Race Weekend Central

2023 Daytona 500: 4 Storylines to Watch

As the 65th annual Daytona 500 draws ever closer, the anticipation has built to a fever pitch. Here are four main storylines to keep you focused that our Frontstretch experts at the track are watching leading into this event.

Daytona Theme: Drivers With Nothing to Lose

Plenty of storylines this week have surrounded people making a part-time effort for this 500. There’s Travis Pastrana, armed with top-tier equipment at 23XI Racing. Conor Daly caught a lucky break to be an NTT IndyCar Series crossover in the Great American Race.

And Jimmie Johnson (more on him in a minute) returns to the sport after retiring a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.

It’s a group with nothing to lose inside a pack expected to be superglued together all day. Expect a lot of aggression along with a retiring Kevin Harvick competing in his final Daytona 500. Even Zane Smith, part of the first ever Cup-Xfinity-Craftsman Truck series reigning champion trio to be in this field, might have something to say about this outcome with the way Front Row Motorsports has performed.

My pick to win, Duel winner Aric Almirola, even feels like he’s on borrowed time after rescinding his retirement in the middle of last season. A lot of hunger combined with parity should lead to a highly competitive 500. – Tom Bowles

See also
Jeffrey Earnhardt Beefs With Parker Kligerman After Daytona Incident - 'Just Lack of Talent'

New Digs, Newfound Success For Kyle Busch?

Kyle Busch has gone from the candy man at M&M’s to a man carrying the load as a leader with Richard Childress Racing. It’s his first season driving RCR’s No. 8 after 15 years running for Joe Gibbs Racing.

While Busch has won two championships, the Daytona 500 has always eluded Busch (0-for-17). It still feels like something’s missing on his resume; ex-teammate Denny Hamlin said in a press conference this week he would not trade one Daytona 500 trophy for a championship.

With Busch leaving Toyota, President David Wilson still seemed a little bothered during a press conference by the topic of losing such a marquee driver. So it’s clear people still think the 37-year-old can compete at the highest level.

Can Busch put what happened in Thursday’s (Feb. 16) Duel behind him, in a backup car after Daniel Suarez spun him out while leading? Busch is the new man in black with Richard Childress Racing some 25 years after Dale Earnhardt broke through and won his first Great American Race. Will the Daytona tides turn for Busch where he follows suit, bringing a Daytona 500 win back to Welcome, North Carolina? –Jared Haas

Jimmie Johnson’s Triumphant Return?

There’s yet another open-wheel racer trying his hand in the Daytona 500 this Sunday (Feb. 19) inside the 40-car field at Daytona. Johnson’s had his time running IndyCar, competing in the Indianapolis 500, and now he’s coming to trade the rectangle-shaped legendary circuit for the oval-shaped high banks of Daytona in a non-chartered team.

Nope, I’m not talking about Conor Daly. Instead, this open-wheel racer is familiar to Daytona, capturing the Great American Race twice and has seven NASCAR Cup Series championships.

See also
Jimmie Johnson & Travis Pastrana Bond Over Daytona 500 Berth

Jimmie Johnson has returned to the central Florida circuit with his co-owned race team Legacy Motor Club in an attempt to notch another Daytona 500 victory on his belt. This time, he returns with teammates Noah Gragson and Erik Jones to work with him, two rising talents within Chevrolet.

Johnson’s not here to ride around in the back, though. The champ is here to win, and he’s got the speed to do it. In first practice, the No. 84 reached the top of the charts over 36 other entrants that ran during the session.

Since Johnson had to qualify on speed, he starts further back in the field, but don’t expect him to stay there long. – Dalton Hopkins

Is This Daytona 500 Ford’s To Lose?

Earlier this month on his new podcast, “Actions Detrimental,” Denny Hamlin put out a warning. With the new body changes with each of the manufacturers in the offseason, the Fords would be the OEM to beat when it came to fast tracks and superspeedways. So far, following the qualifying races won by Joey Logano and Aric Almirola, Hamlin’s been proven right.

Fords have won the last two Daytona 500s, with Michael McDowell and Austin Cindric. Can they make it three in a row? – Daniel McFadin

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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

Jared Haas joined the Frontstretch staff in May 2020. A graduate of Cedarville University in December 2019, Jared has been a NASCAR fan since 2006. Jared has worked with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2023.

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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