5 things I’m watching for Sunday’s 65th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN)

Pit Stops/Manufacturer Support

In order to win a superspeedway race at either Daytona or Talladega, you honestly first need to have some sort of drafting help to get you there. These days, the drafting help now comes from via your own manufacturer. Just look further on how this affects races than the ending of the 2021 Daytona 500. It was a perfect storm per say.

Denny Hamlin had the car to beat in that race. He led a race-high 98 of 200 laps and well on his way to becoming the first three-peat champion in the races 63 year history.

Then the final pit sequence happened.

The Toyota’s hit pit lane last among the three manufacturers. It cost them.

The Fords were lined up and the Toyota’s couldn’t get formed quick enough to stay ahead.

Hamlin, had too big of a lead over teammate Kyle Busch and neither were close enough to use each other as drafting help. The Ford train was coming and blew right by them with 25 laps-to-go.

“We were too far out front (on the final pit stop),” Hamlin said then. “We got on-and-off pit road too good. I was just too far ahead of the pack.”

The pack would go single file and run at the top of the banking all the way around until a few to go. There wasn’t enough energy built up for the Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s to make any ground. They knew it would take a lot for them to break up the five Ford’s up front.

If you go to the bottom line, you need enough cars to build some energy. There just wasn’t enough.

“I figured the Chevys would make a move from two or three to go, because they are not going to win on the last lap from fifth or sixth,” Hamlin continued. “I was able to gain some positions. I think I was 12th and everybody was running single file, so it handcuffed me. I couldn’t really do anything. I hoped once I got to eighth as long as they make a move with two to go, I’m in the energy – in the area where I can make something happen. Dominant car, just a dominant car. Just one of those things that execute too good.”

How does this play into it? We know teammates will work together again as will manufacturers.

It happened in last year’s Duels. The Chevys blinked first in the opening Duel. The Fords came a lap later. The Fords flipped ahead of them after.

If you have any sort of sloppiness during your pit stop, you honestly ruin it for the whole group. The larger the group of cars to draft with the more energy and speed you gain. By breaking a group up while another remained in form entering and exiting pit lane, well it doesn’t take a top engineer to know which group will cycle ahead.

So, with the ‘500 featuring several pits stops throughout the day, the ones who have the best efforts on and off pit road will be the ones who succeed the most in track position.

Part of this all is due to manufacturers and teammates working together almost exclusively on superspeedway’s now. These two are going to have moments where they’re working together.

Toyota started it in 2016, Ford perfected it there after and Chevrolet brought it to a head in the 2019 Daytona 500. What “it” is, is manufacturer alliances on superspeedway’s.

For the 2016 Daytona 500, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota’s knew that they didn’t have strength in numbers compared to their car count vs. the Ford’s/Chevy’s, so they teamed up only with each other. It panned out for a 1-2 finish in the Daytona 500 that year.

After that race, Ford took notice and had their powerplant line up together and draft with one another during the four combined annual stops at Daytona and Talladega. Ford, already had good motors for these tracks, but throw in teamwork and you get domination in the form of 13 of the last 20 races won when using the restrictor plates.

They were in everyone’s head. So, for the 2019 Daytona 500, the Toyota’s knew that they didn’t have the numbers to contend for the win. Hendrick Motorsports, a Chevrolet team, knew that the other Chevy cars weren’t good enough to hang with them to challenge the Ford’s. So, we saw an unlikely tandem for the ‘500 – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota’s and their alliance car at Leavine Family Racing and the Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevy’s.

Combined, that’s nine very good race cars that with even the smallest bit of help from any other Chevy team, could work together and break up the Ford party up front.

See, Ford’s knew that if they lined up in tow, go up to the high line and pull each other around the 2.5-mile track, it didn’t matter how many Chevy’s or Toyota’s lineup, no one could stop them.

So, HMS and the Toyota’s teamed up and ran up there with them, then would use the draft to take air off the Ford’s and break them apart.

It worked.

Toyota finished 1-2-3 in the ‘500, Ford’s grew frustrated with one another and the Chevy teams were pissed that HMS sought out a late hour deal with a rival manufacturer.

In turn, Chevy had a closed door meeting afterwards and made sure that this didn’t happen again. Chevy teams could only work and draft with other Chevy teams. No more helping the competition.

Ford teams would still try and do the same. The Toyota’s? Well they were hung out to dry.

Chevy was the biggest beneficiary of this. HMS would finish 1-2 in the first race with the tapered spacer in April 2019 in Talladega including Chevy going 1-2-3 overall and taking five of the top six finishing positions.

In the July race at Daytona, Chevy went 1-2-3-4 this time.

But, in the second stop to Talladega in the Fall that year, the Ford’s found a way to get back to prominence. They’d lead 125 of the 188 laps run and take a 1-2 finish and four of the top five. Chevy, took spots 6-8-10.

In 2020 and Daytona last year was the same way. That’s why with what’s at stake, I think you immediately lineup with teammates and run single file up top for a while.

That also means you’re likely going to be battling a teammate for the win in the end too. How do you race a teammate in the end with the ultimate goal of wanting to win and doing everything in your power to do so, but your teammate could block you. It’s not like you can lift. That causes mayhem with the old package, but what about the changes now that were made.

So, if we’re in the same position again, like Keselowski and Logano were in 2021 or Blaney and Cindric last year, what do you do?

The final lap of the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 was a perfect storm. You had two teammates running 1-2. Both said just how badly that they wanted to get a Daytona 500 triumph — a second for Logano and a first for Keselowski.

How did two of the greats of the sport, teammates at that, wreck each other on the last lap while battling for the win? Before we get break down the last lap, you first have to next go back to what each said during their respective media days ahead of Speedweeks at that to set that scene.

“You typically go to Daytona and even Talladega expecting to crash,” said Keselowski. “The odds are more favorable for carnage than a win.”

That’s why the aggression really ramps up in the final laps. You have to. There’s too much at stake. That played a huge role into this.

“The only race that’s bigger than this is the championship race and that’s only for four cars,” said Logano during his availability last year. “This is the biggest race for 40 cars. Everyone is out there racing extremely hard towards the end of the race.

“The pushing and shoving becomes very aggressive which that has been consistent over the years but with the rules package change, especially with the spoiler on the back of it, we’ve seen over the past couple of years that the shoving has become really aggressive and the blocks have been harder to pull off successfully,” Logano continued. “The runs are bigger. That’s all a recipe for disaster for the end of these things. The key is to be up towards the front when it matters the most.

“At the end of the race, it’s kind of like the championship. No one remembers who finished second. No one knows who finishes second in the Daytona 500 last year. That’s just what this race is about.”

You have a hungry Keselowski. Remember, he said that if you’re there at the end, you have to go for it. With respects that you’re more likely to get caught up in a crash, if you have a shot to win in the closing laps, you have to be overly aggressive. Combine that with him needing this win, you get the perfect storm.

“I’m one crown jewel away from having them all which is really cool and special and means a lot to me personally,” Keselowski said on the same zoom call last month as Logano. “That’s definitely on that list to get Daytona to come together and not get wrecked.”

You have them saying and knowing this. They’re 1-2. One lap to go. 2 turns left. They each know that if they want to win, they have to be aggressive.

So, lets get into how the crash transpired. You have to go back to 2 laps-to-go as to the starting point.

Keselowski, backed up off Kevin Harvick’s bumper with two to go to get some drafting help from behind via McDowell. It’s a technique drivers use to make passes on superspeedway’s. It worked. Keselowski, was now in second. With the final lap coming and a Daytona 500 win in his grasps, he had to do the same move on his teammate in Logano.

Keselowski, let Logano, just like he did Harvick, get far out there off Turn 2 and was hoping to use a push by McDowell again to get him his first Daytona 500 triumph.

“I had a big run down the backstretch,” Keselowski said. “Went to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 and ended up really bad.”

McDowell, said that he was going to help Keselowski there until the crash occurred.

“My plan was to stick to (Keselowski),” McDowell said. “I knew he would go for a race-winning move and my plan was to let him make that move and then coming off of (Turn) 4 try to get to his outside or inside. I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to (Keselowski’s) bumper and when he made the move, the hole opened up.

“It’s just unbelievable.”

Logano, said he saw the strategy Keselowski was going and he was doing it back. He didn’t want Keselowski to keep backing up, so he was doing it too.

“Once I saw Brad lay back and shuffle the 4 [Kevin Harvick] out, I said, ‘OK, this game’s about to change, this isn’t going the way I expected it to,’ and I knew things were going to be a little different and that’s what kind of developed into the last few laps,” Logano said. “Cars were laying back so much trying to form runs; I’m backing up trying to keep everyone tight behind and not get so far out because … you just know there is just so much energy being built up, everyone is going to be bumper to bumper. You saw that all come to fruition when we went down the back straightaway and everyone opened it up — you saw some cars go to the bottom, and that top lane had five cars pushing each other. There’s going to be a few runs coming at you that way.

“(Keselowski) kept trying to back up, trying to get a run. I was trying to back up to him to keep the runs from being too big and just, I guess he got to the back of (McDowell) and it ended up being a really big run coming at me and it seemed like we all just collided in one spot.”

Combine all three and you get what you saw — a last lap crash of a large magnitude.

The Monday morning quarterback says that Logano shouldn’t have blocked Keselowski’s move and just let the two run side-by-side to ensure a Penske driver wins the race. Logano felt like McDowell’s pushing of Keselowski was a big reason as to why they all crashed but there’s nothing either of them could have done differently at the time. It’s a 200 mph split second decision to win the Daytona 500. What are you supposed to do?

“I’m up in the mirror, I’m watching this all develop behind me, and when the 34 and the 2 hook up, they start coming at me with a run,” Logano explained. “I throw a mild block, but when Brad moves to the left to pass me, that gets the 34 off-center on his bumper, and these cars are very unstable when they’re getting pushed.”

All three said that they were in the perfect position for them heading to the checkered flag and that this was just speedway racing.

By having that occur, last year they were in the same boat and took drastic measures to not have a repeat performance.

Ryan Blaney was a team player at the end of the 2022 Daytona 500. He could have pushed the issue for his first Great American Race triumph.

He had drafting help from best friend Bubba Wallace behind. He could have made a bold maneuver to hang his teammate Austin Cindric out to dry.

“The last lap, I got good pushes on the bottom from the 23 (Bubba Wallace) and then I was able to get Austin in front and off of four where we were good enough to make a move.”

Or, he could have fought him on the restart. He saw how last year ended on his couch. He hated to be wrecked on Lap 13. After a lengthy rain delay, he was home in time to see the end.

Cindric, had a front row seat. He was involved in that fiery crash.

So, Blaney got rolling slower than normal and let Cindric low in front of him. That ensured a Penske win and not seeing both loaded on the tow truck damaged instead.

Cindric hung onto the low line and Blaney followed in his tire tracks. No one could build enough energy on the high line.

“I got blocked and I ended up getting fenced,” Blaney explained. “I’m happy for Roger Penske, winning the 500 on his birthday. I’m happy for Jeremy Bullins and everyone that works on that 2 car. It’s just one of those things. It didn’t work out. We still ended up fourth, but I don’t know another perfect position we could have put ourselves in to win the race. It just didn’t work out.

“I made the decision of I wasn’t gonna make a move until I was 100 percent sure that one of our two cars was gonna win, and one of our two cars were going to win and one of them ended up winning. I was committed to him until I was 100 percent sure that one of us was gonna win and one of us did,” said Blaney.

Penske wins. The field loses. It worked according to plan. It also saved a scary wreck in the end by an act of desperation.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to Ryan,” said Cindrics crew chief Jeremy Bullins. “That’s a hell of a teammate. I’ve been here with him and felt like we were going to win with him, and I can’t thank him enough for being that good of a teammate because we probably don’t win that race without him.

“I thought, green-white-checkered, we’re just going to race for it and see what happens here. It was Ryan’s idea. Like I said, hell of a teammate. I mean, the guy is awesome. Then to know you’ve got somebody back there that you can trust pushing you … he kept us out front, no doubt.”

That’s why teammate and manufacturer support is interesting in the sense that you work with someone or a group of people all race but throw it all away over the final five miles.

Choose Rule

The Choose Rule isn’t new, but it is however at Daytona. This will be the first time that the choose rule on restarts will be used on superspeedways. That can play a massive role in how this race is decided at the end.

More than likely, we’re going to see a late race restart. How the drivers lineup is going to be a massive factor.

“I would say the difference with the speedway choose is teammates,” said Joey Logano. “Like do you line up with your teammate? Do you take the shortest lane? Which lane do you think typically goes better?

“It’s closer to 50/50 than it is at other tracks. It’s not as black and white as it is at other tracks where you can go back and look at restarts and look at history and say, well, this lane is definitely better. It’s the dominant lane, so you are willing to give up a row or whatever it may be to get in that spot.

“Now it’s kind of like, what’s the alliances around you and what are you willing to do to get with each other. Are you willing to give up a row to be with your teammate, and is that worth doing that. Those are the questions you have to ask now.

“So it will be interesting to see how that plays out over this race and the 500, how that kind of goes. But it’s definitely a new thing to think about. A lot of conversation around it, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

The main factor is, manufacturers and teammates can play a role because what if you don’t have any teammates left or an manufacturer alliances around you. You could in theory see manufacturers decide to lineup in a single line and and make it difficult to get by.

Also, lanes are key too because as we saw on the superspeedway races last year, the high line conga parade was moved to the low lane. Does it remain that way this weekend too?

“The cars are built symmetrical. Last year’s (2021’s) car was built asymmetrical, and so this car is built symmetrical, and specifically how that affects it is when the cars were asymmetrical the side draft off the right side was really, really sensitive and the side draft off the left side was not sensitive at all — well, it was minimally sensitive,” Brad Keselowski said last February.

“So you never really wanted to expose your right side. If somebody got underneath you, you could come back down and grab their right rear quarter panel and just stop them.

“So that naturally created this kind of gravitation towards the top lanes at all the plate tracks. With this car being symmetrical and that not being the case, I think the racing will be significantly better because that high lane freight train won’t be there.

“I felt like early in the race I was behind Ryan Blaney for a while early in the race, and I was ready to go, and he stayed calm, which was smart on his part, I guess. He stayed calm but I felt like we could have pushed and made the second lane work. I think all of us wanted to get through that pit stop and stretch our legs out and take it from there.”

It was the opposite way in 2021 and prior. In those years, you could get your car wound up by riding the top of the banking and use the SAFER barrier to your advantage of propelling off the pockets of air between the right side of the car and wall.

See, with that past model of car, the way to stall out someone’s momentum was to side draft them on their right rear. If you run up against the wall, there’s no side drafting opportunity. Then, with using those air pockets and having so much energy on the top lane, how can you ever fully form the bottom lane to work?

The Next Gen is the opposite. Side drafting isn’t as easy as it once was. You now get faster runs from behind and in turn, have to time them out which means you can use whatever lane has room.

That’s a lot to be deciding and looking for partners coming down to a late restart.

Can Hendrick Motorsports Finally Turn Qualifying Dominance Into A Win?

Qualifying trim is one thing. Race pace is purely another. That’s the thing that’s puzzled the Hendrick Motorsports camp when they’ve come down to the Daytona Speedweeks for much of the last decade. They know how to qualify here. They just struggle to finish.

I’ve written about it in each of the last three years now on if Hendrick Motorsports could finally turn around those top starting spots and make them into some Daytona 500 success. Unfortunately, they still haven’t.

Can that change in Sunday’s 65th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN)?

HMS swept the front row…again. It’s the ninth time they’ve done for here including 4 of the last 5 years.

They’ve truly been a force early on during the annual February trip to the World Center of Speed. Since 2013, they’ve won six Duels as well to go along with eight poles in the last nine years.

The thing is, they’ve not won NASCAR’s version of their Super Bowl in that time frame either. Their last Daytona victory came in 2014, a year prior to this streak beginning.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove his No. 88 Chevrolet into victory lane following a lengthy rain delay that 2014 night, never in a million years did I not expect HMS to be back over the next eight years.

The finishing positions of the HMS pole winners since this streak began in 2015?

5th, 37th, 11th, 24th, 26th and 24th respectively.

Not ideal.

The second place starters when they’ve started there?

33rd, 37th, 14th, 17th, 21st, 35th and 32nd respectively.

Why will this year be any different?

With this pace again, does the pressure keep mounting as the years go by that they don’t turn this qualifying success into a win?

“Yeah, for sure,” Bowman admitted on Wednesday night. “Every year. Man, now it’s time to finish, like make it to the end. Last year I think I sat on the back straightaway for four laps before they could figure out how to get me to pit road with four flat tires.

“Yeah, it’s such a hard race to finish. We’ve crashed early, we’ve crashed in the middle, we’ve crashed late. Obviously I don’t have the answer to that. I haven’t figured out how to finish it yet.

“I know we have a really fast race car and a great group of guys that are capable of doing great. But, man, it’s been tough. We want to finish this race and finish it well.”

Larson agreed.

” I don’t know, I mean, you always study before every race,” Larson said of studying tape between now and Sunday and trying to figure out how to be better here on race day. “I don’t know. We do it every week. We go over every race. Same as for Daytona and Talladega both, we go and try to probably dive deeper than normal. More of the same tomorrow.

“But I would like to kind of see how the good guys set themselves up throughout a run to be up towards the front or wherever they need to be to miss wrecks and stuff.

“It’s just a difficult style of racing that, I don’t know, I just haven’t had the best of time in my career. I used to always say it’s bad luck, but I don’t necessarily feel that way any more.

“Yeah, just try to, as you do with every racetrack, just get better.”

At one point Hendrick Motorsports was the top team on restrictor plate tracks in general. At Talladega, they had 6 wins in an 8 race span. They’ve won just 4 of the 30 Talladega races since with Chase Elliott’s spring race win in 2019 and Fall race win a year ago being their only trips to victory lane there since this Fall of 2015.

For Daytona, Hendrick Motorsports is tied with the Wood Brothers for most wins there in the NASCAR Cup Series. Each have 15. Both have also won those 15 races with 7 different drivers. However, HMS’ once dominance prowess has since cooled at the World Center of Racing too. They won 11 races between 1995 and 2015. In fact, 7 of those 11 occurred from July 2004 and July 2015. They’ve won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 race 6 times.

Since 2016 there, they have just 1 win. What’s bizarre is, it’s not like they’ve not shown up down here without speed. They’ve arguably had the fastest cars off the truck. It’s just that they’ve not had race day speed to correlate with race day handling.

With this pace again, does the pressure keep mounting as the years go by that they don’t turn this qualifying success into a win?

Ford’s Race To Lose?

The Chevrolet cars once again sent a message during qualifying on Wednesday. However, that’s single car speed that rewards the body shop back in North Carolina more so than the team in Daytona. The bowties went 1-2-3 in quals.

In the qualifying races however, the Ford’s flexed their Detroit muscle…again.

Joey Logano won Race 1. Aric Almirola won Race 2. Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s nine Ford wins in the Duel in the last 11 tries including five straight.

Not only are they winning, they’re dominating too.

In Duel 1, Ford’s went 1-3-4-5-6-8-9. In Duel 2, they went 1-2-4-7.

Last year, they went 1-2-3-4 in Duel 1 and 1-2-3 in Duel 2.

They led 26 of 60 laps in Duel 1 last year and 50 of 60 in Duel 2. On Thursday night, they led 59 of 60 laps in the first Duel and 21 of 60 in Duel 2.

Combined, that’s 65% (156-for-240) of laps led over the last two years as well as 14 of the potential 20 top five positions.

A year ago, they turned that into 4 cars in the top 5 at the finish of the Daytona 500. Can they replicate that?

“It was obviously a pretty good race for the Fords,” said Logano. “Execution went really well. Our cars were fast, which is nice. We showed that in qualifying last night; we were faster than typical in qualifying.

“Some good gains there, and that transferred into the race that the cars had speed, and the execution of the Fords working together, doing the pit road piece really well, which kind of separated us.”

Toyota didn’t lead a single lap under the lights on Thursday…

All three Team Penske’s start in the first 4 Rows (3 in the top 7). Both RFK Racing and cars share Row 5. All three Front Row Motorsports entries are in the top 17. 

Combined, that’s 8 of their cars in the top 9 rows at the start of Sunday’s race. You also have a pair of SHR teammates in there too with 10 Ford’s lining up in the top 17 starting spots.

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)

Another 1st Time Winner Or Can 1 Of the Big Names End Winless Drought?

We keep coming into Speedweeks asking when Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. are ever going to win at Daytona 500. I mean, there’s a lot of successful drivers in this sport that never did.

Even the greats take years to accomplish a win in the Great American Race while some never do it. Terry Labonte was 0-for-32. Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd each 0-for-29. Bobby Labonte was 0-for-24. Rusty Wallace was 0-for-23. Tony Stewart (0-for-17), Carl Edwards (0-for-12) and Ned Jarrett (0-for-7) never won either.

Now, after a second straight year of a first time winner in this race and fourth in a six year span, the same grouping will get asked that question again during this year’s Speedweeks.

Elliott, has won last five Most Popular Driver awards to go along with a 2020 championship and third straight Championship 4 appearance last November in Phoenix.

The good? He was runner-up in the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400, runner-up in the 2020 Daytona 500, 8th in the 2020 Coke Zero Sugar 400 400, 10th in this last year’s Daytona 500 to go along with 6th in Atlanta 1, 7th in Talladega 1 and a win in Atlanta 2 and Talladega 2 last year.

The bad? He has finished 30th or worse in almost half of his 12 Daytona starts. In fact, he’s been 14th or worse in all but two starts. Elliott’s other Daytona 500 finishes are – 37th, 14th, 33rd, 17th, 17th and 10th respectively.

Larson and Truex are the same on superspeedway’s. Larson is now 1-for-35 in career top five’s on superspeedway’s and has led just a total of 31 laps on them. He was 32nd and 37th at Daytona last year.

Truex is 0-for-18. Yes, he swept both stages back in February of last year, but he also still finished 13th too in doing so. He’s 0-for-73 in drafting races if you include both Atlanta events last season and has scored just 6 top 5’s in those 73 starts. He has 3 top 5’s in 35 Daytona tries at that.

Busch, is 0-for-17 now. He’s finished 33rd or worse in three of his last five Daytona points paying starts. He’s also only had one top five here since 2017 too and only three of his 17 starts in the Great American Race being in the top five.

While leading on Lap 180 in 2020’s edition, his car started having problems. A lap later, Busch said his engine blew and would slowly ride around the track. That was partially a blessing in disguise as he avoided the Lap 183 “Big One” two laps later.

“We’ll just keep going down in history of figuring out new ways to lose it,” Busch said that year.

He was sixth last year and has now led the most laps (324) of all drivers who’ve never won the ‘500.

12 of his 17 Daytona 500 starts have seen him finish 14th or worse.

Busch, a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, approached the dais Wednesday during DAYTONA 500 Media Day, he noticed a lottery ticket next to the microphone—a leftover item from the earlier announcement of PowerBall as an official NASCAR partner.

“Better chance of winning that than the DAYTONA 500,” Busch quipped, mindful of his 20.24 average finish in the Great American Race.

For Keselowski, he’s 0-for-13. What’s strange about that is, Keselowski is known as one of the better superspeedway racers in the series. His seven wins on them rank him first among all active drivers right now. If things go his way and he avoids the “big ones” and can be there in the end, he most certainly would be pushing double digits in the win column. But, he’s still winless in the biggest race of the year.

“That’s been the hardest part for me,” Keselowski said back in 2019. “I feel we’ve been good enough to win it multiple times.  We get caught up in somebody else’s wreck or problem.  I think you see that a lot.

“Besides the luck factor, first things first, you got to be running at the end of that race.  For whatever reason, I think maybe because it’s the first race of the year, maybe because it’s one of the biggest races of the year, I’m not entirely sure, but the Daytona 500 has traditionally been a race of very high attrition.  Getting to the end has been very difficult for us.

“It’s probably kept us from winning it at least once or twice because I think we’ve had the car to do it.  I think that’s a big part of why it’s so hard to win, the attrition factor, just surviving it to begin with.

“Again, of course, it is a difficult racetrack.  This time of year, Florida is a lot hotter than most parts of North America, but this time of year it seems to be one of those racetracks that you practice and you qualify, then the race day, for whatever reason, the track temp goes way up, the cars slide around a lot more, chaos ensues.  Trying to survive to the end for me is the biggest part.

“The races we have survived till the end, we have ran really well and been in a position to win.”

They may also never win in Daytona. Some greats never have.

“Here, a lot of your result can be in the hands of the other drivers around you and the circumstances around you,” Busch said. “That’s just the nature of it, but we all have the same race to go out there and run in.”

It’s why names like Terry Labonte (0-for-32), Mark Martin (0-for-29), Ricky Rudd (0-for-29), Rusty Wallace (0-for-23) and Tony Stewart (0-for-17) raced their entire careers and never celebrated glory on President’s Day weekend on Florida’s east coast.

As the great Rick Mears once said, “in order to finish first you first must finish.” If you’re still around in the closing laps at Daytona, you bet your rear end that you’re going to do everything possible to end up in victory lane. I mean, you may never have another chance of doing so.

“It’s been frustrating to not get a great finish here in the 500,” Alex Bowman said. “Obviously we’ve had some other superspeedway success, and we want to win this deal. This is the Daytona 500. Everybody wants to win this deal. We’ve just got to get through the whole race. We just haven’t been able to get through the whole race, and it hasn’t ever really been our fault. We’ve always had great driving race cars, fast race cars, led laps, but just got to get to the end. I feel like if we do that we’re going to have a shot at it.

“But yeah, it’s a really hard race to win. So many things have to go right. Your day has to go so well, and it’s hard. It’s tough to do.”

4 of the last 6 Daytona 500 winners each earned their first Great American race win during this span including each of the last two.

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