Happy early Daytona Day! The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season will commence this weekend with the annual running of the Daytona 500. Like Daytona International Speedway, the race traces its history back to 1959 and is widely recognized as the most prestigious race on the schedule. The Daytona 500 has been the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series season every year dating back to 1982.
Whether you fall into the category of die-hard racing fans or are more casually involved, the Daytona 500 is one not to miss. This article contains all of the vital information necessary to get you ready for the biggest weekend of the NASCAR season including the Daytona 500 start time, starting grid and statistics.
NASCAR Cup Series at Daytona
Daytona 500 Race Info
63rd Daytona 500
Date: Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021
Start Time: 2:30 p.m. EST
Track: Daytona International Speedway — Daytona Beach, FL
Pole Sitter: TBD
Defending Champion: Denny Hamlin
Daytona 500 Race Details
Distance: 500 miles
Lap Length: 2.5 miles (4.0 kilometers)
Stages: Three (Laps 1-65; Laps 66-130; Laps 131-200)
Daytona 500 Qualifying Overview
The method for determining the Daytona 500 starting order is different from all other races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The two cars on the front row will be determined through a standard individual-car qualifying session which is scheduled for Wednesday night. The drivers that run the fastest laps during this time trial event will start at the front of the field.
Daytona Duels Qualifying Process
The next 34 cars in the Daytona 500 starting lineup is determined by the Duels. Scheduled to take place on Thursday night, the Duels are a pair of 150-mile races to set the order of the 500 field. Cars that finish with an odd-numbered placeholder in the individual qualifying session (third, fifth, etc.) will race in Duel 1. Cars with an even-numbered placeholder (fourth, sixth, etc.) from the time trials will race in Duel 2.
Note that when it comes to improving their starting position, drivers only have to beat the drivers in their respective duel race. Duel 1 drivers will line up in the order of finish on the inside row while Duel 2 drivers will do the same on the outside.
Daytona 500 Qualifying for Non-Charter Teams
So, if the Daytona 500 field contains 40 cars and we've accounted for the qualifying procedures of 36 thus far, what about the other four? The last two rows on the starting grid are for cars that do not have a charter exemption. These will be drivers and teams who are not running a full-time NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2021. The fastest car on the open-entry list in each duel race receives a spot in the field. The last two spots are granted to the two fastest cars in individual qualifying who did not qualify through the duels.
Daytona 500 Stats
- Richard Petty has the most Daytona 500 wins of any driver all-time with seven.
- Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers with three wins.
- Active NASCAR Cup Series drivers with at least one Daytona 500 victory are Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon.
- Denny Hamlin has won three of the last five Daytona 500 races (2016, 2019, 2020).
- Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 24 wins.
- Petty Enterprises holds the most wins of any race team with nine.
- Hendrick Motorsports leads all active race teams with eight wins but hasn't won since 2014.
- The 1980 edition of the race was the fastest in history. Buddy Baker won with an average speed of 177.602 mph.
- The average speed of 2020 winner Denny Hamlin was 141.11 mph.
Daytona 500 History and Fast Facts
- The first-ever 500 was held in 1959 as the "Inaugural 500 Mile International Sweepstakes"; the race was won by Lee Petty.
- Common nicknames for the Daytona 500 include "The Great American Race" and "The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing".
- There is a massive lake on the infield of Daytona International Speedway known as Lake Lloyd; it is the result of the hole that was dug in order to move dirt under the heavily-banked turns of the speedway.
- The 16 cautions in 2011 were the most ever in the history of the race.
- Donald Trump became the first United States president to serve as Grand Marshal when he paced the opening lap of the 2020 race in the Presidential state car.
- Pitbull will serve as the Grand Marshal for the 2021 race. WWE superstar Sasha Banks will be the honorary starter.