NASCAR’s Daytona 500 is one of my favorite racing events of the year for plenty of reasons, but in large part because it’s one of the tasty appetizers we get before the full race season really kicks off around the world. We’ve already seen the Duels, we have a qualifying lineup, different series are hitting the track, and if you have no idea how to follow the race, then don’t you worry—we here at Jalopnik have you covered.
The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s premiere event, kind of like what Monaco is to Formula One or the Preakness is to horse racing. It’s the first proper race of the year, held at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway in Florida. The race runs for 200 laps that will occasionally be punctuated by stage breaks—essentially competition cautions—to keep the racing interesting. You can read more about how those stages work in our Resources section.
NASCAR has done a lot to pump up the race, introducing a concept called Speedweeks that involves tons of other racing—two ‘Duel’ races to set the Daytona 500 qualifying grid along with races from NASCAR’s junior series, Xfinity, Trucks, and ARCA. It’s a way to ramp up the action before the big day.
Speaking of, 2021's event will be taking place on Sunday, February 14. Tune into FOX at 2:30 pm ET to catch the action. You can also listen in on MRN and SiriusXM Radio.
If you need a little extra help following the race, don’t you worry. We’ve got some links ready for you that should help make things simpler.
- How to understand NASCAR’s modern rules package
- 2021 Daytona 500 starting grid
- Spotter’s guide and drivers with their cars
- Where to watch
- How to win the Daytona 500
What to Follow
If this is your first Daytona 500—welcome! Here are a few different storylines to follow and things to watch out for.
“The Big One.” You’re going to hear this phrase a lot. Big tracks—called superspeedways—generally cause big wrecks. That’s the nature of these events. You get one car swerving off to the side, and suddenly 20 cars just piled up on the main straight. That big ol’ wreck is The Big One, and if you’re into NASCAR for the crashes, this is probably what you’re going to be paying the most attention to.
Quality Of Racing. You’ll likely hear a lot of NASCAR fans grumping about the quality of the racing, but the current aerodynamic package is a fairly decent one for big tracks like Daytona International Speedway. In the past, a 2.5-mile track would result in one strong leader that couldn’t be toppled by the rest of the pack. Now, strong leaders are able to hold their position, but other cars can still compete for the win—which often comes down to the last lap.
Three in a Row. Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has proved himself to be a force to be reckoned with at Daytona. He’s won the Daytona 500 three times, the most recent of them being in 2019 and 2020. He’ll be going for his third in a row in 2021, but with a starting position back in 25th place (out of 40 total cars), he’ll have a tough road ahead of him.
Looking for a First. Drivers Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch are all NASCAR veterans with over a decade of experience each and championships to their name, but their resumé still lacks that coveted Daytona 500 win. Truex Jr. is starting 26th, Keselowski 24th, and Busch 10th.
New Names. While the 500 often attracts new names to the event, there are two new teams to keep your eye on: 23XI and Trackhouse. 23XI is a joint partnership between Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan while Trackhouse just found a new patron in Grammy award-winning singer Pitbull. While the names involved are exciting in their own right, it’s going to be a whole different story to see how they perform on track.
No Worries. Seriously. If you’re looking for a way to kill a Sunday afternoon, turn on the Daytona 500. It’s a good excuse to watch fast cars, drink a few beers, and have some good old fashioned fun. Don't let yourself be intimidated by weird rules or all the different drivers. You have my permission.
Who do you have your money on?