Column: Larson finishes 2nd again, takes over points lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Kyle Larson finished second at Phoenix International Raceway and then headed to the beach for a brief family vacation. There was no lamenting his third consecutive runner-up finish because Larson is the current points leader of NASCAR's top series. His positioning atop the standings is almost as good as a trip to victory lane.

Column: Hype, new format didn't equal must-watch Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Daytona 500 was sold out, the grid packed with celebrities, the fan area full of activities including a motorcycle "Ball of Death." Owen "Lightning McQueen" Wilson was on hand, and so was Waka Flocka Flame , Gronk and nearly two dozen women decked out in scantily-clad Monster Energy outfits.

The Latest: Kurt Busch wins Daytona 500 for Stewart-Haas

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Latest on the Daytona 500 (all times local): 6:25 p.m. Kurt Busch has won the Daytona 500, surviving a crash-filled season opener to win the race for the first time in 16 tries. Busch passed Kyle Larson final lap before cruising to the victory. Larson ran out gas shortly after passing Chase Elliott, who also came up short on fuel.

Reed grabs Xfinity Series win in wreck-fest at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Ryan Reed picked up the second Xfinity Series victory of his career -- both at Daytona International Speedway -- by winning the wreck-filled season-opener Saturday. Reed held off Austin Dillon and Kasey Kahne in a two-lap overtime shootout to win in a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

Gibbs, Penske defend NASCAR as having bright future

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Joe Gibbs joined the list of heavy hitters defending NASCAR during one of its shakiest periods in decades. The owner of powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing said NASCAR has a bright future and noted top-level companies would not participate if the sport was a sinking ship.

NASCAR seeks boost to steep decline with strong Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The good news for NASCAR is that all signs indicate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. A victory for NASCAR's most popular driver, in his return to racing after a concussion sidelined him the second half of last season, would be a massive boost for the sagging series.

Earnhardt wants to win a title then ride into retirement

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Upon further review, hoisting a championship trophy is exactly how Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants to end his career. NASCAR's most popular driver caused a stir on "The Dan Patrick Show" when he claimed he would immediately retire if he wins the title this year. The statement followed him to media day for the Daytona 500, and there was no question about it. "Hell, yeah.

The Latest: Mexico's Daniel Suarez wants to inspire others

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Latest on Daytona 500 media day (all times local): ___ 3:30 p.m. Daniel Suarez hopes he can inspire kids now that he's the only Mexican driver in the Cup series. Suarez was a sensation in his native Mexico for becoming the first foreign-born series champion with an Xfinity Series title last November. He was promoted to drive the No.

Optimism in high gear at Daytona for NASCAR's top teams

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Optimism abounds after the opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway, especially for NASCAR's top teams. Teamwork at Joe Gibbs Racing appears as solid as ever despite adding rookie Daniel Suarez to the mix, evidenced by Denny Hamlin, Suarez, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch running 1-2-3-4 for much of the Clash at Daytona.