5 burning questions for Sunday’s 65th Annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN)

Should We Move Start Times Back To A Normal Slot During Speedweeks

How long are we going to keep doing this? I wrote about this topic in my 2021 Daytona 500 recap. How long are we going to keep appeasing the west coast viewers before enough is enough? Was the 2.8 rating for the Daytona 500 going to be it?

That was a record low by the way.

I get why some may say, ‘well the race drew a 4.7 initially before the rain delay. I get that. But, the 2020 race was a 6.26 during the same Sunday slot and the 2019 and 2018 races were a tick above a 5. I guess you could credit the 2020 race to President Trump being there and all the hype and build up to why it opened at a 6.26 for the start of the 62nd Daytona 500, but this number is disappointing for a number of reasons.

First, only 30k were even allowed into the track for the 2021 race. In 2020, all 101,500 grandstand seats were sold out and there were thousands in the infield. You could argue that almost 100k less fans were at the 2021 race than 2020 and the number still went down.

Then you had a ton of buildup for that 2021 race too. It wasn’t as strong as 2020 but it was stronger than 2019 and before. There’s a lot of positive energy in the NASCAR world and for this race to flop on TV like it did, well it doesn’t bode well.

So what happens moving forward?

The momentum is as big as ever right now again coming back to Speedweeks. However, Speedweeks has become mostly a primetime event with only the main event run during the day.

The Clash is gone. Quals have been moved from a Sunday to a weeknight. Practices are slimmed down. The Duels were move from day to primetime. The Truck race is under the lights. The Xfinity Series starts at sunset and ends well into the night.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the old way. Let August be run under the lights and the February events back to feeling special in the day time hours.

The obvious fix to help Speedweeks propel further forward is to start moving this all back up and the Daytona 500 back to a Noon start. That’s the best option for everyone involved. I don’t know why I need to keep saying this and I hear their reasoning on why it’s later, but this is getting ridiculous. If the Daytona 500 started at Noon ET in 2 of the last 3 years, then by time the lightning then later rain got here, we’d be almost done with the event.

The estimated time of this race is around 3-hours and 38-minutes. If we pushed the green flag up to 12:05 p.m. ET, then this race was going to end somewhere around 3:45 p.m. ET. in 2021.

We went red for the lightning delay at…3:26 p.m. ET.

While I get the notion that the race could end early due to rain, at least we’re close. I mean, we all know the intensity levels ramp up to new levels with weather in the area. This could have been another chaotic ending to the checkered.

I know that they say that they do this for the west coast viewer because it’s an afternoon start not morning out there, but if that was to truly increase ratings and viewership, then why aren’t the numbers higher? Cater to the west coast viewer and even without a rainout, the rating is still between a 4-5? They weren’t hitting 10 million viewers for a noon rainout in 2021. If west coast viewers were truly to add to the ratings, then we should easily pick up 10+ million viewers for a race like the Daytona 500.

We’re not because west coast viewers like their morning start times. Almost everyone that I’ve talked to or know from out west like the morning races or football games because they have the rest of their days to do whatever they want.

It’s time to move the start times back up, because how long are we going to tempt this?

The Duels felt more special when run in the day. I mean what’s the point of all the preliminary Cup action during Speedweeks to be run under the lights but the Daytona 500 run in late afternoon anyhow?

Last lap pass for the win?

All this chaos over the recent years have seen wild finishes. Five of the last seven Daytona 500’s have seen a last lap pass for the win. Denny Hamlin stormed through the pack and passed his teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead in Turn 4 of the final lap in 2016 and held off a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. for the victory.

In 2017, Kurt Busch passed Kyle Larson in Turn 2 on the final lap.

In 2018, Austin Dillon crashed Aric Almirola on the backstretch going for the win.

In 2020, Hamlin did it again with a last lap pass of Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney for the victory.

In 2021, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano had a fiery crash in Turn 3 on the final lap which allowed Michael McDowell to triumph.

Will we see another last lap pass for the win on Sunday? Trends say, yes. So does the recent history of the end of these superspeedway races.

Denny Hamlin during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

If Hamlin Scores 4th Daytona 500 win, does that make up for no championships?

Denny Hamlin has won everything minus a championship. Can he further join racing lore on Sunday? If he can win Sunday’s Daytona 500, it would be his fourth time doing so, all coming in the last eight years. In fact, if he could win, it would be his third in the last five years with the only non wins in that span being in 2021 to when he led a race-high 98 lap and last year.

But, all of that past successes came in the Gen 6 car. Does the new Next Gen car take away his advantage? It did last year.

“I just think I have a good understanding of the air here and how it moves around the walls,” said Hamlin. “Talladega is different. If you look at our results, we haven’t won as much at Talladega, but we’ve been pretty good. Here, there is just something about – whatever it is – the banking or the width of the track, height of the walls or something that I just kind of know where those little pockets of air are it seems like that are a little bit better.

“We have a new car now and it’s going to move around a little bit different and we will probably be learning just like everyone else will be this weekend. I don’t know that the advantage really will be as big as what it was in the past.”

A win would tie him with Cale Yarborough for second most ever for the Great American Race. Richard Petty’s seven are tops. Can he reach that mark and if so, what would that mean to him in doing so?

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).

Also, when JD Gibbs passed away in January of 2019, Hamlin win. Last November, Coy Gibbs unexpectedly passed away. Can Hamlin give the family a second Daytona 500 win after tragedy strikes?

I think four Daytona 500 wins in this day trumps no championships when it’s all said and done.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light #BUSCHRACETEAM Ford, and Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #2 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

What’s The Story?

They say in the INDYCAR world that Indianapolis picks its winners. Well, Daytona has done the same recently. In 2017, Kurt Busch gave Stewart-Haas Racing their first Daytona 500 triumph. What’s wild about that is, Tony Stewart was winless in his career in the Great American Race. The 2017 ‘500 was the first one that he didn’t participate in. In his first year as a full time owner and not as a driver too, he wins.

A year later, Austin Dillon took the 3 car back to victory lane at Daytona 17 years to the date after Dale Earnhardt was tragically killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

In 2019, Denny Hamlin won his second Daytona 500 and did so a month after Joe Gibbs son, JD Gibbs, passed away. Gibbs and Hamlin were close, so this was an emotional moment for he and the Gibbs family. 12 months later, Hamlin returned to victory lane, however he did so in a solemn manner. Our thoughts at that time were on Ryan Newman who had a frightening crash on the final lap. Amazingly enough, Newman walked out of the Halifx hospital a few days later.

The last two years were remembered for first time winners. Michael McDowell was 0-for-463 in 2021 but won on the final lap. Last year was Austin Cindric being the first rookie winner since Trevor Bayne in 2011. Even third place finisher Chase Briscoe went from a sleeping on couches, to nearly quitting, to making this work.

Now, what’s this year’s story? Is it Kevin Harvick winning in his final Daytona 500 start?

Will A New Team Win?

For years, the Daytona 500 was constantly won by the big teams. However, one could make a case for Trackouse, Kaulig, 23XI or RFK Racing to land in victory lane on Sunday.

Trackhouse got a superspeedway win from Ross Chastain last year. They marched to the Championship 4. Why not a Daytona 500 win?

Kaulig has speedway ace Justin Haley who’s seen 5 of his combined 8 career NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series wins come at either Daytona or Talladega.

23XI Racing finished runner-up with Bubba Wallace last year. He won at Talladega in 2021. RFK Racing swept both Duels a year ago as well.

Can one of these teams find victory lane on Sunday?

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