DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — You don’t have to watch golf every weekend to love the Masters. You don’t have to be a betting enthusiast to love the Kentucky Derby. And you certainly don’t have to be a race fan to enjoy the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premiere.
The first real racing day of 2021 has finally arrived as the green flag is due out for the 63rd edition of the event. The Daytona 500 heat will start around 2:30. IT. Even if you never watch car racing, this race – which will mark the 20th anniversary of the event – should be an event to watch. Anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death marked at the track – a must see.
So what do you need to know for the 500-mile, 200-mile-per-hour race on Sunday? Here’s a cheat sheet you can keep on your phone to read out fascinating facts to your family and make them think you’re the second coming of Fireball Roberts. It’s split into three parts because it’s easier to remember that way, and because it’s Daytona, and, well…. EARNHARDT!
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With a win, Denny Hamlin (left) would become the first driver to win the biggest NASCAR race three years in a row. Chris Greiten/Getty Images
Denny Hamlin and history. For those of us a little older, it’s hard to believe it’s been a decade and a half since Hamlin first appeared at Daytona Speedways and quickly shocked the racing world by winning the Budweiser Shootout (now Busch Clash), an event reserved for the stars. But in the last five years, he’s become a true Daytona legend. He has won three of the last five editions of the Great American Race, including the last two in a row. If he gets his No on Sunday. 11 Toyota FedEx back on the track for the win, becoming the first driver to win NASCAR’s biggest race three years in a row and the second all-time winner in 500 victories, while matching Cale Yarborough with four wins at Daytona.
another team and Hamlin’s story. Hamlin is also in the race this year as a team owner. This year, the Daytona 500 will be the first race of the 23rd edition of the series. Toyota of the new 23XI Racing that will be jointly owned by Hamlin and Michael Jordan. How did this happen? Hamlin for the Charlotte Hornets, Jack Nicholson for the Los Angeles Lakers or Spike Lee for the New York Knicks, a constant presence of concern. He’s been asking Jordan to compete in NASCAR for years, so why now? Because Bubba Wallace was for hire as a driver. Today Wallace, who finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500 (his first career 500 start), is trying to become the first black driver to win a Cup race since 1963 and the first driver to win the Great American Race on a scratch race team. To learn more about Hamlin, Bubba and MJ, read this article from Saturday.
Kyle Busch finally destroys history. The driver they call Rowdy has won at least once at every track in the current Cup Series (not counting his new rivals, Charlotte and Daytona), and with 213 wins in three NASCAR Nationwide Series, he has a trophy from every major event on the state’s racing calendar? Except the biggest one of all. Busch is 0 for 15 in the Daytona 500 and is now approaching February’s level of disappointment in the long list of men he will one day join in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, from Dale Earnhardt (who won on his 20th try) and Darrell Waltrip (who won on his 17th try) to Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, who combined to win 166 races and six Cup titles, but were also 0 for 11 in the 500.
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Brad Keselowski can complete his NASCAR Hall of Fame crown with a victory Sunday. Chris Greiten/Getty Images
Hamlin. Do I need to remind you that we’ve won three out of five games? And you don’t have to take my word for it. Vegas keeps him at the top of the rankings 8-1. (If you want to know more about betting on the Daytona 500, check out this post from ESPN Betting Insiders).
Brad Keselowski. He’s long been a good superspeedway driver with six wins between Daytona and Talladega, but he’s 0 for 11 in the 500. Last year, he summed up his career in the Great American Race: He drove the second fastest lap behind Hamlin (30) but crashed and finished 36th. It is the only jewel missing from the crown of the NASCAR BC Hall of Fame.
Ryan Blaney. Last year’s Daytona 500 champion was one of the early favorites to win the Cup in 2020, but he faded at the end of the summer. He got two of his four wins at Talladega and made a strong impression Thursday night in qualifying for the Duel 150. Everyone agrees that Blaney is at the top of his game, but he needs a decisive win to finally live up to this potential. Maybe that’s it.
The next three
Chase Elliott never finished better than 14th in the Daytona 500. Jasen Vinlove – Sports in the United States Today
Chase Elliott. The reigning Cup champion bumped his own bumper during his 500 career. He won two poles and led 69 laps, but never got beyond 14th place and had a couple of wrecks to his name. But last fall he finished second in the regular long distance race, 119 seconds behind William Byron. This performance helped Bill’s son to his first Cup series title.
E60 examines the legacy of Dale Earnhardt 20 years after his death. Sunday, 12:00 ET, ESPN.
Keeping an eye on the trailer
Austin Dillon. People always complain that Dillon Richard Childress drives the #3 Chevy because he is known as Dale Earnhardt. But Dillon (who himself was Earnhardt’s normal heir as a kid) won the Daytona 500 in 2018, has seven top-10 finishes in 15 starts at the Daytona Oval, and did you see the move he made to beat Bubba Wallace on the line in Thursday night’s second Duel 150 qualifier? It would be hard to find a better story than that of the car that won that race on the 20th. Earnhardt’s dead.
Kevin Harvick. Happy has been very quiet during these weeks of speeding. After winning nine races but failing miserably last fall, the 2007 Daytona 500 champion looks more like an outsider. And that usually means the rest of the field is in bad shape.
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Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 in 2008. Photo: Chris Greiten/Getty Images
Kyle Larson. After using racist slurs in a virtual race last April, Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and banned from the Cup Series for most of the 2020 season. He’ll be behind the wheel again on Sunday, this time at Hendrick Motorsports. The big race seems to attract Larson like a magnet, but he finished seventh and 10th in his last two Daytona 500 starts with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Chris Boucher. He has finished in the top five twice in the last three years. He also has five top-10 finishes in ten starts at the Daytona Oval, which is a quarter of the top-10 in his career.
Ryan Newman. Teammate Buescher Roush Fenway Racing will forever be associated with the Daytona 500 because of his horrific accident at the finish line a year ago, which more people will probably remember than his victory in that race in 2008. But what few remember about his misfortune in the 20th century. What is important to remember on this 50th anniversary is that he was in the front row and within sight of the checkered flag when it happened.
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Isn’t it great that Pitbull is in NASCAR? Jordan isn’t the only superstar who decided to write big checks and walk away in 2021. Mr. Worldhouse has joined the Trackhouse Racing team as a co-owner and will not only cheer on driver Daniel Suarez in the #99 Chevrolet on Sunday at Daytona, but will also be on hand to host the Daytona 500. That’s not a coincidence either. The musician has loved NASCAR since he saw Days of Thunder as a kid. A few years ago, he bought a stock car for his school in Miami to use to teach science and math.
You know, this is the last Daytona 500 for this generation of stock cars. Okay, we told you that last year. But because of the pandemic, the 2020 season has been changed. NASCAR has wisely decided to delay the introduction of its next-generation race car model until 2022. The DMV has teamed up with Chevy, Ford and Toyota to design a new production car that promises to be cheaper to build, more recognizable and, yes, more streamlined. The teams tested the first iteration of the new generation car on several circuits during the winter, and the initial reactions were good.
It’s truly amazing what NASCAR has done to improve safety since Dale Earnhardt died 20 years ago this week. In fact, it’s been 20 years since Intimidator died on the final lap of the Daytona 500, but thanks to the safety improvements that followed his death, nothing has changed since that terrible day on the 18th. February 2001 saw no driver deaths in the three NASCAR national series. For more information, don’t forget to check out our four-part series on Earnhardt racing and legacy security. Yes, we know the Daytona 500 will take a lot of reading between now and early 2021. But looking at the rainfall radar, it unfortunately looks like you’ll have a lot of free time.
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