You don’t have to wait long in the grandstands at a NASCAR race before someone references the 1990 fan-favorite film “Days of Thunder,” or its most famous quote, “Rubbin’, son, is racing.”
A sold-out crowd in Florida is bound to see contact and fireworks, as cars bump-draft their way to the front and jostle three-wide when 40 competitors take the green flag at the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s annual premier event.
Clear skies are forecast for the race set to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox.
Before drivers hit the track, here’s what you need to know to get up to speed for “The Great American Race.”
After years of development and testing, the arrival of the series’ “Next Gen” vehicles means that every car that hits the track today has never been used in an official points race.
Out with the old, in with the new
The new body styles and components for the competing Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas were designed to help curb costs for teams and provide closer racing.
The cars made their debut earlier this month at the exhibition Busch Light Clash race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to rave reviews. But that race – on a temporary, quarter-mile oval – will be far different than Sunday’s race on the famed 2.5-mile circuit.
HMS up front
Hendrick Motorsports, one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history, is poised to start the year off strong after its four cars ran some of the fastest lap times in Wednesday’s single-lap qualifying.
Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson in the #5 Chevrolet will be on the pole after an average lap speed of 181.159 mph. Teammate Alex Bowman in the #48 – previously driven by seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson before retiring in 2020 – will start second.
But it is not just HMS flexing its muscles early. Driver Brad Keselowski, now racing as a co-owner for the newly christened RFK Racing, and teammate Chris Buescher each won the two preliminary Duel heat races on Thursday in their Fords.
Celebrity car owners
Another driver juggling the role of team owner, Denny Hamlin, and NBA legend Michael Jordan made a splash last season when they teamed up to create 23XI Racing.
Former boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s TMT Racing will make its debut with Kaz Grala at the wheel. The team qualified for the race on Thursday and will start 35th.
Another well-known team investor is singer and entertainer Pitbull, whose Trackhouse Racing fields two cars driven by Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain.
Suarez, who hails from Monterrey, Mexico, is one of two international drivers in the field. Canadian and 1997 Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve will start his first ever Daytona 500 in 40th.
Where first-time winners are crowned
The 500 is known for its door-to-door racing and slingshot drafting, with the entire field running within seconds of each other from front to back. And a well-timed maneuver at the right moment can give those racing for lesser-funded teams their best chance at winning all season.
Journeyman Michael McDowell competed on the circuit for years before taking home his first career victory in last year’s edition. The defending race winner has run well in practice sessions this week and starts 6th.
Other drivers throughout Daytona 500 history who collected their first career Cup win include Sterling Marlin – who won it in 1994 and then again in 1995 – and Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 race in only his second ever NASCAR Cup start.
Michael Waltrip had raced for 15 seasons without a victory before finally capturing the checkered flag in the 2001 Daytona 500. That race, however, was marred by the crash that took the life of NASCAR legend and Waltrip’s car owner Dale Earnhardt.
Spins and wins
The side-by-side battles that define Daytona can result in photo finishes, even after 200 laps and 500 miles of racing.
At the inaugural 500 in 1959, Lee Petty, father of “The King” Richard Petty, beat Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish.
In 2016, Hamlin nudged passed Martin Truex Jr. for the victory by a mere 0.01 seconds, crossing the line inches ahead.
No finish may top the 1979 edition, the first to be broadcast in its entirety.
Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wrecked each other on the final lap while fighting for the win. After their cars slid to a halt, the two engaged in a fistfight live on television, demonstrating that the action after the race can be just as exciting.