NASCAR returns to Daytona looking to back up thrilling 2022 Speedweeks

Fire up the engines, queue the confetti machines and pop the champagne, it is time to celebrate the 75th Diamond Anniversary of NASCAR and no better place to ring in such a special time than the ‘World Center of Racing’ – Daytona International Speedway – with the biggest event of the season, the DAYTONA 500 on Sunday, February 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Last weekend, NASCAR jump started the 2023 season with a return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum quarter-mile for a spectacular Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, that not only saw Martin Truex Jr. grabbing the checkered flag in a wild short track showdown, but also performances by Cypress Hill, Wiz Khalifa, Cheat Codes and Dixie D’Amelio.

Now the NASCAR Cup Series is headed to the sunny beaches of Central Florida to officially kick-off the 36-race points-paying championship season and will do it in style as multi-platinum recording artist Dierks Bentley will take the stage ahead of the 65th running of the DAYTONA 500. The 14-time Grammy-nominated entertainer will perform a setlist of hit songs just before drivers take the green flag.

“I’m ready to get back to Daytona with all the biggest NASCAR fans,” Bentley said. “The energy there is unmatched, and I know we will have a blast getting them ready for the race.”

The sold out event is expecting a massive crowd. All 101,500 grandstand seats are sold. So is every camping spot. So is every Fan Zone pass. Its so full, the track is saying enough. Come back in 2024.

And once that green flag waves on Sunday, it will be quite the race in Daytona. Last season’s DAYTONA 500 was action-packed with 104 green flag passes for the lead, and over 6,400 total green flag passes, but it was Team Penske’s Austin Cindric who crossed the finish line first, just 0.36-second ahead of runner-up Bubba Wallace driving for 23XI Racing – the third closest finish of the DAYTONA 500 since advent of electronic scoring in 1993.

Cindric returns to Daytona International Speedway as the defending DAYTONA 500 winner and this weekend will look to add his name to the list of multiple Great American Race winners. If he does win this weekend, he will join Sterling Marlin (1994, 1995) as just the second driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to score their first two wins in the DAYTONA 500.

Last season’s DAYTONA 500 victory was Cindric’s first career NASCAR Cup Series win, and in doing so, he became the first rookie in series history to win the event.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

They say you always remember the ‘first-time’ and Daytona International Speedway has been known for making memories that last in the NASCAR Cup Series.

In total 17 different drivers have scored their first NASCAR Cup Series career pole at Daytona International Speedway and 23 different drivers have won their first race in the NASCAR Cup Series at the 2.5-mile track.

Daytona International Speedway has seen a first-time winner in at least one of its NASCAR Cup Series races in the last five consecutive seasons (2018-2022).

First Time Pole WinnersSeasonFirst Time Race WinnersSeason
William Byron2019Austin Cindric2022
Chase Elliott2016Michael McDowell2021
Austin Dillon2014William Byron2020
Danica Patrick2013Justin Haley2019
Paul Menard2008Erik Jones2018
Greg Biffle2004Aric Almirola2014
Jimmie Johnson2002David Ragan2011
Kevin Harvick2002Trevor Bayne2011
Mike Skinner1997Greg Biffle2003
Dale Jarrett1995Michael Waltrip2001
Loy Allen Jr1994John Andretti1997
Sterling Marlin1991Jimmy Spencer1994
Greg Sacks1990Sterling Marlin1994
Geoff Bodine1982Derrike Cope1990
Ramo Stott1976Greg Sacks1985
Charlie Glotzbach1968Pete Hamilton1970
Darel Dieringer1964Mario Andretti1967
  Earl Balmer1966
 Sam McQuagg1966
  A.J. Foyt1964
  Bobby Isaac1964
  Johnny Rutherford1963
  Tiny Lund1963

Of the 64 DAYTONA 500 races in the books, nine times a driver has posted his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory with a win in the event; the most recent to accomplish the feat was Team Penske’s Austin Cindric last season.

First-Time Winners in DAYTONA 500Seasons
Tiny Lund1963
Mario Andretti1967
Pete Hamilton1970
Derrike Cope1990
Sterling Marlin1994
Michael Waltrip2001
Trevor Bayne2011
Michael McDowell2021
Austin Cindric2022

Three other drivers posted their career-first NASCAR Cup Series victory in (points-paying) qualifying races at Daytona: Johnny Rutherford (1963), Bobby Isaac (1964) and Earl Balmer (1966).

Looking at the entry list for this season’s DAYTONA 500, 15 drivers will be attempting to earn their first series win this weekend – Harrison Burton, Conor Daly, Ty Dillon, Ty Gibbs, Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Riley Herbst, Austin Hill, Corey Lajoie, B.J. McLeod, Travis Pastrana, Ryan Preece, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith, and Cody Ware.

They’ll have some stiff competition from the veterans though.

Known as the biggest race in NASCAR, the DAYTONA 500 holds a special place in every stockcar driver’s heart. It’s an instant catapult to fame for the victor. It’s the pinnacle of a racer’s career, the crowning achievement that all other drivers aspire to possess, and fans and media admire. The NASCAR Cup Series season-opener is unlike any other event and holds the prestige among its competitors due to its ever-changing difficulty to master, much less finish. And this year’s Great American Race will undoubtedly bring all the action and excitement we have all grown to love and feverishly anticipate.

In total, 41 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won a DAYTONA 500, and seven of the 41 are active this weekend:

RankActive DAYTONA 500 WinnersWinsSeasons
1Denny Hamlin32016, 2019, 2020
2Jimmie Johnson22006, 2013
3Austin Cindric12022
4Michael McDowell12021
5Austin Dillon12018
6Joey Logano12015
7Kevin Harvick12007

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in DAYTONA 500 victories with seven trophies – (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981). Richard’s father, Lee Petty, won the inaugural DAYTONA 500 on February 22, 1959; he led 38 laps and won by two feet in an Oldsmobile.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in DAYTONA 500 wins with three trophies (2016, 2019, 2020). Team Penske’s Austin Cindric won last season’s DAYTONA 500 becoming the first rookie in series history to win the notable event. NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty, who won the inaugural DAYTONA 500 (1959), and Trevor Bayne, the 2011 DAYTONA 500 champion, are the only two drivers to win the race in their first appearance.

If Hamlin (2016, 2019, 2020) wins the DAYTONA 500 this season he will tie NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough (1968, 1977, 1983, 1984) for the second-most DAYTONA 500 victories all-time with four each.

Only six drivers all-time in the NASCAR Cup Series have scored three or more DAYTONA 500 victories, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty with seven wins in the Great American Race (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981); followed by Cale Yarborough (1968, 1977, 1983, 1984), Bobby Allison (1978, 1982, 1988), Dale Jarrett (1993, 1996, 2000), Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999, 2005) and Denny Hamlin (2016, 2019, 2020).

Legacy Motor Club’s driver Jimmie Johnson can become the seventh driver to win three DAYTONA 500s this weekend. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, has two DAYTONA 500 wins to his name, hoisting the trophies in 2006 and 2013.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 05: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Martin Truex Jr. brought his broom to sweep the start of the season

After his big win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum last weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. has the opportunity to add his name to some shorts lists if he can continue his winning ways in Daytona.

Truex is looking to become the first driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win the Busch Light Clash, then go on to win the DAYTONA 500 pole, the Duel he will be entered in and then the ‘Crown Jewel’ the DAYTONA 500 to start the season.

Only two drivers have come close to accomplishing the feat, winning everything but the Clash. Cale Yarborough (1984) and Bill Elliott (1985) won the DAYTONA 500 pole, won the Duel race they were entered in and then went on to win the DAYTONA 500 all in the same Speedweeks.

Truex could also become the sixth different driver to win the Busch Light Clash and DAYTONA 500 in the same season; joining Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1987), Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000), Jeff Gordon (1997), and Denny Hamlin (2016).

Defending series champion Joey Logano looking to join elite list this weekend

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and Team Penske driver Joey Logano has the opportunity to become just the sixth different driver in series history to win the DAYTONA 500 as the defending series champion.

Five reigning NASCAR Cup Series champions have gone on to win the DAYTONA 500 the season after winning the championship – all now NASCAR Hall of Famers: Lee Petty (1959), Richard Petty (1973), Cale Yarborough (1977), Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000).

Cup Garage Spotlight: Fresh faces in new places

Much like the shuffling of a deck of cards, several drivers in the offseason made moves to different organizations, here is a quick look at some of the changes that took place and who to look for this season in the NASCAR Cup Series.

23XI Racing tapped Tyler Reddick to pilot the No. 45 Toyota, alongside his teammate Bubba Wallace in the No. 23 Toyota this season. The organization will also be expanding to a third car on a part-time basis beginning with this weekend at Daytona International Speedway with driver Travis Pastrana behind the wheel of the No. 67 Toyota. Pastrana will be looking to make his NASCAR Cup Series and DAYTONA 500 career debut, and as a new team, Pastrana will have to either qualify or race his way into the Great American Race.

Richard Childress Racing swung for the fences and landed the hottest free agent on the market last season, two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch. This season, Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet collaborating with crew chief Randal Burnett, as the pair competes alongside teammate Austin Dillon in the famous No. 3 Chevrolet. Dillon is the most recent winner at Daytona International Speedway grabbing the checkered flag back in August to earn his spot in the 2022 Playoffs.

The recently introduced Legacy Motor Club is all brand new for 2023 and has stacked quite the lineup this season. Veteran Erik Jones will return to the historic No. 43 Chevrolet and will have two new teammates to work with as Noah Gragson has moved up from the NASCAR Xfinity Series to drive the No. 42 Chevrolet fulltime with crew chief Luke Lambert, and seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson has returned to the series as an owner/driver and will compete on a part-time basis starting with the DAYTONA 500. Johnson will have former series champion crew chief Todd Gordon calling the shots on top the pit box.

Speaking of moving up from the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Joe Gibbs Racing has graduated Ty Gibbs to the NASCAR Cup Series after his impressive championship winning 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series run. Gibbs will pilot the No. 54 Toyota with crew chief Chris Gayle on the pit box this season, alongside a stable of veterans – Denny Hamlin (No. 11), Christopher Bell (No. 20) and last weekend’s 2023 Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum winner Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19).

Kaulig Racing has also called up A.J. Allmendinger to run fulltime this season in the NASCAR Cup Series in the No. 16 Chevrolet, joining his teammate Justin Haley, who will continue to drive the No. 31 Chevrolet.

Joining Corey Lajoie over at Spire Motorsports this season will be Ty Dillon, who will jump behind the wheel of the No. 77 Chevrolet with crew chief Kevin Bellicourt. Lajoie will continue to be in the No. 7 with crew chief Ryan Sparks.

Stewart-Haas Racing has also called upon Ryan Preece to take over the driving duties of the No. 41 Ford this season with crew chief Chad Johnston. He will be joined by SHR teammates Chase Briscoe in the No. 14, Aric Almirola in the No. 10 and veteran Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Ford. This will be Harvick’s final season in the NASCAR Cup Series. The California native has announced his retirement at the end of the 2023 season, upon where he will join the FOX Sports TV booth as a NASCAR analyst alongside Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s