5 Daytona 500 storylines to watch


As NASCAR’s offseason comes to an end and teams prepare for Sunday’s Daytona 500, there are many storylines to keep an eye on throughout the week at Daytona International Speedway.

From drivers in new places to others trying to accomplish new feats or feats not achieved in years, Daytona has much to offer this week. Action begins with Tuesday night’s Busch Clash and ends with the sport’s biggest race of the season.

Here is a look at five key storylines:

1. Can Denny Hamlin become the first driver to win three consecutive Daytona 500s?

Hamlin is only the fourth driver in Daytona 500 history to have this chance.

Richard Petty won the race in 1973 and ’74. He placed seventh in 1975, crossing the finish line eight laps behind.

Cale Yarborough won in 1983 and ’84. He finished 36th in 1985 after an engine failure.

Sterling Marlin won in 1994 and ’95. He finished 40th in 1996 after an engine failure.

For as immense as this feat by Hamlin would be, Brad Keselowski says that it overshadows something more impressive to him – that Hamlin hasn’t been eliminated by a wreck in those races.

“I work really hard to try to stay out of the wrecks, but I don’t accept it as an inevitability,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “I try not to think that way. But I also am realistic to know that you’ve got like a 95% chance of wrecking there, which really makes Denny Hamlin’s wins there in the last few years so special.

“I don’t know how in the world he was able to survive all the wrecks. It’s really incredible.”

Hamlin – who has won three of the last five Daytona 500s – acknowledges that the increase in crashes makes it harder to have a chance to win back-to-back Daytona 500s, let alone three in a row.

The chances of you getting in wrecks are higher and everyone’s car is so close,” he said, comparing this era to previous eras at Daytona. “It’s very, very difficult. I just think that it is a skill game, but sometimes you get unlucky in that skill game.

“I think that there’s a lot of guys that are very, very good on the superspeedways that just have been very, very unlucky in the last few years.”

2. Can Chase Elliott do something that hasn’t been done since 2000?

No reigning Cup champion has won the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett, the 1999 series champion, won the 2000 Daytona 500.

In five of the last eight years, the reigning Cup champ placed in the top five in the following year’s season opener. Kevin Harvick came closest to reaching this feat in recent years. The 2014 Cup champion finished second in the 2015 Daytona 500.

Chase Elliott will try to break the drought for reigning Cup champs in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX). A key could be his mindset.

“There is no defending,” Elliott said of his role as champion entering this season. “We need to be on offense. We need to keep pushing. I think if you’re back on your heels and trying to protect something, I don’t think your mind is in the right place. We want more.”

He has had some success at Daytona. He won the 2016 Xfinity season opener at Daytona and won Cup qualifying races there in 2017 and 2018.

His challenge has been the 500. His best finish in five starts is 14th in 2017.

3. Ten years after Trevor Bayne’s shocking win, who could score an upset Daytona 500 victory?

“Are you kidding me?,” Bayne shouted on his radio moments after winning the 2011 Daytona 500 in his second career Cup start.

Bayne’s victory shows that anything is possible. Who could be the next Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500?

Matt DiBenedetto is winless in 212 career Cup starts. Should he win Sunday’s Daytona 500, it would give the Wood Brothers their 100th career Cup win and sixth Daytona 500 triumph. DiBenedetto led a race-high 49 laps in the 2019 Daytona 500 before he was eliminated in a multi-car crash.

Bubba Wallace is winless in 112 career Cup starts, but his best series finish is second in the 2018 Daytona 500. A win by Wallace would bring Michael Jordan to victory lane in the first points race for 23XI Racing. Wallace got the week to a good start by placing second in his qualifying race Thursday.

Corey LaJoie is winless in 129 career Cup starts, entering the season with Spire Motorsports. His best finish in a Cup race is sixth in the July 2019 Daytona race. He finished eighth in last year’s Daytona 500. Could his stacking pennies mantra lead to a big payday Sunday?

Michael McDowell is winless in 357 career Cup starts. His best finish is fourth in the July 2017 Daytona race. He placed fifth in the 2019 Daytona 500. He’s finished in the top 10 in two of the last three Daytona 500s.

A win by him also would be Front Row Motorsports’ third victory and first since Chris Buescher won the rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2016. The team’s only other win was in May 2013 by David Ragan at Talladega. That was a 1-2 finish for the team, with David Gilliland in second.

Will a driver with a new team win the 500?

A number of drivers enter the season with new teams. Could they win their first points race in their new rides?

The list of drivers with new teams includes Kyle Larson with the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports, Christopher Bell with the No. 20 team at Joe Gibbs Racing, Bubba Wallace with the No. 23 team at 23XI Racing, Ross Chastain with the No. 42 team at Chip Ganassi Racing, and Erik Jones with the No. 43 team at Richard Petty Motorsports, among others.

The last time a driver won with a team he had not raced with the year before was Jamie McMurray in 2010, when he returned to Chip Ganassi Racing after four years away. Trevor Bayne ran one race with the Wood Brothers in 2010 before winning the 2011 Daytona 500.

Who will be left at the end?

More than 80% of the cars in the last four Daytona 500s have been involved in accidents.

In the last four Daytona 500s, 40.6% of the field has been eliminated by crashes.

Here is how many cars (out of a 40-car field) were eliminated by crashes in the last four Daytona 500s:

2020 — 15 cars

2019 — 21 cars

2018 — 14 cars

2017 — 15 cars

Brad Keselowski, seeking his first Daytona 500, has been eliminated by crashes in three of the last four years. Keselowski is among those who will start at the rear in the 500. He is going to a backup car after his primary car was damaged in a crash in his qualifying race. Martin Truex Jr. has been eliminated by a crash in each of the past two Daytona 500s. Truex is winless in the 500 in 16 attempts.

“It doesn’t get any less frustrating that’s for sure, but you understand that it’s a part of it,” Truex said. “I just look at every avenue of strategy, and what can I do each race. It just seems like each race is so different. You just have to kind of shift and adjust on the fly and hope you make the right decision as far as where you are running in the field and the cars you are around. There’s really no science behind it. It just happens or it doesn’t, it seems like.”

What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron returns to No. 1


After last Sunday’s crashfest at Circuit of the Americas, the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings experienced another jumble, and William Byron returns to the top spot.

Byron took fifth place in the chaos of the triple-overtime finish. He and winner Tyler Reddick were the top dogs in the Cup Series’ first road race of the year, Byron leading 28 laps and Reddick 41. No one else led more than two laps.

MORE: COTA finish — Entertaining and messy

Christopher Bell, last week’s No. 1, fell to fifth place after a 31st-place finish at COTA.

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. William Byron (second last week) — Byron, the season’s only multiple winner with two, finished fifth Sunday, marking his career first top five on a road course. He won the pole and the first stage.

2. Kyle Busch (third last week) — Busch continues to make his new partnership at Richard Childress Racing look good. His second-place run Sunday is his fourth top-10 finish in the season’s first six races.

3. Ross Chastain (sixth last week) — Despite being pushed around in the late going Sunday, Chastain persisted, re-emerging at the front to challenge the leaders and finish fourth. He has finished in the top four in all three COTA races and leads the points standings.

4. Alex Bowman (fifth last week) — Bowman continued his seasonal consistency, finishing third at COTA. He has finished in the top 10 in five of six races.

5. Christopher Bell (first last week) — Bell falls from the top spot in the rankings after being booted from Sunday’s race in a late-race accident. He dropped three spots in the Cup points standings to fifth.

6. Joey Logano (fourth last week) — Logano was mostly absent from Sunday’s front-of-the-pack jousting. He limped home in 28th and drops two spots in the rankings.

7. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick bursts into the rankings in a big way, easily outclassing the rest of the field on the way to victory at COTA. Challenged repeatedly by cautions that extended the race into three overtimes, he refused to give up the shot at his first win of the year.

8. Denny Hamlin (seventh last week) — Winless this year, Hamlin nevertheless keeps popping up around the front. Sunday’s late-race mess dropped him to 16th at the checkered flag.

9. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson seemed to be the race’s pingpong ball Sunday as he was bounced around during some of the tightest racing. He rallied to reach 14th.

10. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — Harvick’s final season has been a mix of the good and the bad, with two top-five runs, challenges for wins and a 33rd-place finish at Atlanta. He was 13th Sunday.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (10th last week).


Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’


One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.

Winners and losers at Circuit of the Americas

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A look at winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas:


Tyler Reddick — Reddick needed patience and perseverance to stay in front through three overtimes to win Sunday’s race. Considering the supreme strength of his Toyota and his nearly flawless performance, losing first place in that calamity near the end would have been heartbreaking. Instead, he gives Toyota its first win of the year.

Kyle Busch — Busch never led, but he pushed through the field in the final stage, worked his way through the restarts and finished second.

William Byron — Byron appeared to have the only answer to Reddick’s power. He led 28 laps but was shuffled to fifth at the finish.

Todd Gilliland — Gilliland was in the top-15 mix through the three overtimes and worked his way to a 10th-place finish, the third of his Cup career.

Jenson Button — Former F1 champion finished 18th in his Cup debut, highest among the road course ringers. He told his team after the race on the radio that Cup drivers “are on it every second of the race” and also said that the race was a “roller coaster … a whole F1 season in one race.”


AJ Allmendinger — Always expected to be a threat at road courses, Allmendinger left the race after 60 laps with damage from an accident, finishing 34th.

Brad Keselowski — Spins limited Keselowski’s effectiveness Sunday, and he parked after 56 laps with a driveshaft issue, finishing 35th and dropping four spots in the points standings.

Bubba Wallace — The year has not started well for Wallace, who finished 37th Sunday and now has four finishes of 20th or worse in six races. He fell three spots in points.