Daytona 500 2021: Complete Schedule, TV Info for NASCAR OpenerFebruary 11, 2021
When the green flag waves at the 2021 Daytona 500 on Sunday, it will be Alex Bowman leading the 40-car field into the start of a new NASCAR Cup Series season. However, Bowman will be doing so in a new ride.
After seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson retired following the 2020 season, Bowman has taken over the No. 48 Chevrolet after driving for Hendrick Motorsports the past three years.
And it hasn't taken long for the 27-year-old to get comfortable with his new ride, after earning pole position during Daytona 500 qualifying on Wednesday night with a lap time of 47.056 seconds.
It was the second time in four years that Bowman earned the top spot on the grid for the Daytona 500, and he started second the other two times. He'll be joined on the front row by one of his teammates, as William Byron's qualifying lap time of 47.314 seconds earned him the No. 2 starting spot.
The rest of the Daytona 500 field will be set by the Bluegreen Vacations Duels, a pair of 150-mile races set to take place Thursday night.
Here's a look at the upcoming schedule for the rest of the week, followed by more on Thursday's duel races.
Daytona 500 Week Cup Series Schedule
Thursday, Feb. 11
Bluegreen Vacations Duels, 7 p.m. ET, FS1 and Fox Sports app
Saturday, Feb. 13
Second practice, 9:30 a.m. ET, FS2 and Fox Sports app
Final practice, noon ET, FS1 and Fox Sports app
Sunday, Feb. 14
Daytona 500, 2:30 p.m. ET, Fox and Fox Sports app
Daytona 500 Duels Preview
Hendrick Motorsports has dominated Daytona 500 qualifying in recent seasons, as one of its drivers has won the pole in six of the past seven years. So, it's no surprise that Bowman and Byron will be on the front row in 2021.
It also wouldn't be a shock to see Hendrick drivers fare well during the duel races on Thursday. Although Bowman and Byron have locked in their starting positions, they could still post strong finishes as they get more valuable track time ahead of Sunday's race.
Cup Series champion Chase Elliott is a two-time duels race winner for Hendrick, while Kyle Larson, who is entering his first season with the team, has had some solid showings at Daytona in recent years. So, perhaps Wednesday's qualifying was the start of a strong week for the team to open the 2021 season.
"It's a testament to these guys and everybody back in the shop at Hendrick Motorsports," Bowman said, per Holly Cain of NASCAR.com. "They work so hard on these superspeedway cars. They are beautiful when they get to the race track. Our Ally Camaro has been really fast since we unloaded and they focused a lot on trying to get the pole for the Daytona 500."
Another driver to watch is Bubba Wallace, who is entering his first season driving the No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing (which is owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan). On Wednesday, the 27-year-old had the fastest lap time during the first Daytona 500 practice session before qualifying with a time of 45.057 seconds.
Wallace then had the fourth-fastest lap time during qualifying (47.474 seconds), so he'll be starting second in the second duel race on Thursday night.
"I think the way things are going, we just have to keep it going, keep the positive momentum going," he said, per Cain. "Everything's kind of going well in the car. I'm confident. Still getting things worked out but all in all it comes pretty natural when you have a great team behind you."
Martin Truex Jr. (45.069 seconds), Denny Hamlin (45.07), Kyle Busch (45.084) and Christopher Bell (45.085) rounded out the top five during the first practice, all of whom are also Toyota drivers.
Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 each of the past two years, and he was victorious in 2020 despite starting at the rear of the grid. He's starting seventh in the first duel race, so he'll look to earn a better position before trying to become the first driver to win the Great American Race in three successive years.