Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Meet the 40 Starters of the Daytona 500

The biggest day in stock car racing is right around the corner.

This Sunday (Feb. 14), 40 of the world’s best drivers will strap into their respective racing machines as they prepare to tackle the 63rd running of the Daytona 500.

But who exactly are these 40 NASCAR Cup Series competitors who will hit the Daytona International Speedway high banks? The initial entry list was represented by 23 states and two countries, and its drivers range in age from 21 to 62.

Let’s meet these heroes of the sport.

Quin Houff (23 years old, No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet): The Virginia driver begins his second full-time season as a Cup campaigner. Last year, Houff was involved in a controversial crash that ended his first Daytona 500 prematurely.

Kurt Busch (42 years old, No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): This 20 year Cup veteran and 2004 champion is one of the most experienced competitors in the field. Busch finally won the 500 in 2017 with crew chief Tony Gibson after coming up empty in his 15 previous starts.

Brad Keselowski (36 years old, No. 2 Team Penske Ford): Keselowski first burst onto the NASCAR scene in the late 2000s as an entertaining but talented driver well beyond his years. Now, the 2012 Cup champion has acclimated to his new role as a mild-mannered and tenured competitor. He is still looking for his first win in the Great American Race.

Austin Dillon (30 years old, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet): The grandson of legendary car owner Richard Childress, Dillon delivered an emotional win in the 2018 Daytona 500 to his grandfather exactly 20 years after Childress’ longtime driver Dale Earnhardt captured his lone 500 victory. This year, Dillon will attempt to capture his second crown, but this time, it would be on the 20th anniversary of Earnhardt’s untimely passing.

Kevin Harvick (45 years old, No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford): Harvick gave Childress another 500 win in 2007, beating Mark Martin in a thrilling photo finish. While it remains his only win in the Great American Race, the 2014 champion has been one of NASCAR’s best and accomplished competitors in the last several years. He will be one to watch this season.

Kyle Larson (28 years old, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet): Larson returns after a lengthy suspension that put him on the sidelines for the majority of 2021. Now with Hendrick Motorsports, this California driver is looking to turn the tables and get back to his winning ways.

Ryan Newman (43 years old, No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing): The Daytona 500 has brought this veteran driver the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Newman won the 2008 edition of the race and ascended to the top step of racing immortality. But he’s also suffered two heart-stopping tumbles, including one at the very end of last year’s event that put him in the hospital for two days and out of the race car for weeks.

Corey LaJoie (29 years old, No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet): LaJoie was the other half of the wreck that put Newman in the hospital. This journeyman driver has bounced from team to team in recent years. 2021 is no different, as he joins Spire Motorsports for the entire season.

Tyler Reddick (25 years old, No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet): Reddick begins his sophomore season back behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet. While relatively new to the Cup Series, he is a two-time champion in the developmental Xfinity Series.

Chase Elliott (25 years old, No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet): NASCAR’s most popular driver is now also a champion, having picked up the 2020 Cup crown. Although this second-generation star is a former pole sitter of the Great American Race, he has yet to pick up the Harley J. Earl Trophy as a winner of the Daytona 500.

Aric Almirola (36 years old, No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Ford): While he has picked up a victory at Daytona in the past, Almirola has come up short several times from being a 500 winner. He came oh-so-close in 2018 but was crashed from the lead on the final lap.

Denny Hamlin (40 years old, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota): Hamlin has won the last two 500s and three overall. He will be going for his record third in a row this Sunday. If he captures the victory, it will put him in a tie for second all-time with Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough.

Ryan Blaney (27 years old, No. 12 Team Penske Ford): He nearly won it last year, losing to Hamlin in a nail-biting photo finish. This second-generation driver has exceled at Daytona’s sister track, Talladega Superspeedway, but is still looking for his first trip to victory lane at The World Center of Racing.

Chase Briscoe (26 years old, No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford): Briscoe will be making his 500 debut. In fact, it will be his first-ever Cup start, as he moves up from NXS.

Derrike Cope (62 years old, No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford): On the flip side of the experience spectrum is Derrike Cope. He hasn’t started a Daytona 500 in over 15 years, but the 1990 victor will close out a long career as he makes his final start at in this event.

Kaz Grala (22 years old, No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet): Grala made his Cup debut at Daytona last season, but it was on the road course. This Sunday will mark his second-career start for both he and Kaulig Racing.

Chris Buescher (28 years old, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford): Buescher has competed for mid-pack cup teams for the last five years. With one win to his credit, this former champion of the Xfinity Series will look to run up front once again.

Kyle Busch (35 years old, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota): This renegade trophy collector has somehow never been able to capture the Harley J. Earl trophy. Busch suffered a surprisingly lackluster one-win season last year, so look for him to be driving with a vengeance as he seeks redemption when he thunders around the 33-degree banking.

Martin Truex Jr. (40 years old, No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota): Truex has the misfortune of being on the wrong end of the closest Daytona 500 in history, finishing second to Hamlin in 2016 by the length of a splitter. This campaigner has found the highest step in stock car racing, winning the 2017 Cup championship.

Christopher Bell (26 years old, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota): Bell is a sophomore in the Cup Series. Having exceled in the dirt car world, he’s looking to do the same on asphalt as he rejoins the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Matt DiBenedetto (29 years old, No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford): Driving for one of oldest and most iconic teams in NASCAR, DiBenedetto will try to join drivers such as David Pearson, AJ Foyt and Tiny Lund as winners of the 500 for the Wood Brothers. If he does, it will be the 100th win for the Virginia team.

Joey Logano (30 years old, No. 22 Team Penske Ford): Logano enters his 13th full-time season as a Cup driver. He has come a long way since he was a young hotshot teenager in 2009 and can boast the titles of being the 2015 Daytona 500 victor and 2018 Cup champion.

Bubba Wallace (27 years old, No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota): Imagine growing up in the deep south with a dream to make it to NASCAR. Not only did he accomplish that, he’s also graced the covers of magazine and TV shows, become a champion for social justice and driven for two of the biggest figures in professional sports: Richard Petty and Michael Jordan.

William Byron (23 years old, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet): Byron got his first career win at Daytona last year in the July race. Can this former Xfinity champion get it done in the big event this year? He’ll start second.

Austin Cindric (22 years old, No. 33 Team Penkse Ford): Team owner Roger Penske is unloading a fourth car in select events this season for defending Xfinity champ Cindric. The son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, the young driver from North Carolina has some of the best equipment in the garage area as he is prepped to make his inaugural Cup appearance.

Michael McDowell (36 years old, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford): Although he has not found much success on the top rung of the NASCAR ladder, this tenured veteran has perennially found his way to front at the big, sweeping superspeedway.

David Ragan (35 years old, No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford): Like his teammate McDowell, Ragan has also been a dependable dark horse contender at Daytona. Since retiring from full-time competition at the end of 2019, the two time Cup winner has always stopped by to make an appearance in the first race of the season.

Ryan Preece (30 years old, No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet): When Preece first burst onto the Cup circuit in 2019, he earned high praise for his luck or even skill avoiding wrecks. With the notorious Big One seemingly an annual tradition in the 500, can he avoid another one this year and bring home a solid finish to husband-and-wife team owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter, along with their partner and former NBA star Brad Daugherty?

Anthony Alfredo (21 years old, No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford): A relative newcomer to NASCAR, Alfredo will be making his first Cup start this Sunday. He will battle Briscoe all year long as they compete for Rookie of the Year honors in 2021.

Cole Custer (23 years old, No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford): Speedweeks 2021 has gotten off to a rough start for the 2020 Cup Rookie of the Year. Custer’s Ford caught fire — literally — in the Busch Clash on Tuesday.

Ross Chastain (28 years old, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): This watermelon farmer from Florida is finally going full-time Cup racing after competing in pretty much anything and everything that has four wheels and a gas pedal over the last several years.

Erik Jones (24 years old, No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet): Once touted as the best prospect since Jeff Gordon, Jones is coming off three lackluster seasons in JGR equipment. For 2021, he will fill the seat of the iconic No. 43 vacated by Wallace. He will look to bring back success to the King himself, Richard Petty.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (33 years old, No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet): Last year’s Daytona 500 polesitter has done little since his breakout season in 2017 that netted him two wins and a coveted playoff spot.

Alex Bowman (27 years old, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet): No, the No. 48 does not carry the seven-time NASCAR champion and future Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson; the longtime campaigner for Rick Hendrick has left the series entirely to go open wheel racing. Bowman will fill the void after doing the same a few seasons ago when Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the driver’s seat. He is the pole sitter for this year’s Daytona 500.

Cody Ware (25 years old, No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet): Ware reunites with his father’s stock car team after mainly competing in sports cars for RWR overseas last season. 2021 marks his second 500 start and his first since 2019.

Josh Bilicki (25 years old, No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Ford): Another driver making his 500 debut is Bilicki. After long tenures from Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard, Bilicki becomes the newest NASCAR driver to represent his home state of Wisconsin as he attempts a full Cup season for the first time in his career.

Joey Gase (28 years old, No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Ford): Gase is another young Midwesterner who is trying to make a name for himself while driving for a small team. The Iowa driver is returning to RWR.

Jamie McMurray (44 years old, No. 77 Spire Motorsports/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): A former Daytona 500 winner in his own right, McMurray usually spends Sundays as an analyst for Fox Sports. However, he will be trading in his business suit for a firesuit as he will take another crack at the 500 in a one-off effort. It will be his first NASCAR start since 2019, also in the 500.

BJ McLeod (37 years old, No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford): A brand new team to the Cup Series sees journeyman owner-driver McLeod and former driver Matt Tifft team up for a full-season effort with their No. 78 Ford. McLeod is slated to drive the entire season.

Daniel Suarez (29 years old, No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet): The final brand new team is a collaboration between former driver Justin Marks and musician Pitbull. Suarez will also be the lone foreign-born driver in the field, hailing from Monterrey, Mexico.


About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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