“People are always excited for the start of the year,” three-time Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin said. “They could put this race in April and it’s still going to be the biggest race of the year.”
From its humble beginnings on the Daytona beaches to fantastic finishes, the “Great American Race” has seen it all.
Daytona Beach became the unofficial “birthplace of speed” in 1903 when two men argued over who had the fastest horseless carriage and decided things in a race on the white, hardpacked sand along the Atlantic Ocean.
Since then, the community of 72,000-plus in the heart of Florida’s Fun Coast region has become a motorsports mecca, with a long, storied history it shares with nearby Ormond Beach which is filled with thrills and glory.
But racing at the Daytona International Speedway has seen its fair share of tragic accidents, none more horrific than the 2001 crash that claimed the life of racing legend Dale Earnhardt.
This year, on the race’s 65th anniversary, the thrill of the 500 miles has every driver ready to take home the checkered flag.
“The race is not over until it’s over. I recognize that and a lot can happen in 500 miles,” NASCAR driver Chase Elliott said. “So for me, I’m just thinking about ‘hey, how can I position myself in the best place possible to get myself and my team a chance at the end.'”
The final two open spots and the starting order will be settled in Thursday night’s duel qualifying races. NASCAR drivers Conor Daly, Austin Hill, Chandler Smith and Zane Smith will vie for the two open spots.
Fans are already starting to camp out ahead of the race in full force, forging allegiances with drivers. Win or lose, these race-crazed fanatics are all in.
“I want to be right here at Daytona for the 500. That’s the only place I want to be. I would quit my job if I had to just so I could do that. Then I’d go looking for work Monday,” Daytona 500 fan Doug Ezzell said.
“We are at Daytona 500! What better place could you be?” fan Greg Everett said.
In 2023, NASCAR marked its 75th anniversary, a year that will be marked with plenty of reflection on the industry’s memorable moments, greatest drivers and fantastic finishes.
It’s the future that seems most exciting. NASCAR will run its first street course race in Chicago, the latest creative jolt to the schedule that has seen a race inside the LA Coliseum each of the last two years.
Rappers and athletes and drivers are in the ownership mix and NASCAR is set to negotiate a new TV contract that could dwarf the $8.2 billion deal that ends next year.
It all kicks off Sunday where it all began with another running of the “Great American Race.”
NewsNation’s Devan Markham and the Associated Press contributed to this report.