Five to Watch: Story lines for 2021 Daytona 500 | NASCAR

Daytona 500

Five to Watch: Story lines for 2021 Daytona 500 | NASCAR

The other former winners are: Austin Dillon (2018), Kurt Busch (2017), Joey Logano (2015), Jamie McMurray (2010), Ryan Newman (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007) …

Five to Watch: Story lines for 2021 Daytona 500 | NASCAR

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Five to Watch: Story lines for 2021 Daytona 500

By Jeff Wackerlin, MRN.com | Saturday, February 13, 2021

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The 63rd running of the Daytona 500 begins a highly anticipated season that features new teams, drivers in new rides, a revamped schedule and much more. A field of 40 drivers will battle in The Great American Race (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with one hoisting the Harley J. Earl trophy in the end. Eight drivers in the race are a previous Daytona 500 champion with Denny Hamlin the only multiple winner (2016, 2019, 2020). The other former winners are: Austin Dillon (2018), Kurt Busch (2017), Joey Logano (2015), Jamie McMurray (2010), Ryan Newman (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007) and Derrike Cope (1990).“The Daytona 500 is the most prestigious stock car race of all,” Busch said. “To win it, it changes peoples’ lives. The title that comes along with it is important, nostalgic, historic and it’s a pride feeling when you win this race. And so, the drive and the fuel for me is to go get it again and to keep it from others.”

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Seeking Daytona history: Denny Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart are looking to make history on Sunday at Daytona as they seek to become the first to win three consecutive Daytona 500s. Last year, Hamlin joined Sterling Marlin (1994, 1995), Cale Yarborough (1983, 1984) and Richard Petty (1973, 1974) as the only drivers with back-to-back wins in The Great American Race. Hamlin currently rides a streak of five consecutive top-four finishes at superspeedways that not only includes the 500 win, but also a victory last fall in the playoffs at Talladega Superspeedway.”This one obviously would be special if I could win for many reasons, but mostly the history part of it knowing that no one else has done it,” Hamlin said.

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Still missing the 500: There are four Cup Series champions in the field that have yet to add a Daytona 500 win to their resume. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have come close, each with one second-place finish. Brad Keselowski and reigning champion Chase Elliott are the others yet to win the 500. Keselowski leads the group with six superspeedway wins – Daytona (1) , Talladega (5) – and Truex is the only one among the quartet yet to visit Victory Lane at either of the two tracks in the Cup Series.”It’s a tough race to win,” Truex Jr. said. “We’ve been really close. I think for us, trying how to be better at speedway racing is something in general that we’ve worked on over the last handful of years. I feel like we have made some gains there for sure, but still not getting the results that we want. Still working hard on it, and I think for us, the biggest thing is trying to figure out a way to get to the end of the race, and that’s the biggest thing.”

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New teams debut: NBA legend Michael Jordan and Grammy Award-winning international superstar Pitbull, who will serve as Grand Marshal for the Daytona 500, join the NASCAR ownership ranks in 2021. Bubba Wallace will start sixth in the Daytona 500 driving a Toyota for 23XI Racing, co-owned by Jordan and Denny Hamlin. Trackhouse Racing, founded by Justin Marks and co-owned with Pitbull, will have Daniel Suarez behind the wheel of the No. 99 Chevrolet set to start 15th on Sunday. Also in the offseason, BJ McCleod and Matt Tifft partnered to form Live Fast Motorsports that will see McCleod pilot the No. 78 Ford. “When (Trackhouse Racing) and I sat down, clearly there's no hidden agenda here, it's all about winning, it's all about creating a successful team, it's all about creating sponsorship around Daniel, it's about believing in Daniel,” Pitbull said. “We all sat at the table wanting more than that. That to me is priceless. That to me is what this is all about.”

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First in the 500: With thirty-two drivers in the field vying for their first win in the Daytona 500, a victory for 18 of those drivers would mark the first win of their career. Two of those drivers in quest of a breakthrough win are Wallace, who finished second in his Duel and in the 2018 Daytona 500, and Matt DiBenedetto, who led 49 laps in the 2019 Daytona 500. A first career victory for DiBenedetto would mark the 100th for Wood Brothers Racing. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Trevor Bayne's win in the 500 with the Wood Brothers. Bayne is the last of seven first-time winners in the 500. “From a personal standpoint I so badly want to get the 100th win for the Wood Brothers because they are family,” DiBenedetto said. “Anyone who knows the Woods knows when you drive for them you’re not friends you’re family to them. They are family and I want it so bad for them and for the whole entire family, so that would be an amazing accomplishment there.”

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Close at Daytona: Ryan Blaney leads all active drivers that have not won the Daytona 500 with the most runner-up finishes in the race, with two. Along with Hamlin, Blaney has been one of the best when it comes to superspeedway racing with four top 10s, including two wins at Talladega, in the last five races. Blaney has led 137 laps in six starts in the 500, which ranks second to Kyle Busch (296 in 15 starts) among drivers in Sunday's field that have not won The Great American Race.”I think one of the biggest things that has improved our speedway racing is me and my spotter, Josh Williams, talking a lot – just kind of discussing what we can do better on these speedways,” Blaney said. “He’s learning as well with me of when the cars change. He has to change the way he kind of – his perspective for sure with runs coming and where to go. Honestly, now you don’t have as much time as you used to have to get in a certain lane just because the runs are so massive. So, your decision-making is a lot quicker, but I think it’s just that – driver/spotter relationship is really good, fast cars – really fast cars that Team Penske builds.”

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