On February 18, 2018, engines will roar to life for the 60th annual running of the Daytona 500. NASCAR's biggest names and most popular teams will line up to run "The Great American race". For teams, and race fans alike, there is no race like Daytona. The Super Bowl of motorsport, the Daytona 500 is not only the biggest and most famous race on the NASCAR calendar, it is also the race that breaks the long stretch of the winter off-season, for race fans, and opens the door for a tidal wave of racing forthcoming.

A different kind of 500

This year the Daytona 500 will be an especially emotional one.

NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will not be racing. For the first time in a long time, NASCAR's biggest star won't be starting the NASCAR's biggest race. At the close of the 2017 season, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retired. As expected, however, retirement isn't some quiet ride into the sunset for Junior. He and his wife, Amy, are expecting their first in the spring and Junior will be joining the broadcasting team at NBC later in the season. Junior will also be taking part of this Daytona 500, although in a different capacity now that he is retired. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be the 2018 Grand Marshall for the Daytona 500. Junior readily admits that it will be difficult to watch the race instead of participating in it, however, he stands by his decision to retire and acknowledges that it will just take some time to get used to the idea.

The race also takes place on the anniversary of the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. which will also make the race a little more emotional for Junior. That being said Junior, and NASCAR, are looking forward to the future and the Daytona 500 is the first step in that direction.

A new generation of racers

While some of NASCAR's biggest names, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

and Tony Stewart, have retired from the sport, they are not short on talent. On the contrary, NASCAR seems to be teeming with talent from young, up-and-coming stars. Drivers such as Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr., and Bubba Wallace are just a few of the young stars that currently shine brightly. Along with these drivers are teams that are more technologically, mentally, and physically prepared than ever before.

Couple all that with NASCAR's "Race for the Chase" race set up and you have a combination that is sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats all season long. With the changing of the old guard to the new, there comes a nostalgia, for seasons gone by, that is unavoidable. Already the comments about NASCAR struggling without their big stars can be seen rumbling through some venues. That being said, the rising tide of optimism that comes with a new season and a new beginning can also be seen as NASCAR turns its eyes to what it hopes is the start of a new and brighter era in their history.

As race fans and teams alike countdown to the Daytona 500, a new generation prepares to take its place in the hallowed halls of one of racing's biggest series.

As for whose car will be on display at the end of the day on February 18, that is anyone's guess. What can be said for sure, however, is that even without its biggest stars NASCAR's future is shining bright.