team competing in Sunday’s race.

But, in order to get to Sunday you had to race on Thursday night. The Can-Am Duels provided excitement in both races. The first Duel saw a favorite take the checkered flag. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, proved why he is called the pied-piper when he took the lead with a demanding move with only six laps to go. He and his car Amelia controlled the draft throughout the race, and after 60 laps drove to Gatorade Victory Lane. After his Can-Am Duel win, many people are considering Earnhardt, Jr. the favorite heading into the Daytona 500.

“The car is awesome.  I don't really get too confident, I don't want to get overly confident in what I'm doing.  But the car really does everything I ask it to do,” said Earnhardt Jr. “When you have a car that you know can do the things that this car can do, you're willing to take those gambles and risks to pull out and pass and not worry about getting shuffled to the back because you feel like the car is really capable of doing what you're going to ask it to do every time you make a move. It's just a fun car to drive.”

A relatively calm race, the second Duel saw 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, roll into Gatorade Victory Lane. This Duel saw the field being separated at one point, and then rejoining for a wild ending. On the final lap, a multi-car wreck took place, collecting outside front row starter Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex, Jr., and more. These drivers will all be faced with entering the Daytona 500 with a back-up or repaired car.

Now that the Duels are complete, everyone is looking to the Daytona 500 to officially start the 2016 NASCAR season. With a new season, everyone is making picks for who they think will win the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The team at RIR is no different. Over the last couple of days, staff members have been debating, calculating, and thinking hard about who they were going to select. After much deliberation, the staff have spoken! Take a look at who our staff picks to win it all in 2016:

Staff Member

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Pick

Reason Why

Dennis Bickmeier, President

Denny Hamlin

“Because I want to throw a big Champion's celebration in town!”


Jacque Frame, Executive Assistant to the President

Kevin Harvick

“Why, well I like his nickname ‘Happy Harvick’.  I also kinda became infatuated with his wife when she first came into the picture. She’s an awesome wife.”

Deborah Clemons, Director of Community Affairs

Matt Kenseth

“#20 was my sports number (volleyball and softball) in high school and I prefer even numbers over odd.”

Chris Hassen, Staff Accountant

Martin Truex, Jr.

“Car Number 78 because it’s the only one in the football offensive lineman number range.”

John Moreland, VP of Sales & Marketing

Tony Stewart

“Perfect ending to a great career.”

Louis Gilmore, Sr. Director of Business Development

Aric Almirola


Kent Winter, Director of Corporate Partnerships

Kevin Harvick


Mike Richards, Sr. Manager of Business Development

Martin Truex, Jr.

Because he is a Philadelphia sports fan.”

Scott Byer, Manager of Business Development

Ryan Blaney


Nicolle Gunian, Corporate Sales & Service Executive

Carl Edwards


Mark Clements, Ticket Sales Account Representative

Matt DiBenedetto

“Because not many people can pronounce his name correctly.”

Chelsea Taylor, Corporate Partnerships Intern

Kasey Kahne

“I’m going to go with Kasey Kahne I suppose, I like the Farmer’s Insurance jingle, ‘we are farmers, bum be dum bum bum’ (something like that).”

Aimee Wester, Director of Communications

Denny Hamlin

“I thought we were gonna celebrate a Virginia Champion two years ago and had our celebration campaign ready to go.  It’s time to dust it off and launch a new and improved ‘Let’s Go Denny’ campaign to compliment the new and improved (he had knee surgery during the off-season) Denny.”

Courtney Brockwell, Communications Coordinator

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

“I’m going with Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Jr. because like Nationwide, I’m on his side.”

Diane Cahoon, Director of Ticket Operations

Trevor Bayne


Kristen Kelejian, Ticket Operations Coordinator

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

“Because 8+8=16! Mathematically, it’s his year!!”

Megan Driscoll, Director of Consumer Marketing

Joey Logano

“He’s looking for redemption after last year; plus, a championship is a pretty good way to celebrate 50 years of Team Penske.”

Emily Niedermaier, Consumer Marketing Manager

Joey Logano

“Because 22 is also the name of my favorite Taylor Swift song.”

Hilary Adams, Marketing & Fan Engagement Manager

Chase Elliott

“Because I saw him play beach volleyball in 2014 in Chicago, right before he went on to win their NXS race.”

Ryan Trapp, Multimedia Communications Coordinator

Brad Keselowski

“Gimme Brad Keselowski. Cause it’s Miller Time.”

Brett Savage, Consumer Marketing Intern

Joey Logano


Brian Giangiulio, Consumer Marketing Intern

Denny Hamlin

“This internship is my first experience with NASCAR, so I decided to pick my favorite number, which is #11.  I’m also a huge Redskins fan, and he races for former Redskins’ coach, Joe Gibbs.”

Jeff Hedrick, Sr. Director of Operations

Jimmie Johnson

“Jimmie Johnson - power of the J's.”

Suzanne Longest, Operations Coordinator

Carl Edwards

Because I love his backflip when he wins!!! And he's hot!! Go Carl!!”

Megan Hazzard, Sr. Manager of Event Sales & Services

Kevin Harvick

“Because I love Jimmy John’s and he drives the Jimmy John’s car, I get it delivered to my house probably every two weeks!”

Brittney Antozzi, Event Coordinator

Jimmie Johnson



Now, you know who we’re picking to be the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion in 2016. Who do you think has what it takes to be the champion? The road to the championship begins this Sunday, February 21st with the 58th running of the Daytona 500. Tune in to FOX at 1:00 p.m. to see who races their way into NASCAR history.

For the inside scoop on what's going on during Speedweeks, be sure to check out our blog "Over the Wall" at for interesting storylines, and follow us on Twitter @RIRinsider for the most up-to-date information on everything we're doing in Central Florida.



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