It’s been an interesting Daytona Speedweeks so far, and it looks like Sunday’s Daytona 500 (FOX, noon ET) could be a classic, with a highly competitive field and a number of potential winners.
Here are seven feel-good stories from Daytona so far in this edition of Speedweeks.
7. Daytona Rising — The $400 million renovation and reimagining of Daytona International Speedway is every bit as amazing as promised. The world’s first motorsports stadium has raised the bar exponentially for every other facility.
6. Weather — It sounds trite, but weather plays a huge factor in the quality of experience for race fans, and in recent years, it’s often been miserable at Daytona. But this Speedweeks, it’s been chamber-of-commerce perfect. Sunday’s forecast is for a high of 75 degrees and 0 percent chance of rain.
5. Wood Brothers — NASCAR’s oldest team was shut out in the sanctioning body’s new Charter system, which means it will make considerably less money than other full-time teams and will have to race its way into the field every weekend. But the No. 21 Ford has been fast all week, with rookie driver Ryan Blaney qualifying seventh for the Daytona 500. Running well is the best revenge.
4. Michael McDowell — Thirty days ago, McDowell didn’t have a ride. Now he’s in the Daytona 500 field. The soft-spoken Arizona native said that in more than 200 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, he’s only been locked into the field before qualifying just 10 times.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — NASCAR’s most popular driver delighted his huge Junior Nation fan base by winning the first Can-Am Duel qualifying race. But it was an especially memorable victory for Earnhardt, because it came on the 15th anniversary of his father’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
2. Robert Richardson — The last driver to lock himself into the Daytona 500 was Richardson, who works full-time as a hay production manager on a farm in Pilot Point, Texas. This is his only scheduled Sprint Cup race of the year and just the ninth of his career.
1. Kyle Busch — Last year, Busch left Daytona in an ambulance after breaking his right leg and left foot in a harrowing crash in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race. Thursday night, he left Daytona Victory Lane with a trophy in his hand after winning the second Can-Am Duel.