The 2021 NASCAR season is finally upon us. With the excitement that is Speedweeks, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. So to help make things easier, we narrowed down the five storylines you should be paying attention to this weekend.
New Opportunity for Bubba Wallace
After an emotional and challenging season for NASCAR’s lone Black driver, a new opportunity has presented itself for Bubba Wallace. New racing team 23XI, co-owned by Michael Jordan and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, will field Wallace this season. Bubba previously raced the 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, now driven by Erik Jones. The 23 car has impressed so far this week after leading opening practice and qualifying for the Daytona 500 in the top 10 at 6th. It’ll be very interesting to see how Wallace performs in this new equipment and if he can finally capture that elusive first win.
Three in a Row for Denny Hamlin?
Denny Hamlin has won three Daytona 500 races in his career so far, (2016, 2019, 2020), but this year is different. Denny has the opportunity to make history and become the first driver to win the Great American race three times in a row. Hamlin will roll off 25th on Sunday, so he’ll have some work to do to get to the front. After a phenomenal seven-win 2020 season that ended with him finishing 4th in the standings, Hamlin will be looking to get this season started off with a bang.
Chasing the Champion
It’s safe to say many eyes will be watching NASCAR’s fan-favorite Chase Elliott on Sunday. Elliott won the 2020 Cup Series Championship at age 24, becoming the third-youngest driver to accomplish such a feat. He is one of four drivers in the field on Sunday who have won a championship but not the Daytona 500, aligning himself with Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch. After reaching the highest level of the sport at such a young age, Elliott now has the chance to expand his resume even more. Elliott has already shown a new level of aggression so far this season after wrecking off-track friend Ryan Blaney in the Clash on Tuesday night.
Redemption for Kyle Busch
2019 Cup Series Champion had a disappointing 2020 season, to say the least. Busch didn’t earn his first win of 2020 until the 34th (out of 36) race of the season, and he didn’t earn his first stage win until the 19th race of the season at Kansas Speedway. He entered the playoffs with 3 playoff points, in comparison to the 45 playoff points he had at the beginning of the 2019 playoffs. It’s no secret that Busch will be looking to redeem himself this year. Busch and championship-winning crew chief Adam Stevens parted ways this offseason, and Ben Beshore will be on top of the box for the 18 car this year. It already appears that the Kyle all race fans know has returned with his Clash victory.
The 2020 Daytona 500 ended with a terrifying wreck. The 6 car of Ryan Newman wrecked on the final lap of the race, and many were alarmed when Newman didn’t respond on his in-car radio. Many say the mood felt reminiscent of the fatal 2001 crash that killed Dale Earnhardt. Newman thankfully walked out of the hospital a couple days later, but the concern still lingers. Daytona has been known for some intense wrecks, and the safety measures taken by NASCAR have prevented more tragedy. But some intense wrecks in the Duels and the Camping World Truck Series so far this week have raised some concern.