NASCAR is back! Season opening race as usual at Daytona International Speedway; Sunday’s Race at 2 PM on FOX

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Daytona 500

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Sunday, February 14

The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

TV: FOX, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 500 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 65),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 130), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

2020 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Saturday, February 13

The Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 4 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (120 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 120)

2020 Race Winner: Noah Gragson

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 

Next Race: NextEra Energy 250

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Friday, February 12

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 6;30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250 miles (100 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 100)

2020 Race Winner: Grant Enfinger

NASCAR Cup Series

Get ready, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is full of a bunch of ‘New’

With great anticipation we have all waited for the off season to come to a close and the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season to begin. And now that 2021 has arrived, it brings tons of new elements to the sport that has fans and media alike ready for the green flag to drop. Between the new schedule, new records to conquer and the several new teams, drivers and crew chiefs there is lots to look forward to this season.

New Schedule

The new 2021 schedule is vastly different than anything the NASCAR Cup Series has been challenged by in decades. The series will visit new tracks this season – Bristol (Dirt), Circuit of The Americas (COTA) and Nashville Superspeedway. As well as return to a vintage favorite in Road America. In total the series will visit 36 races this season – 26 events will be held to decide who will win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship and who will earn a spot in the 10-race Playoffs culminating at Phoenix Raceway in the Championship Season Finale.

New Chance at Big Records

Hendrick Motorsport’s driver Chase Elliott, the series’ most popular driver, collected his first NASCAR Cup Series title last season and a record 13th for Hendrick Motorsports (1995, ’96, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’13, ’16, ’20). Hendrick Motorsports also has the opportunity to surpass the historic Petty Enterprises for the series record in all-time wins this season. Petty Enterprises currently leads the series in wins with 268. Hendrick Motorsports has the second-most with 263.

“The Petty organization will always be kind of the backbone of the sport,” Rick Hendrick said. “Richard (Petty) will always be the King. We may end up with more wins than they did, but what they’ve done for the sport—you know, Richard has been with Presidents. He is the kind of person that when you mention his name, it helps our whole sport. 

“So I’m a little humble to think that ‘Hey, I’m going to maybe one day pass his record of wins. I would love to, but I don’t know if I’ll ever contribute as much to the sport as Richard Petty and the Petty organization have.”

New Teams

Legendary teams like Petty Enterprises paved the way for all the teams competing in the NASCAR Cup Series today; including the new comers we will see this season – 23XI Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Live Fast Motorsports. All three new teams have announced they acquired Charters and will compete for the title this season. Even more interesting is, much like Petty Enterprises with NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty being part of the ownership of the organization, all three of the new teams have a driver or former driver as part of their ownership.

23XI Racing is a newly formed team by NBA legend Michael Jordan and current Cup Series driver and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. Jordan and Hamlin have tapped Bubba Wallace to pilot the No. 23 Toyota with crew chief Mike Wheeler this season and will make their official debut in the Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Trackhouse Racing is another newly formed team that will make their debut in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021. The team was formed by former driver Justin Marks and international entertainment superstar Pitbull and the organization has signed NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez to drive the No.  99 Chevrolet. Suarez will work with crew chief Travis Mack in 2021.

Live Fast Motorsports is the third of three newly formed teams this season, with drivers BJ McLeod and Matt Tifft forming the team in the off season.  McLeod will not only help lead the organization but also drive the flagship No. 78 Ford for the team as well. McLeod will be paired with crew chief Frank Kerr in 2021.

New Faces In New Places

Not only are there new teams to watch for in the NASCAR Cup Series but also several drivers and crew chiefs have moved to new spots as well.

Like the aforementioned teams with their new drivers, here are some other drivers in new spots to keep an eye out for in 2021. Erik Jones moved from Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 to the recently relinquished No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. With Leavine Family Racing closing shop at the end of last season, Christopher Bell made the jump back to Joe Gibbs Racing and will now drive the No. 20 Toyota. Chip Ganassi Racing tapped Ross Chastain to pilot their No. 42 Chevrolet this season. Kyle Larson returns and will now get behind the wheel of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Alex Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives will now lead the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. Two rookies to watch this season will be Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe in the No. 14 Ford that was recently vacated by a retiring Clint Bowyer and Front Row Motorsport’s Anthony Alfredo in the No. 38 Ford. Plus, Corey LaJoie moved to the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet crew chief Ryan Sparks.

Also, several new crew chiefs will be seen in the garage this season, including Rudy Fugle who replaced Chad Knaus after the seven-time champ stepped away from his crew chiefing duties at the end of last season. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Adam Stevens has been moved over to the No. 20 with Christopher Bell as Ben Beshore will take his place atop the pit box for the No. 18 team with Kyle Busch. And last but not least, Cliff Daniels, Jimmie Johnson’s former crew chief has been named to lead the No. 5 team with Kyle Larson.   

No bigger spectacle than the Great American Race

From Presidents to entertainment superstars there is just something about the pageantry and enormity of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, FOX Deportes, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) that has folks from all walks of life showing up and tuning into the Great American Race.

This season’s Daytona 500 festivities kick off with multi-platinum, ACM, CMA, CMT and Billboard Music Award-winning artist Luke Combs performing the Daytona 500 Pre-Race Show prior to the 63rd running of The Great American Race on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, FOX Deportes, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Combs, an Asheville, North Carolina native, is a longtime NASCAR fan and is looking forward to performing at the World Center of Racing to help ignite the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

“I grew up watching the NASCAR race every Sunday with my granddad; that was our thing.” said Combs. “I never could have imagined back then that I’d be playing the Daytona 500 one day, so this is super awesome and is something I’m really looking forward to.”

Combs will take to the stage prior to the start of Daytona 500 in front of a limited number of fans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while millions will watch from home on FOX.

“The tradition of the Daytona 500 Pre-Race Show has been an incredibly popular hit with race fans,” Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile said. “Luke has been one of the most influential country music stars over the last few years and his fan appeal is incredible. It’s a bonus, too, that he loves our sport. He will help get another thrilling Daytona 500, as well as a new NASCAR season, off to an exciting start.”

Combs’ new deluxe album, What You See Ain’t Always What You Get, is out now on River House Artists/Columbia Nashville and debuted at #1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart as well as Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. It also set the new weekly streaming record for a country album with 102.26 million on-demand streams, breaking Combs’ own record, which he set last November (2019) with the release of his platinum-certified, global #1 album, What You See Is What You Get.

The on-track action starts with the Busch Clash at DAYTONA Road Course (Tuesday, Feb. 9), then Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is next (Wednesday, Feb. 10), followed by the Bluegreen Vacations Duels (Thursday, Feb. 11) and it all culminates on Sunday, Feb 14. in the Daytona 500. Although the first Daytona 500 was held in 1959, it has been the season-opener only since 1982 and this season’s event will be the 63rd running of the Daytona 500, the Great American Race.

Locked In: Qualifying up front has its perks

Start your engines and make sure you don’t miss Daytona 500 Qualifying on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

This week, six former Daytona 500 pole winners are entered in the event – Chase Elliott (2016, 2017), Alex Bowman (2018), Austin Dillon (2014), Martin Truex Jr. (2009), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2020), William Byron (2019) – and will once again try to lock themselves in on the front row.

Bill Elliott, Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker lead the NASCAR Cup Series in Daytona 500 poles with four each. Last season’s series champion, Chase Elliott, leads all active drivers in the series in Daytona 500 poles with two (2016, 2017). He is also one of just five drivers to win consecutive Daytona 500 poles all-time – Fireball Roberts (1961-1963), Buddy Baker (1979-1980), Bill Elliott (1985, 1986, 1987), Ken Schrader (1988, 1989, 1990) and Chase Elliott (2016, 2017). JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won last season’s Daytona 500 pole and has an opportunity to join the list of consecutive Daytona 500 pole winners this week.

The fastest two drivers in Qualifying are locked into the Daytona 500. The rest of the field will decide their starting spots by battling it out in the Bluegreen Vacations Duels – two 60 lap (150 mile) qualifying races. While some competitors will argue their starting spot is of no consequence in the Daytona 500, the pole position is the most proficient starting position in the

Daytona 500 field, producing more winners (nine) than any other position. The Daytona 500 pole starting position has a winning percentage of 14.5%. The most recent driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole is NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett in 2000.  NASCAR Hall of Famers Bill Elliott (1985, 1987) and Cale Yarborough (1968, 1984) are the only two drivers to accomplish the feat of winning the Daytona 500 from the pole more than once. But starting in the back doesn’t totally discount a driver’s chances at winning, 18 of the 62 Daytona 500s have been won from starting spot outside the top 10. Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 from the 39th starting position in 2009, the deepest a Daytona 500 race winner has started.

How it the Daytona 500 starting lineups will be decided:

  • Thirty-six Charter teams will be assigned a starting position
  • Four Open teams are eligible for starting positions
  • Qualifying sets the front row for the Daytona 500 and the starting lineup for the Duel fields, with the number of Charter team and Open team cars split evenly throughout both races
  • The finishing positions of the Charter teams in the Duels will decide their starting position in the Daytona 500 (Positions 3rd – 36th)
  • The highest finishing Open team in each Duel race earns a starting position
  • The final two starting positions are awarded to Open teams based on Pole Qualifying if not already a top finisher in a Duel race
  • If one of the vehicles on the front row is a Charter team and one is an Open team, then the highest finishing Open team in each Duel race earns a starting position and only one starting position will be awarded to an Open team based on Pole Qualifying
  • If both of the vehicles on the front row are Open Vehicles, then only two more starting positions will be available for the Open teams and they will be awarded to the highest finishing Open teams in each Duel race
  • If the second Duel race is cancelled due to weather, the highest finishing Open team from the first race earns a starting position, with the other three Open teams determined by qualifying
  • If both Duel races are cancelled due to weather, qualifying determines all four Open teams

Dueling for a good spot

On Thursday, Feb. 11 NASCAR Cup Series drivers that do not qualify on the front row (first & second) of the Daytona 500 will have the opportunity to compete for their starting position in the Great American Race in the Bluegreen Vacations Duels (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – two 60 lap (150-mile) qualifying races. The qualifiers will be divided up evenly into each Duel event depending on their qualifying position.

Of the 40-car field, the 36 Charter cars are already guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500, but the four open cars will have a shot at racing their way into the Daytona 500. This season 44 drivers will vie for just 40 spots. The seven drivers hoping to make the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 are Noah Gragson with Beard Motorsports, Kaz Grala with Kaulig Racing, Austin Cindric with Team Penske, David Ragan with Front Row Motorsports, Ryan Preece with JTG Daugherty Racing, Chad Finchum with MBM Motorsports, Timmy Hill with MBM Motorsports and Ty Dillon with Gaunt Brothers Racing. Only four of these seven drivers will compete in the Daytona 500.

A total of 43 different drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duels, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt with 12 Duel victories – seven more than the next competitor. Seven active drivers have won at least one of the Duel event, led by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin (2008, 2014, 2017) and Kyle Busch (2009, 2013, 2016) with three victories each. The other six active Duel winners are Chase Elliott (2017, 2018), Joey Logano (2019, 2020), Kevin Harvick (2013, 2019), Kurt Busch (2011), Ryan Blaney (2018) and William Byron (2020).

From 1972 to 2004 the Duels were scheduled for 50 laps each and during that time frame eight of the Duel events had a driver lead 100% of the laps from flag-to-flag – NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip was the first to accomplish the feat in 1988; he was later joined by Dale Earnhardt (1991,1998), Davey Allison (1991), Ernie Irvan (1996), Bill Elliott (2000), Ricky Rudd (2000) and Jeff Gordon (2002). The race was moved to 60 laps in 2005 and ever since the most a driver has led in a Duel event is 73.3% (44 laps of the scheduled 60) by Kevin Harvick in 2019.

The prestige of winning the Daytona 500

Known has 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 anticipate. 

In total, only 39 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won a Daytona 500, and seven of the 39 are active this weekend – Denny Hamlin (3 Daytona 500 wins), Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Derrike Cope (each have one).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the 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 Feb. 22, 1959; he led 38 laps and won by two feet in an Oldsmobile. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin has won the last two consecutive (2019, 2020) Daytona 500s and he leads all active drivers in Daytona 500 wins with three trophies (2016, 2019, 2020).  Lee Petty, who won the inaugural Daytona 500 (1959), and Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500 champion, are the only two drivers to win the Daytona 500 in their first appearance.

Daytona International Speedway front entrance (file photo)


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