DAYTONA BEACH (Florida Sports Wire) – 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.”
And once that green flag waves 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.
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.
Locked In: Qualifying on the front row for DAYTONA 500 has its benefits
Start your engines and make sure you don’t miss Busch Light Pole Qualifying for the DAYTONA 500 on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. ET on FS1. The fastest two drivers in Busch Light Pole Qualifying will be locked into the DAYTONA 500. 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 field, producing more winners (nine) than any other position.
The DAYTONA 500 pole or first starting position has a winning percentage of 14.06%. 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.