Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — February 20, 2022
You know it’s a top drawer event when you have the Country Music Association Award Winner for Entertainer of the Year, Luke Combs, as the opening act. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds doing a flyover, and the Goodyear blimp providing aerial coverage. Add a completely sold-out crowd and all the pageantry of the “Great American Race.” Yes, it’s the Daytona 500.
The Superbowl of Stock Car Racing
Known as the biggest race in NASCAR, the Daytona 500 holds a special place in every stockcar driver’s heart. It’s an instant catapult to fame for the victor. It’s the pinnacle of a racer’s career, the crowning achievement that all other drivers aspire to possess, and fans and media admire. The NASCAR Cup Series season-opener is unlike any other event and holds a prestigious position among its competitors due to its ever-changing difficulty to master, much less finish.
In total, only 40 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won a Daytona 500, and six of the 40 are active this weekend – Denny Hamlin (2016, 2019, 2020), Michael McDowell (2021), Austin Dillon (2018), Kurt Busch (2017), Joey Logano (2015), Kevin Harvick (2007).
NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in Daytona 500 victories with seven trophies – (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981). Richard’s father, Lee Petty, won the inaugural Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959; he led 38 laps and won by two feet in an Oldsmobile. Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell won last season Daytona 500 in a Ford Mustang. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in Daytona 500 wins with three trophies (2016, 2019, 2020). Lee Petty, who won the inaugural Daytona 500 (1959), and Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500 champion, are the only two drivers to win the Daytona 500 in their first appearance.
Of the 63 Daytona 500 races, only eight times has a driver posted his career-first NASCAR Cup Series victory with a win in the event; the most recent to accomplish the feat was Michael McDowell last season.
|First-Time Winners in Daytona 500||Seasons|
Ford Performance Going for Two Straight Daytona 500 Wins
Ford has won the Daytona 500 16 times with 13 different drivers. Michael McDowell’s victory last season was the Blue Oval’s third 500 triumph in the last seven years after Joey Logano won in 2015 and Kurt Busch in 2017. Only three Ford drivers have won the Great American Race more than once. Bill Elliott was the first to do it (1985 and 1987) with Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000) and Matt Kenseth (2009 and 2012) following.
There have been a few changes to the Ford Cup Series lineup for 2022. First, Brad Keselowski has gone from driver at Team Penske to driver/co-owner at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, swapping his familiar No. 2 for No. 6. Austin Cindric has moved up from the NASCAR Xfinity Series and will take over the No. 2 Team Penske Mustang, while fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Harrison Burton moves into the No. 21 Wood Brothers Mustang.
A third member of the ROY class is Todd Gilliland, who has moved up from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to drive the No. 38 Mustang for Front Row Motorsports. Additionally, Rick Ware Racing will field a pair of Mustangs with Cody Ware running full-time in the No. 51 and a series of different drivers competing in the No. 15.
Duel Qualifying Races Introduce the Next-Gen Car to Daytona Style Racing
Thursday night’s Daytona Duel qualifying races gave fans a preview of what to expect in today’s 500-mile race. Drafting will play a key role, the cars at the tail end of the draft are going to struggle to stay with the pack. Runs to the front are going to come fast and the “big one” is always a potential as drivers throw blocks to protect their position.
The 500 miles consist of 200 laps around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Stages are 65/65/70 laps. The fuel window is expected to be 38-42 laps and pit stops will look somewhat different as the Next-Gen car has a single lug nut similar to the type used on Indy Cars.
NASCAR confiscated wheels from the Penske and Roush Fenway Keselowski teams and sent them to the development center for inspection. Wheels are provided from a specified vendor are supposed to be bolt-on equipment. The two teams experienced difficulty with the fit of the wheels during tire changes and made minor changes to make the process safer. The issue involves indexing studs on the hub that have to line up with indexing holes on the wheels to get a proper torque connection. No penalties were announced, NASCAR is still studying the matter.
Hendricks Motorsports dominated qualifying with clearly the fastest cars when running alone on the track. Kyle Larson won the pole and his teammate, Alex Bowman starts beside him on the front row. The Fords dominated the qualifying races and draft very well together. Roush Fenway Keselowski swept the 150 lap duels with Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher taking the wins.
Sportsline.com listed odds for the 22 Daytona 500 with 3-time winner Denny Hamlin as the favorite.
Denny Hamlin 9-1
Chase Elliott 10-1
Kyle Larson 10-1
Joey Logano 11-1
Ryan Blaney 12-1
Brad Keselowski 14-1
William Byron 15-1
Bubba Wallace 16-1
Kyle Busch 16-1
Kurt Busch 17-1
Alex Bowman 18-1
Kevin Harvick 20-1
Martin Truex Jr. 22-1
Aric Almirola 22-1
Tyler Reddick 25-1
Austin Dillon 25-1
Christopher Bell 28-1
Austin Cindric 30-1
Chris Buescher 30-1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 33-1
The cars of Chase Briscoe, No. 14, and Daniel Hemric failed pre-race inspection multiple times and were sent to the rear of the field. Hemric’s No. 16 failed three times and will also be subject to a pass-through penalty at the first opportunity after taking the green.
Joining them at the back of the starting grid are the No. 22 of Joey Logano, who wrecked in his duel race and was forced into his backup car, and the No. 27 of Jacques Villeneuve whose crew had to make an engine change after the field was set.
It did not take long for the Fords to assert themselves at the front of the field. Pole sitter Kyle Larson lost the lead going down the backstretch as Brad Keselowski(6), Austin Cindric(2), Chris Buescher(17), and Michael McDowell(34) led the Blue Oval freight train around the top lane of the race track.
Two-lane racing was back in form by Lap 7 when Kyle Busch(18) led the inside lane to the front briefly.
The inside line faded for a while until Kyle Busch led them back to the point on Lap 27. Almost the entire field was lined up side-by-side halfway through the First Stage. Busch and Keselowski swapped the lead as the best-formed line seemed to find the most momentum. Things really got jumbled up as teams prepared for their first pit stop.
The Penske cars pitted together on Lap 37, most of the rest of the field pitted one lap later. When stops cycled through it was Logano, from the back, out front with Harrison Burton(21) right behind him on the inside lane. Joe Gibbs Racing held the top lane with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin(11), Christopher Bell(20), and Martin Truex Jr.(19) nose to tail.
On Lap 40, Kaz Grala(50) lost a wheel, and when Chase Briscoe(14) lifted to avoid trouble, he got punted in the rear bumper and spun out bringing out the first caution of the day. Grala’s crew seemed to experience the same indexing problem the Ford crews had during the duels.
A few drivers took the opportunity to pit for fuel as the various strategies on pit road are in play early. On the restart, this time it was Kyle Busch dragging his line of cars to the lead.
The caution flag was displayed again on Lap 51 when Justin Haley(31) had the right front wheel break on his car. Two cautions for two problems with wheels is raising the level of concern in the garage area and NASCAR race control.
With restarts moving cars in and out of lines it has been difficult for teams to get synced back together. William Byron(24), Burton, and Truex all took a turn at the front.
The Big One #1
On Lap 62, Byron and Burton were running side-by-side when Keselowski gave Burton a shove to push him into the lead. Burton’s car broke loose, dove to the inside of the track, and flipped over, riding a short distance on its roof before righting itself.
The melee that followed collected a number of contenders. Hamlin bashed Kyle Busch sending the candyman car spinning. Damage to Hamlin’s car forced him to the garage. Besides Burton and Hamlin, Ross Chastain(1), and Byron, were all forced to retire. Alex Bowman(48) continued but was several laps down to the lead pack.
The Stage ended under caution. Keselowski, Bell, and Kyle Busch only suffered minor damage and were able to return to the track for the time being.
Stage 1 Results
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|4||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||7|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The restart had the iconic No. 43, made famous by Richard Petty, and now driven by Michigan Native Erik Jones(43) out front in the Daytona 500. A nostalgic site, appreciated by the fans.
Ryan Blaney(12) shared the front row with Jones and with the benefit of a push from Cup rookie and new teammate Austin Cindric(2) they drove around Jones for the lead. Jones is no stranger to Victory Lane at Daytona having visited there after winning the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400 and the Busch Clash in 2020.
The Fords of Buescher, Kevin Harvick(4), Keselowski, Todd Gilliland(38), and McDowell all found the trail of the two leaders and the Mustang drivers lined up forcing everyone into a single file train. The Blue Oval occupied 11 of the first 12 positions as the race headed to the midway point at 100 laps.
The pack pitted on Lap 108 with the exception of the JGR cars, who came in for service on the next lap. When the lead group reformed it was the RFK cars of Keselowski and Buescher now in the lead.
Several drivers tried to lead a charge to the front on the outside lane, but none with much success. Until Kyle Larson(5) brought a contingent forward and into the lead with six laps to go in the Stage. Logano helped by being a pusher in the fast-closing group until he abandoned them and hooked up with Keselowski to push him back to the front.
As the pack approached the lapped car of Briscoe, Logan got behind the No. 14 car and drafted out to a big lead. On the final lap of the Stage, Truex chased Logano down and made the pass coming to the start/finish line taking the Stage win.
Stage 2 Results
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|5||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||6|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
When the one-to-go signal was displayed, several drivers came to pit road and topped off fuel. Keselowski and Cindric led the field to the green flag on the restart and immediately go in line and began to extend their advantage.
Bubba Wallace(23) and Jones were able to insert themselves into the middle of the five Fords out front. Wallace ran third and Jones fourth.
With 50 laps to go, there were 22 cars on the lead lap and a mere 1.829 seconds separated Chase Elliott in 22nd from the leader.
On Lap 151, Jacques Villeneuve got into the left rear of Tyler Reddick(8) and spun the No. 8 car around. Truex, Logano, and Kurt Busch were caught up in the incident. Logano flattened his rear tires and ended up stuck in the grass of the tri-oval. A safety truck pushed Logano the wrong way down pit road to the attention of his crew, but they lost four laps in the process.
Pit road opened on Lap 156 and everyone came for service. With the laps remaining just outside the fuel window, no doubt someone with try and save gas and survive to Lap 200 for a chance to win the Daytona 500.
After pit road service the top five were Cindric, Wallace, Blaney, Jones, and Keselowski coming to the restart. As the lines formed up Cindric on the low side and Wallace on the top swapped the lead back and forth as the laps wound down to 30 to go.
Wallace and Kyle Busch broke free from the pack and dropped to the bottom. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) and Buescher assumed the role of top side leader and pusher as they moved up to join the battle for the lead with Wallace and Busch.
With under 20 laps to go, Stenhouse broke free and the two lines fell apart as everyone scrambled for a spot in line. How long will drivers remain patient before stepping out and trying to make a run?
With 10 laps to go things began to get dicey as drivers looked to make a move. Larson jumped out of line and as others tried to join the rush Harvick and Larson got together and the “Big One” #2 was on. As the cars that survived the melee circled around to the front stretch, NASCAR displayed the red flag to clean up the mess.
When everything sorted out Stenhouse led, Cindric, Blaney, and Keselowski followed. The race went back to green on Lap 194 and everyone is expecting the race to go overtime. Blaney pushed Cindric to the lead, but before they could get back to the flag stand they were wrecking again.
Stenhouse fell victim to a side draft from Wallace and a tap in the rear from Keselowski which spun the No. 47 into the wall just before the entry to pit road. Rerack ’em and start again with a green, white, checkers finish.
The Penske cars of Cindric and Blaney will start beside each other on the front row, followed by Wallace and Keselowski. Lurking in fifth is Aric Almirola(10) in his last Daytona 500, don’t you know he would love to cap his career with the win of a lifetime.
Austin Cindric jumped out and dropped down in front of Blaney. When the pack exited Turn 4 Blaney made his move to the high side and Cindric forced him up and into the wall. As the teammates battled, Bubba Wallace got a run on the low side of the track and Cindric moved down to block.
After successfully holding off both late charges, the 23-year old Cup Rookie will have his name engraved on the Harley Earl Trophy. Forever a Daytona 500 Champion.
Results of the 64th Daytona 500 from Daytona International Speedway
|13||19||Martin Truex Jr.||0.604||201|
|28||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-7||194|
|38||24||William Byron Jr.||-139||62|