The 2022 Daytona 500 is here.
It took three months and 13 days, but we made it through the offseason, folks. NASCAR Cup Series racing is back.
Well, if you want to get technical, regular-season NASCAR racing is back, since the Clash at the L.A. Coliseum took place two weeks ago, but the season opener is upon us and there’s a lot of offseason changes to absorb.
Cup drivers head into Daytona with very little experience in the new Next Gen (or Gen 7) cars in competitive environments. In terms of actual races and not practices, the only times the new vehicles have been used were in the Clash (an exhibition) and the twin Bluegreen Vacation Duels this past Thursday (Feb. 17, where things stayed uneventful due to a shortage of backup cars).
Sunday’s (Feb. 20) 500-mile race is the first time we’ll really see these cars in a full, 40-car pack at speed in full competition. Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman qualified on the front row in a Hendrick Motorsports sweep, while Duel winners Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher (in an RFK Racing sweep) make up the second pairing. Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Ryan Blaney, Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10.
However, Briscoe, along with 33rd-place starter Daniel Hemric, will be relegated to the back due to inspection failures. As such, Chase Elliott — who just signed a five-year contract extension with Hendrick – slots into the 10th starting spot. Hemric then failed a third time, meaning the No. 16 will complete a pass-through penalty to begin the event.
#NASCAR … Cars of Daniel Hemric and Chase Briscoe will go to the rear for two inspection failures. They also both lose a crew member.
Car chief on 14 has been ejected
Engineer on 16 has been ejected
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) February 20, 2022
Hemric car has failed for a third time. That would be a pass-through at start of race. First time was body and second time was toe. Haven’t heard what third time was. pic.twitter.com/oD2hwi7xFA
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 20, 2022
Greg Biffle and Kaz Grala made it into the 500 by virtue of racing in during the Duels. Racing for NY Racing and The Money Team, respectively, the pair were set to start 28th and 35th before any lineup changes.
A host of past Daytona winners populate the field; McDowell is the most recent 500 champion, having pulled off the upset last year when the Penske Sea parted in a last-lap crash and the No. 34 snuck through to get the win. Other past 500 winners include Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon. Outside of McDowell, no past winner of the Great American Race is starting in the top 10.
A few new faces dot the field, as well. Rookies Cindric, Burton and Todd Gilliland compete in their first Daytona 500s as full-time Cup drivers for Team Penske, Wood Brothers Racing and Front Row Motorsports, respectively.
Hemric and Haley will run for Kaulig Racing, the former in the team’s part-time Cup car and Haley in Kaulig’s debut as a full-time Cup team. Jones and Ty Dillon are in the newly combined Petty GMS Racing’s pair of Chevrolets, while the expanded Trackhouse Racing Team fields holdover Daniel Suarez and newcomer Ross Chastain.
Additionally, Kurt Busch will race in a Toyota for the first time in his career, joining 23XI Racing as a teammate to Bubba Wallace.
In the weekend’s previous races, Austin Hill emerged victorious in Saturday’s (Feb. 19) Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner 300 at the superspeedway. Hill’s win was overshadowed by a horrific last-lap crash in which Myatt Snider‘s No. 31 was turned towards the outside wall and achieved takeoff, the back end lifting up until the car was vertical before snagging the catch fence.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) February 20, 2022
The fence tore the back end and then the engine from the No. 31, which ground to a halt in the infield grass. Snider exited under his own power and, apart from some apparent leg soreness, was shaken up but okay.
Hill, meanwhile, continued a trend for himself: he took his previous team, Hattori Racing, to victory lane in his debut with them at Daytona in 2019. Just three years later, he took Richard Childress Racing to the same spot in his first race with them.
On Friday (Feb. 18), Zane Smith survived overtime to win Friday’s NextEra Energy 250 after a nearly-20-truck crash in the trioval set up a final restart.
— Zach Sturniolo (@zachstur) February 19, 2022
Another small crash after the subsequent white flag ended the race prematurely and made Smith the first winner of the 2021 Camping World Truck Series season.
As for Sunday, the Daytona 500 is set to kick off primary coverage at 2:30 p.m. ET, with the green flag shortly after 3 p.m. ET with coverage on FOX’s flagship station.
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.