It’s finally here! NASCAR is kicking off this week in Daytona starting Tuesday night with The Clash, just as it has been done since 1979, and will end on Sunday with The Great American Race, the Daytona 500.
The 43rd running of The Clash will air on FS1 at 7:00 pm with the green flag dropping at 7:14. This year it will look a little different as it will be run on the 14 turn, 3.61 mile Daytona Road Course. The race will be 35 laps which is 126.35 miles. Not everyone gets the opportunity to run The Clash, you have to qualify for it. But how do you do that? Well, this year The Clash is limited to drivers who were 2020 Busch Pole Award winners, former Clash winners who competed full-time in 2020, former Daytona 500 champions who competed full-time in 2020, former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in 2020, drivers who qualified for the 2020 NASCAR Cups Series Playoffs, and drivers who won races or stages in 2020. That means there are 24 drivers eligible: Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Martin Truex, Jr. Ty Dillon will drive the 23XI car since Bubba Wallace is not eligible for The Clash. Since Johnson, Kenseth, and Bowyer have all retired, that takes the field down to 21. Starting positions will be determined by a blind draw. Will this year’s Clash be as exciting as last year’s? Last year The Clash was more like a demolition derby with only seven cars finishing the race. Erik Jones took the checkered flag with a “car that’s ready for the dumpster” according to Darryl Waltrip.
Qualifying for the Cup Series will air on Wednesday at 7:00 pm on FS1. Qualifying will determine the front row for the Daytona 500 and the starting line up for the Duels. Two drivers who are not guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500 can earn a spot by having one of the two fastest speeds of the non-chartered rides. Unofficially there are eight cars competing for the final four spots:
Garrett Smithley driving for Motorsports Business Management in the #13
Kaz Grala driving for Kaulig racing in the #16
Austin Cindric driving for Team Penske in the #33
David Ragan driving for Front Row Motorsports in the #36
Ryan Preece driving for JTG Daugherty Racing in the #37
Noah Gragson driving for Beard Motorsports in the #62
Timmy Hill driving for Motorsports Business Management in the #66
Ty Dillon driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing in the #96
Qualifying for the other series racing at Daytona will be as follows:
Truck Series – Friday at 3:10 pm
Arca Menard Series – Saturday at 8:30 am
Xfinity Series – Saturday at 10:40 am
Thursday night the Duels will air at 7:00 pm on FS1 with the green flag dropping at 7:21 for the first duel. The second Duel starts at 8:45 pm. Both Duels will be 60 laps which is 150 miles. The highest finisher from Duel 1 and Duel 2 that has yet to qualify for the Daytona 500 will earn a starting spot.
Friday night the Truck Series airs at 7:30 pm on FS1 with the green flag dropping at 7:44 pm. The race will be 100 laps, which is 250 miles, with the first stage ending at lap 20 and the second stage ending at lap 40, leaving 60 laps for the final stage. There will be two rookies to watch this year as they battle for the Rookie of the Year. Kris Wright driving the #2 for Sam Hunt Racing who competed part-time in the Truck Series last year and Hailie Deegan who will be driving the #1 for David Gilliland Racing. Deegan won the Bounty Rookie of the Year in the Arca Menard Series last year. Deegan also started one Truck Series race last year where she finished 16th after starting 34th.
Saturday at Daytona will be a double-header with both the Arca Menard Series and Xfinity Series racing. The Arca race will air at 1:30 pm on FS1 with the green flag dropping at 1:45 pm. The race will be 80 laps, which is 200 miles. Then the Xfinity Series race will air at 5:00 pm on FS1 with the green flag dropping at 5:14 pm. The race will be 120 laps, which is 300 miles, with the first stage ending at lap 30 and the second stage ending at lap 60, leaving 60 laps for the final stage. Two rookies will be battling it out this year for Rookie of the Year. Ryan Vargas will be driving the #6 car for JD Motorsports and Jordan Anderson will be driving the #31 car for his own team, Jordan Anderson Racing.
And finally, The Great American Race, the Daytona 500, featuring 40 drivers will air at 2:30 pm on Fox, with the green flag dropping at 3:05. The stages for the 500 will be 65 laps each for stage one and stage two, leaving 70 laps for the final stage. There will be two rookies to watch this year as they will be battling for the Rookie of the Year: Chase Briscoe, who won nine races last year in the Xfinity Series, driving the #14 for Stewart-Haas Racing and Anthony Alfredo driving the #38 for Front Row Motorsports. Will a rookie win the big race? Or will history be made? Denny Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 the last two years. If he wins this year, he will be the first driver in history to win three in a row. Can he do it?
Tune in to The Great American Race to find out! Look for my analysis from my seats in the grandstand next week!