There's nothing like driving into Daytona International Speedway. I like to always use the Turn 4 tunnel because if there are any cars on the track, it's really cool to feel them thunder over your head as they rumble down off the banking.  As you drive up out of it at a steep angle, you see nothing but sky and then you hit the top and, as your car levels out you find yourself surrounded by the infield campers.  That's when your anticipation starts to rise and it's right then you start to get goosebumps a new season really is about to start.

First thing I did Saturday morning was find my way over to the Richard Childress Racing #3 hauler to talk to last year's Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon. He was relaxed and yawning from time to time as he sat there in his Dow uniform. We talked about last year's race and the last lap that turned him into a Daytona 500 champion. Austin guided me through the final 2.5 miles and it was only when he saw Bubba Wallace developing a big run on the back straightaway he knew he'd be getting such a big push there wasn't a thing then leader Aric Almirola could do to stop them going into turn three. Austin explained to me, with the pack so far back, by the exit of turn four he knew had just won "the great American race" and all there was left to do during cool down lap was to "yell and scream a lot".

With Austin I also had a chance to get some insight to the new rules package for the 1.5 to two-mile tracks. He thinks it will open up the competition, make the drivers have to be more aggressive, and behind the wheel they'll be able to do things they couldn't before because the cars will be so much slower with 500 horsepower engines as opposed to 750.

On the opening day, I also had a chance to walk around the garage. As drivers like Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Martin Truex, Jr. walked in from their motorhome lot and fans descended up them, their Sharpies uncapped to get autographs on their hats, diecast cars and flags.

It was hard for me to get used to seeing Truex's name about a door with the number 19 instead of 78. Felt the same when I saw #1 with Kurt Busch's signature instead of Jamie McMurray. Then there was Matt Dibennedetto in the #95…Corey Lajoie getting a full-time break in the #32 Dibenedetto departed…Ryan Preece in the #47 and Daniel Suaez in the #41.

Perhaps, though, the craziest thing was seeing Chad Knaus stroll through the garage wearing a #24 team shirt instead of the #48 he had worn for 17 seasons. It felt weird seeing that, it really did.  

A little bit later on the track went "hot" with the one and only practice for the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Things were going along pretty tame until Chase Elliott squeezed Ryan Newman, which set off a four-car crash as Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin joined in. It showed us again how unpredictable restrictor-plate racing can be. It was a small, 10-car pack and all the drivers weren't really pushing it that hard and yet they still wrecked.