DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Just two weeks after the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series strolled down Hollywood’s backyard in the Busch Light Clash, they walked again on a red carpet of their own at Daytona International Speedway.
With the 65th Annual Daytona 500 on the horizon this Sunday, NASCAR drivers of all faces came out to speak during Wednesday’s (Feb. 15) media day.
Frontstretch‘s at-track crew was there to talk to the drivers – some familiar and some not – that will take on the high banks of Daytona to start the 2023 season.
First, the familiar.
You know him. You remember him, and he’s back for another shot at the Daytona 500.
While seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson may have been away from the NASCAR scene for a couple of years, he’s back for more. This time, however, he returns under a new team co-ownership role for the reinvigorated Legacy Motor Club.
Also unlike last time, he’ll have to qualify or race his way into the big show on Sunday in his new No. 84 Chevrolet. He talked about his return and the pressure that comes with it.
On the other side of the room was Kyle Larson.
The 2021 Cup Series champion has fallen just short of a victory in the “Great American Race” multiple times, and while he talked about his efforts in that 500-mile race, he also discussed his preparation for the Indianapolis 500 that he’ll compete in in 2024.
Kyle Busch is back as well and with a new ride.
In fact, he’ll have two.
While Rowdy will climb into the No. 8 Chevrolet in his first season with Richard Childress Racing, he’ll also make a few starts in his return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing.
With a new ride comes a new teammate.
Austin Dillon had plenty to say about what it’s like to be Busch’s new Cup Series teammate and how the Las Vegas native can help improve the storied race team.
While it’ll be the newest Cup Series rookie Noah Gragson‘s second career Daytona 500 start this Sunday, it’ll also be his second start under the banner of his new sponsor Wendy’s.
He discussed the new partnership – including his favorite sandwich – and compared his new team owner Johnson with that of his former Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Now for the not-so-familiar.
It’s not action sports legend Travis Pastrana‘s first attempt in a NASCAR stock car, but it is his first in a Cup car. Additionally, that attempt will come on the biggest stage in stock car racing in the Daytona 500.
And he still has to qualify for the race first.
Oh, and he kept spinning the car while practicing in the simulator.
He talked about the pressure that’s on him to make the 500, his decision to do it, and the nervousness that comes with it.
But in classic Pastrana fashion, he did it all with a smile on his face.
It’s not NTT IndyCar Series star Conor Daly‘s first time in a Cup car, but it almost doesn’t feel like it.
The open-wheel racer’s first and only Cup race was during last year’s Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval race with Money Team Racing.
Now he’s back with the No. 50 for what will be the first of a handful of races in 2023 and compared it to the challenges of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, who he called to ask advice from before his decision and which IndyCar legend he accidentally called.
Unlike the two above, Riley Herbst is already locked into the Daytona 500 despite never having started a Cup Series race before.
With Rick Ware Racing’s charter for its No. 15 entry securing a spot for him in the field, all Herbst has to do tomorrow is keep the car in one piece, and he’ll get to make his first start in the Great American Race on Sunday.
Heck, he really doesn’t even have to do that.
He discussed his excitement for his first start and his outlook for the 2023 season with Stewart-Haas Racing in his third full-time Xfinity season.
There’s more where that came from. Check out the Frontstretch YouTube page for all of the driver interviews and content from Wednesday.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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