Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the 65th Annual Daytona 500

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

It’s that time of the year again.

Two weeks after the season kicked off with the Busch Clash exhibition race at the L.A. Coliseum, the 2023 campaign shifts into high gear with Sunday’s 65th running of the Daytona 500.

The Great American Race has seen many attempt to conquer it, but only a select few have been able to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy in victory lane at the end of the day. Some go their entire careers without being able to accomplish that feat.

This year’s edition features many storylines, including a few familiar faces in other facets of motorsports looking to make it into the 40-car field, the return of seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick making his final run in the 500 before hanging up the helmet at season’s end, and much more.

The path to the stock car immortality begins on Wednesday night with qualifying to set the front row before the field is whittled down to its 40 starters on Thursday in the Bluegreen Vacation Duels.

Then it’s on to Sunday and the prize that everyone is gunning for. Will we see a new face in Victory Lane this year or will it be one of the grizzled veterans flexing their muscles to make another trip to that hallowed ground?

500 miles will tell the tale.

By the Numbers

What: 65th Annual Daytona 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 1 of 36

Where: Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida (Opened: 1959)

TV/Radio: FOX, 2:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 2.5-mile tri-oval

Banking: 31 degrees in turns, 18 degrees in tri-oval, 6 degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 200 laps, 500 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 60 laps each, Final stage – 80 laps

Pit Road Speed: 55 mph

Pace Car Speed: 70 mph

2022 Daytona 500 Winner: Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford (Started fifth, 21 laps led)

2022 August Daytona Winner: Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (Started 21st, 10 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Bill Elliott (42.783 seconds, 210.364 mph – 02/15/1987)

Setting the Field

42 cars will roll into Daytona hoping to make the 40-car field for Sunday’s race, but on the first two days of on-track action, there will be two schools of thought among the teams entered.

First, there’s the 36 chartered teams, which have their place in the Daytona 500 secured, so qualifying on Wednesday and the Duels on Thursday are all about either winning the pole or trying to get the best starting position for Sunday.

Chevrolet has dominated qualifying for the past decade and there is no doubt they would love to keep that streak alive and snag their 11th straight Daytona 500 pole.

Then there are the “open” teams, of which there are six this year – four of them will run on Sunday, while the other two will have to pack up and head home on Thursday night.

The six open teams include:

  • Legacy Motor Club – No. 84 Chevrolet with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson
  • 23XI Racing – No. 67 Toyota with Travis Pastrana
  • Beard Motorsports – No. 62 Chevrolet with Austin Hill
  • The Money Team Racing – No. 50 Chevrolet with IndyCar regular Conor Daly
  • Front Row Motorsports – No. 36 Ford driver Zane Smith
  • Kaulig Racing – No. 13 Chevrolet with Chandler Smith

The two fastest of these teams in Wednesday night’s single car qualifying will punch their ticket to the Daytona 500, leaving the four remaining teams to vie for the final spots in the starting grid in Thursday night’s Duels.

The thrill of victory for two of those teams, and the agony of defeat for the others.

Last Year’s Results

Austin Cindric once asked Mario Andretti if he had any advice for the Team Penske rookie and the legendary driver had just six words for him.

“Whatever you do, stand on it.”

If Cindric’s performance in the 2022 running of the Daytona 500 is any indication, the newest driver to climb behind the wheel of the No. 2 Ford took those words to heart, streaking across the finish line first to claim not only his first NASCAR Cup Series win, but also the biggest race in all of stock car racing.

Fresh off a near-miss in last year’s Xfinity Series championship and a fiery crash in the 2021 Daytona 500, Cindric came into the day ready for redemption.

Despite a misstep with Chase Briscoe on lap 42, Cindric was able to keep his nose clean for the majority of the race, ascending to the lead for the first time on lap 157. After trading the top spot with Bubba Wallace back and forth for the next 20 laps, Cindric found himself dropped from the lead with the finish drawing nearer.

A crash inside of five laps to go would push the race into overtime, giving Cindric the chance he needed to make it happen.

With a push from teammate Ryan Blaney, the two Team Penske drivers were content on settling the Great American Race between themselves, but which one of them would blink first?

Coming off Turn 4 for the final time, Cindric remained in the lead, while Blaney attempted a swift move around the high side to beat him back to the line. Before Blaney could move alongside, Cindric moved up to block, arresting Blaney’s momentum, but giving third-place driver Bubba Wallace the low lane to try and out-run him to the finish.

However, Cindric was able to cross the finish line first to score the win on NASCAR’s biggest stage, a half a car-length ahead of Wallace. Redemption achieved.

“Oh, my God. Do you know what makes it all better? A packed house. A packed house at the Daytona 500,” Cindric exclaimed.

“I’ve got so many people to thank. First and foremost, Roger Penske, happy birthday. Oh, my gosh. Appreciate Ryan being a great teammate. Obviously, he wants to win this one, but I’m so pumped for Discount Tire, Menards, Ford. Everybody works so hard with this Next-Gen car, through this whole process, and damn, I am so excited.

“This makes up for losing a championship last race like I did.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Wednesday, February 15

  • Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying (8:00 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Thursday, February 16

  • Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150 No. 1 (7:00 pm – 60 laps, 150 miles – FOX Sports 1)
  • Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150 No. 2 (8:45 pm approx. – 60 laps, 150 miles – FOX Sports 1)

Friday, February 17

  • Cup Series Practice (5:30 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, February 18

  • Cup Series Final Practice (10:30 am – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, February 19

  • 65th Annual Daytona 500 (2:30 pm – 200 laps, 500 miles – FOX)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.