The NASCAR Cup Series 2021 season is almost upon us. Next Sunday’s 63rd annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) will once again mark the beginning of a new year. With that said, this year’s race is sure to look different than the 62 before it.
We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, so while fans will be included in this year’s race, it won’t be run in front of a packed house. Following a fifth straight sell out a year ago, a reported 30k will be in attendance for next Sunday’s Great American Race.
Also, due to the ongoing COVID precautions, media day has looked different this year as well. In fact, I feel like it was vastly better. Instead of one full day of all the drivers being rotated in 1-by-1 for breakout sessions, media day became media week this past week.
We had over 30 drivers available this week, all via zoom, but they were broken up with several each day. All of them were available for 30 minutes each with plenty of time to get questions in for the upcoming season/Daytona 500 too.
Next week we just have the Hendrick drivers on Monday with Ty Dillon too as well as Joey Logano on Tuesday morning to wrap up the media obligations for Speedweeks. This has been vastly more efficient in getting more content out there without being overwhelmed of chasing big stories and having to do so all in one day.
We got a bunch of content from drivers on this being the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death, to how badly drivers that have won this race in the past want to win again, to how this race will look next Sunday to how much pressure are on some drivers for not just next week but for the season in general too.
Here are the top quotes of this past week –
- Brad Keselowski – “The Daytona 500 is like having your final exam on the first day of school. It’s an inverse product to most other sports to where the biggest game of their seasons is at the end of the year.” He also said, “You typically go to Daytona and even Talladega expecting to crash. The odds are more favorable for carnage than a win.”
- Austin Cindric – “You’ve got 50 minutes to figure out how to get into the Daytona 500,” Cindric said on his Daytona 500 media availability. “That’s not easy. That will be my first time in a Cup car, my first time in a speedway Cup car – a lot of different things going on and obviously a lot of things to go through. Even simple procedural things like trying to get used to the digital dash on pit road speeds and doing hot pit roads and, obviously, figuring out how the cars work in the draft. There are a lot of things I’m going to have to figure out in 50 minutes, so it’ll be information overload. “I’ve got great teammates that will be able to help me through some of that process. I’ve done a lot of prep work so far to try to nail down the small details, but nothing is simple as, like I said, pit road speed or procedural things inside the car what keeps us out of the race. I’ve tried to be as diligent as possible on those things, but it’s the things you can’t control that make you lose a little bit of sleep thinking about it.
- “The easiest way to make it in is on time, and our guys at Team Penske are trying to give me the fastest Verizon Ford Mustang possible to do that, so I’m excited. It’s going be a great challenge, and I think everybody in this position is embracing that task because there are a lot of great cars trying to go for a spot.”
- Ryan Preece – “I’m not stressed at all,” Preece said. “We’re going to go down, and if everything works out the way I think it’s laid out, we should qualify on speed. So, I feel pretty confident with it.”
- Noah Gragson – “Tell that little shit to drive the piss out of it,” Mr. Beard’s wife said to Gragson following the death of Mark Beard.
- Derrike Cope – “I really don’t care what other people think,” Cope said on people questioning on if he should be allowed to race in the Daytona 500. “If I did, I probably wouldn’t be in this position. So, honestly, it’s really about what I want.”
- Ross Chastain – “I don’t want to go fail,” Chastain said of his likely first and last shot at a top ride now. “So there is no alternative. There is no Plan B. We have the farm and grow and sell watermelons. But, as a racer, I want to succeed. I want to do my job. This is it.”
- Bubba Wallace – “This for me is the one and potentially last opportunity for me. We have a solid foundation underneath us to make this program better and to grow this team and make this a household name in the sport. There’s a lot riding on us. There’s been pressure ever since I got into this league to win. So, just another year. New car, no different.”
- Matt DiBenedetto – “Going into this year, even with the uncertainty you can call it about 2022, I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my career going into this year even without knowing my plans for next year. This is all I can ask for. My whole career has had an expiration date. I’ve thought it was over 1,000 times, so it doesn’t even phase me. I’m pretty mentally tough at this point.”
- Ryan Newman – I’ve had zero,” Newman said on hesitation of getting back in the car. “I’ve had people question me. But the reality is, God works in mysterious ways and one of those mysterious ways that I can’t answer is the deletion of that chapter. So I don’t have any fear because I don’t have any memory.”
- Austin Dillon – “For sure. That feeling of driving into victory lane and hoisting that Harley J. Earl, there’s nothing like it. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. For me, every time that you get to jump in a car for the ‘500, you’ve got to be thankful because it’s history. It’s a prestigious event. It’s my favorite event of the year. It’s my favorite Sunday that when I wake up that morning, that Daytona 500 morning, there’s noting like it.”
- Kurt Busch – “The years before a win at Daytona, there’s the humility and the humble feeling that this track is still in control over me. Then with winning it in 2017, it’s an experience beyond no other. There’s this energy in your soul when you go back to defend that’ no, this is my turf. This is mine.’ Then, if the race doesn’t go right, there’s that humble feeling again that the track will give you.”
- Denny Hamlin – “I always think about in these situations and any time I get asked about all the ones that slipped away that I had no control and didn’t make the right decisions in the end to finish it off. It would be by far my biggest victory of my career and one that I probably wouldn’t exchange for anything.”
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “I don’t think the tapered spacer or restrictor plate matters,” Stenhouse said. “All it does is restricts power but maybe in a little bit of different ways. “We’ve gone big spoilers, smaller spoilers, it definitely changes the game. It changes the aggressiveness. It changes your ability to do things inside the race car and the handling of the race car. I think having something consistent now is big. Probably for everybody. We all know what to expect.”There for a while, I feel like on superspeedway’s were changing fairly quick. It seemed like every year you raced the race, things would change. I like the consistency that we have going into this year.”
- Kyle Busch – “Kind of feel like I got fired from the 18 car and moved over to the 20 guys with the way everything played out. So there’s this whole thing mentally in my head that I kind of got fired and rehired.”
- Kevin Harvick – “My focus is always on week to week winning races,” Harvick said on Friday. “In the end it didn’t really matter. We ran terrible at Phoenix, so it’s not like you were going to win the championship anyway. It didn’t really matter as we got to Phoenix and with the way that we ran.
“I think you look back on it and you take the things that you did at each one of those race tracks and you try to make them better because that’s really what it’s all about is, ‘How do I stay focused on a week to week basis? What did we do last year at this particular racetrack? What did we do good? What did we do bad? Show me the strengths. Show me the weaknesses. Show me where we beat them. Show me where we were getting beat.’
“And it’s the same preparation over and over and over, and the whole championship layout is something that is what it is, but it changes zero in your preparation. It really doesn’t change a thing.”
- Christopher Bell – “I would say dirt racing really prepared me for and maybe made me good at raw speed,” Bell said. “Going fast hasn’t really been my issue. But, one thing that at least my style of dirt racing that I did is, that it didn’t prepare me is for distance races. That’s been the hardest part each step along the way whether it be late models moving into Trucks then moving into Xfinity, the races have just gotten longer and longer and longer. Then, now the Cup races are sometimes twice the length of the Xfinity races that I just got done doing.
“The distance racing part has been the difficult part making sure that you can complete 500 mile races and have a car that’s in one piece. I haven’t done a great part of that over the course of last year and I’m trying this year to see the checkered flag with all the fenders on my car. That’s something that I’m really focused on this year is limiting my mistakes, making sure my car is there at the end of the race.”
- Chase Briscoe – “I was so excited to kind of start a new journey but also so nervous and really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Briscoe said on when he moved from Indiana to North Carolina in February 2013 to pursue a NASCAR dream. “I was fresh out of high school. I remember my mom, right before I left, literally trying to teach me how to do the laundry because she had always done it for me while I was in high school.
“I was green to everything. I never had a credit card or a debit card. I literally went down with $150 in cash and just pretty much thrown into the world and try to figure it out.”
After a couple of years of nothing, he decided to move home.
“Literally the day I was driving home I remember I was in Kentucky, called my mom,” Briscoe said. “I was in tears and told her I was moving back home. I was over it. I had been down there for two years and didn’t have anything. I was going to go run a midget that weekend and the following Monday I was going to drive back down, get my stuff and go back home.
“Two hours later … I got a call from an ARCA team asking me if I was interested in coming and doing a test, and that was the Cunningham Motorsports team. I went there that following Monday and started volunteering my time.
“I’d been sleeping on couches for almost two years to that point and just started hanging out around their shop trying to be the first one to be there and the last guy to leave. I think I volunteered for a full nine or 10 months until I even got in a race car. They somehow, I don’t know why, decided they were going to let me race for them, and we went and ran for the championship in 2016 and was able to win the championship.”
“There were so many doors that probably shouldn’t have been opened that were somehow able to get opened”