The 2022 NASCAR season is officially underway. After hosting a limited capacity event in 2021, over 100,000 fans got to see all 40 drivers take the green flag in the birthplace of stock car racing. This race was full of excitement and allowed fans to truly see what the brand new Next-Gen car could do in a high-stakes race like the Daytona 500.
Reigning cup series champion Kyle Larson was able to capture the pole for this year’s race, starting alongside his teammate Alex Bowman in an all Hendrick Motorsports front row. However, Larson was unsuccessful in leading the first lap, as it was quickly secured by Brad Keselowski, who did not make any friends in this race.
Stage 1 showed fans how different pit stops look now, with the Next Gen cars having one lug nut in the center of the tire, instead of the previous five lug nuts. This is already proving to be a learning curve for drivers and crews with both Kaz Grala and JJ Yeley having a wheel fall of their cars within 15 minutes of each other. Stage 1 ended in fireworks, with Brad Keselowski giving a strong push to rookie Harrison Burton, leading to an 8 car wreck. This wreck knocked out 3-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, along with Hendrick heavyweights Alex Bowman and William Byron.
Stage 2 remained mildly uneventful in comparison to Stage 1, with the Ford brigade leading the way until their schedule pit stops on lap 92. They were able to regain this lead, with Keselowski getting back upfront as the laps in this stage winded down. Joey Logano eventually inherited this lead and was well on his way to winning the stage, until Martin Truex Jr. stole the show, giving him a sweep on the day for the preliminary stages.
The fireworks were back in the final stage when the 8 car of Tyler Reddick got loose and slammed into the wall, collecting multiple cars in his wake. Logano took a ride through the grass along with Kurt Busch, giving them both damage along with Stages 1 & 2 winner Truex Jr. As the laps in the final stage start to wind down, it’s a battle of the Fords and Toyotas in the lead. Bubba Wallace and Austin Cindric have a lengthy battle for the lead, with assistance from each of their manufacturer teammates, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.
Eventually, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. files into the lead within the last 20 laps, with pole-sitter Kyle Larson in tow. In the final 10 laps, we see another significant wreck. With Larson running behind him, Harvick spins out and collects 5 cars with him. This isn’t the end of wrecks for the day. With 5 to go, Keselowski caused his third wreck of the day after giving an aggressive shove to Stenhouse Jr., sending him hard into the wall. This files Austin Cindric into the lead.
When the flag dropped for the final restart, chaos broke loose. Cindric shot up the track to block fellow Ford Ryan Blaney, where the two cars made contact with each other and the wall. This left an opening for Bubba Wallace on the lower lane, with the two racing side-by-side until the end. Cindric was able to beat out Wallace in a photo finish and became the 2nd youngest winner of the Daytona 500.