The 65th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday is not short of storylines, ranging from those trying to score their first win in this event to the talented list of drivers just trying to make the 40-car field.
Here are some things to watch this week at Daytona International Speedway:
Will the drought end?
Dale Earnhardt won his lone Daytona 500 in his 20th start in the race, the record for most starts by a driver before winning this race.
Martin Truex Jr. will make his 19th career Daytona 500 start Sunday. Kyle Busch will make his 18th career start in the race. Brad Keselowski will make his 14th career start in the Daytona 500. None has won this race.
Truex lost the 2016 race by 0.01 seconds, the closest finish in Daytona 500 history. He has not finished better than 13th in this race since that day.
Busch, who is with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the last 15 seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, has led 324 laps in the Daytona 500, the most by a driver who has not won the 500. He finished second in the 2019 race by .138 seconds. Busch finished sixth in last year’s race. He’s never had back-to-back top 10s in the Daytona 500.
Keselowski has won six times at Talladega and the summer Daytona race once but has never finished better than third in the Daytona 500.
A return to Victory Lane?
Hendrick Motorsports has eight Daytona 500 victories — second in series history to Petty Enterprises’ nine — but has not won the race since Dale Earnhardt Jr. did in 2014.
Hendrick Motorsports has won the Daytona 500 only twice since 2007 (Jimmie Johnson in 2013 and Earnhardt in 2014). Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing both have three Daytona 500 wins during that time.
Only once since 2016 has Hendrick Motorsports had a car finish the Daytona 500 in the top five. Chase Elliott placed second in 2021 to Michael McDowell.
Looking to bring Hendrick another Daytona 500 victory this year will be Elliott, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron.
Another Daytona 500 win?
Denny Hamlin is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Allison with three Daytona 500 wins.
If Hamlin wins the race again, he will tie Cale Yarborough for second on the all-time victory list with four Daytona 500 triumphs. Richard Petty has a record seven Daytona 500 victories.
Hamlin has seven top-five finishes — including three wins — in the last nine of years of this race.
Is it their time?
Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney have both come close to winning the Daytona 500 but have yet to do so. They both nearly won this race last year.
Wallace finished second to Austin Cindric by .036 seconds. It marked the second time Wallace has finished runner-up in the Daytona 500. He also was second in the 2018 race, finishing 0.26 seconds behind Austin Dillon.
Blaney was in contention for the win last year before Cindric blocked him coming to the checkered flag and caused Blaney to hit the wall. Blaney finished fourth. He has twice finished second in the Daytona 500 (2017 to Kurt Busch and 2020 to Denny Hamlin). Blaney has won at Daytona, taking the checkered flag in the summer race in 2021.
Who is next to surprise?
Michael McDowell scored his first career Cup win when he took the checkered flag in the 2021 Daytona 500.
Rookie Austin Cindric scored his first career series win when he won this race a year ago.
Neither driver was a favorite to win the year they did. Could there be another driver not viewed as a favorite to win the Daytona 500?
One final ride
This will be Kevin Harvick’s final Daytona 500. He’ll retire from Cup after this season and move to the Fox Sports booth next year.
The 2007 Daytona 500 winner has finished in the top five twice in the last three years.
Six cars for four spots
Who gets in and who fails to make the Daytona 500 could be among the more fascinating storylines early in the week.
There are four spots available for cars without charters. Six such cars are entered.
Those drivers are: Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), action sports star Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), IndyCar driver Conor Daly (The Money Team Racing), reigning Craftsman Truck champion Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Xfinity rookie Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and 2022 Xfinity rookie of the year Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).
The two fastest non-chartered cars in Wednesday’s qualifying will be guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500. The other two spots will be determined in Thursday’s qualifying race.