The 2023 NASCAR regular season started off with a bang on Sunday with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. winning the 65th edition of the Daytona 500.
The new “long weekend” style of Speedweeks started Wednesday night with single-car qualifying, which concluded with Alex Bowman on the pole, his sixth straight front-row start in the 500, where he was joined by fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson.
Jimmie Johnson and Travis Pastrana locked themselves into the Great American Race based on qualifying speeds from Wednesday, leaving Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Austin Hill, and Zane Smith to duke it out in the duels to fill in the remaining two spots.
A caution-free first duel saw defending series champion Joey Logano take the checkered flag and Zane Smith lock himself into the show.
The second duel featured more action than the first, notably featuring a big accident that was triggered after Daniel Suarez made contact with Kyle Busch, turning him sideways and into the outside wall of the backstretch.
The accident also collected Riley Herbst, Travis Pastrana, and Austin Hill, the latter of whom needed a decent finish to lock into Sunday’s show and was sent home.
Aric Almirola, who won a duel in 2021, secured the victory and Conor Daly locked himself into the Daytona 500 despite mechanical shortcomings on the number 50 car.
Friday and Saturday featured additional practice sessions, which were topped by Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, respectively.
The Daytona 500 itself on Sunday afternoon started under clear skies in front of a sold-out crowd. Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson led the field for a majority of the opening laps before the field began to string out.
The first stage went caution-free despite a spin from Riley Herbst as he attempted his first pit stop of the afternoon. Bubba Wallace also sustained minor damage in a separate incident while leading the race.
Brad Keselowski won the opening stage over Ryan Preece, with Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, and 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell rounding out the top five.
The second stage featured the first cautions for incident, highlighted by a big accident on lap 118. The wreck was set off after Kevin Harvick made contact with Tyler Reddick in Turn 3. The incident collected multiple cars and forced Reddick, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones out of the race.
Ross Chastain, a Florida native, went on to win the second stage ahead of Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Joey Logano, and 2022 Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric.
The third and final stage kicked off with 36 of the 40 drivers still in contention to win.
That all changed with less than 20 laps left in the race when Michael McDowell and Ryan Preece got together, which set off the second multi-car accident of the night.
In all, seven cars took damage. Preece and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe retired from the race as a result of the accident.
The field was rather dicey on the ensuing restart, and after some wild saves and several momentum killers, the field was strung out with less than 10 laps to go.
The Roush Fenway Keselowski Fords of Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski had linked up and shot to the front, as they had done most of the evening. The Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets of Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch followed suit.
With just three laps to go in the race, Daniel Suarez spun out and set up a chaotic overtime restart just as Busch and Dillon took the top spots away from the RFK drivers.
Busch took the lead on the restart but was passed on the backstretch by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Joey Logano. Just seconds later, Austin Dillon was turned in front of the field. Roughly nine cars were collected, with Dillon, William Byron, Justin Haley, and Jimmie Johnson retiring from the event.
Stenhouse led on the final restart and a massive shove from Joey Logano allowed him to clear the pack at the white flag.
Heading into turn one on the final lap, Travis Pastrana got a nudge from behind by Aric Almirola which set off the final big crash of the night.
The caution was called which ended the race and after a brief discussion by officials, it was ruled that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was ahead at the time of the caution, giving him the victory.
“This is unbelievable…Daytona 500,” Stenhouse said in his post-race interview with Fox Sports.
It was Stenhouse’s first win in the Daytona 500, second at Daytona, and third of his Cup career. Joining him in the top ten were Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, and Riley Herbst.
The Cup Series marches west, kicking off a three-week stretch on the west coast next weekend at Fontana. Follow Max on Twitter for more NASCAR content