2021 Daytona 500: Key race story lines, season preview, predictions

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Staff Report
·4 min read
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The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season begins Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, the birthplace of speed.

Chase Elliott is the reigning and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion. Denny Hamlin looks to make history as the first driver to ever three-peat in the Daytona 500 — as well as capture that elusive series championship come November. Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez are the engines behind 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing Team, which make their team debut alongside Live Fast Motorsports.

Kyle Busch has a new crew chief, and a new outlook. Alex Bowman takes over the historic No. 48 Chevrolet — and he has a new teammate in Kyle Larson, who brings back the No. 5.

Yes, this may be the start of the Best Season Ever as we near the green flag for the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

RELATED: Daytona 500 lineup | Speedweeks schedule

NASCAR.com has you covered from every conceivable angle. Read our full coverage below to get ready for both today’s Daytona 500 and the 2021 season.

NEW DAY AT DAYTONA

Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

• Five to watch: From Denny Hamlin’s bid at history to current superstars who have never won The Great American Race, this is what you need to know. | Read more

• Hello, history?: Four drivers in NASCAR history have had a shot at three consecutive Daytona 500 wins. Here are the three who came before Denny Hamlin, and how they fared in their third attempt. | Read more

May the odds be with you: There’s a familiar face atop the odds board for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Several familiar faces, actually. | Read more

• Back it up: Nearly a quarter of the field will move to a back-up car. Here’s who will, why and how the front row is impacted. | Read more

Daytona, ranked: What makes a great Daytona 500? We explain — and then rank every race since 1959 in order of greatness. | Read more

Take the next step: A Daytona 500 win is on the mind of potential breakout superstar Ryan Blaney. That, and so much more. | Read more

• ‘Google of race shops:’ Read more about the vision 23XI team co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin have for their new team. | Read more

• ‘Worldwide’ exposure: Trackhouse Racing Team has a young and hungry team owner and driver alike in Justin Marks and Daniel Suarez — plus a partner in ‘Pitbull.’ | Read more

Larson is back: Kyle Larson discusses the lessons he has learned since his suspension for using a racial slur last year and his return to the NASCAR Cup Series — with Hendrick Motorsports. | Read more

Moments in time: It just means more here. These are our favorite moments from the Daytona 500, from Dale Earnhardt to Davey Allison to The Fight. | Read more

• Watercolor wonders: Check out these iconic celebrations of Daytona 500 victories in a new light. |Read more

• A split detailed: Kyle Busch has a new crew chief after two championships with Adam Stevens since 2015. “Rowdy” details the reason behind the surprising split. | Read more

• Friends, but frazzled: The ending to the Busch Clash saw last-lap contact and a wreck between pals Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. How are they holding up? | Read more

• Back to school: The yearly “class picture” images are all here, with drivers posing with the cars for a scenic shot at Daytona International Speedway. | Read more

2021: THE YEAR AHEAD

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

• Our picks: Will Chase Elliott repeat? The NASCAR.com staff makes its selections for national-series champions, biggest sleeper selection and more. | Read more

• Previews, previews: We break down the drivers, crew chiefs and top story lines for every full-time NASCAR Cup Series team. | Read more

• That’s a bold move: Sure, we’ve given you our championship picks. But what about some unexpected predictions? Look no further. | Read more

• New faces, new places: What’s different in 2021? Lots. Get caught up quickly on the driver movement that happened in the offseason. | Read more

• You’re a winner!: We took on the task of predicting the winner of all 36 NASCAR Cup Series races before the season begins because … why not? | Read more

• On the move: Quick-hit analysis on more than 60 moves in the offseason, for all three national series. | Read more

LET’S GET GAMING

• NASCAR Fantasy Live: Our Fantasy Live game is back, with all new bonus points. | Read more

• Driver tiers, not tears: The key to winning in Fantasy Live? Managing your driver usage. We break down how to do that effectively. | Read more

• Superspeedway sleepers: Who are the under the radar plays to make? What drivers should avoid for this race? | Read more

• Go long: There’s always an underdog in contention late at Daytona International Speedway. We analyze the track history for some of Sunday’s biggest underdogs. | Read more

Betting preview: Our friends at BetMGM identify three picks to consider before Sunday’s green flag. | Read more

Off to the (Jackpot)Races: Interested in having a shot at $25,000? The free-to-play Jackpot Races app is your ticket. | Learn more