NBC Sports crew examines key storylines and drivers to watch for Daytona Speedweeks

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup garage opens Friday at Daytona International Speedway and before cars get on track, NBC Sports’ Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte, Dustin Long and Nate Ryan discussed a few topics.

Friday, they’ll offer a few predictions.

Here is what they had to say:

1. What are the key storylines you will be watching at Daytona during Speedweeks?

STEVE LETARTE: Daytona has always been a standalone event. I look at the rules being the same as last year, so it will be interesting if the same cars have speed in Daytona as last year. I’m sure the charter system will be the buzz in Daytona.

DUSTIN LONG: Three stand out to me.

— Richard Childress Racing has gone winless since Nov. 2013 (73 consecutive races) and last won a points race at a restrictor-plate track in Oct. 2011. Does the streak end this time?

— Defending Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano was brought to Team Penske by Brad Keselowski but Logano has topped Keselowski in wins during the past two seasons (Logano has 11 wins to Keselowski’s seven). How much higher can Logano go?

— Safety always is among the key storylines at Daytona. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash and the first time Cup cars have been back on track since Austin Dillon’s terrifying crash after the checkered flag in July.

NATE RYAN: The storylines are the storylines – or, at least which emerge in the absence of Tony Stewart attempting the Great American Race for seemingly the final time. Until last week, I’d expected all the focus would have been on Stewart entering this race. Now it’s shifted, and that could offer a preview of how the series might change next year when he is gone for good.

Also worth watching:

–Hendrick Motorsports was dominant in the plate races last year (Dale Jr. probably could have won the first and last races of the season and won the middle events at Talladega and Daytona); can it maintain the magic?

–Does Joey Logano, who won the Daytona 500 and at Talladega in October, still have the goods?

Kyle Busch has been strong enough to win this race multiple times, and there have been instances when the defending series champion opens with a Daytona 500 win.

–In the first race at the 2.5-mile oval since Austin Dillon’s horrifying crash, and on the 15-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death, there will be a focus on safety as part of the opening of the Daytona Rising project.

2. Who is the one driver you will pay close attention to during Speedweeks and why?

JEFF BURTON: I’m going to be watching Matt Kenseth and how he handles coming back from last year’s disappointment. It’s always difficult to be in the middle of that type of firestorm and then move on. He is a championship contender but needs to be able to put all of that behind him.

STEVE LETARTE: Chase Elliott. He is very talented and has always been very level-headed. How will he approach his first year in the 24?

DUSTIN LONG: Kurt Busch. He missed last year’s 500 because of a NASCAR suspension. He’s among the most talented drivers yet to win a restrictor-plate points race. Busch is a combined 0-for-59 in points races at Daytona and Talladega. However, he has finished in the top five 30.5 percent of the time and scored a top-10 finish in 50.9 percent of those races. He’s due.

NATE RYAN: Joey Logano. Daytona requires help and good friends, and Brad Keselowski is Logano’s lone teammate (though Ryan Blaney also will help). After the way many veterans piled on after Matt Kenseth’s shots last year, will navigating the draft be any more difficult for Logano?

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.

Winners and losers at Charlotte Motor Speedway


A look at winners and losers from Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:


Ryan Blaney — Blaney stopped his winless streak at 59 races and gave team owner Roger Penske his second major race victory in two days. Blaney had the best car but had to fight through restarts late in the race to win.

William Byron — Byron, the winningest driver this season, barely missed getting victory No. 4. He finished second and scored his fifth straight top 10.

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex logged his third top five of the season.

23XI RacingBubba Wallace was fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth, giving 23XI Racing a pair of top-five finishes for the first time in a points race.


Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion admitted having problems adjusting to the Next Gen car on a 1.5-mile track. He crashed early and finished last.

Legacy Motor Club — It was a bad night for Jimmie Johnson and his team’s drivers. Johnson finished last in the 37-car field. Noah Gragson was 36th. Erik Jones placed 32nd.

Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin — Two drivers who had strong cars didn’t make it to the finish after crashing near the halfway point. Hamlin said Elliott “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”