One week after its biggest race, the Daytona 500, NASCAR heads back to the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing to run the 2021 O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 on Daytona International Speedway's road course. It's the first time in history the sport has run back-to-back races at this track, a move necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions. Typically, the sport would be starting its West Coast swing but the pandemic forced a cancellation at Auto Club Speedway in California.
Since the virus is still wreaking havoc across the country, the sport's modified pre-race schedule has returned for 2021. After as "normal" a Speedweeks as you could get for the Great American Race, the road course will feature no practice or qualifying before the event. Drivers won't turn a single lap on the track until the green flag flies this Sunday, making the race a little unpredictable. After all, NASCAR's run just twice on this course in the modern era: last August and two weeks ago in the exhibition Busch Clash.
These scheduling changes mean the grid is set, not by speed, but a special qualifying metric put in place by NASCAR. Here's how it works... each car that's entered into the field has a number calculated for them based on the percentages below.
50% of the metric will be their finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
35% of the metric will be the team's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
15% of the metric will be their fastest lap during the previous race.
Officials will then set the lineup based on those totals (the lower the number, the better the starting spot for each driver). It's the best compromise the sport could make while attempting to limit each team's time at the track as much as possible.
Exactly 40 cars were entered for 40 spots on the grid this week, meaning everyone who entered made the race. 36 of those entries were guaranteed spots while the four "open" cars of JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 37 – Ryan Preece), MBM Motorsports (No. 66 – Timmy Hill), Gaunt Brothers Racing (No. 96 – Ty Dillon), and Kaulig Racing (No. 16 – AJ Allmendinger) round out the field.
1. Chase Elliott
2. Michael McDowell
3. Austin Dillon
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Ryan Preece
7. Corey LaJoie
8. Kyle Larson
9. Ross Chastain
10. Bubba Wallace
11. Joey Logano
12. Christopher Bell
13. Cole Custer
14. Kyle Busch
15. Brad Keselowski
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17. Kurt Busch
18. Chase Briscoe (R)
19. Martin Truex Jr.
20. Justin Haley (i)
21. Cody Ware
22. William Byron
23. Josh Bilicki
24. Tyler Reddick
25. Garrett Smithley (i)
26. Aric Almirola
27. Ryan Blaney
28. Scott Heckert
29. Quin Houff
30. Chris Buescher
31. Anthony Alfredo (R)
32. Matt DiBenedetto
33. Ryan Newman
34. AJ Allmendinger (i)
35. Daniel Suarez
36. Alex Bowman
37. Erik Jones
38. Ty Dillon (i)
39. James Davison
40. Timmy Hill (i)
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Chase Elliott (pole) is the defending race winner and is looking for his fifth straight Cup Series victory on a road course. He's gone 4-for-4 since blowing an engine at Sonoma Raceway in June 2019.
- Michael McDowell (2nd) has the best starting spot of his career one week after his first career Cup victory in the Daytona 500.
- Austin Dillon (3rd) has never earned a top-10 finish on a road course in 15 career starts.
- Denny Hamlin (4th) is the highest-qualifying Toyota in the field.
- Corey LaJoie (7th) has the first top-10 start of his Cup career.
- Bubba Wallace (10th) has his career-best qualifying position on a road course.
- Kyle Busch (14th) won the exhibition Busch Clash at this track two weeks ago.
- Chase Briscoe (18th) is the highest-qualifying rookie.
- Justin Haley (20th) replaces Jamie McMurray behind the wheel of the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. Haley will run a limited schedule for the team this season.
- Cody Ware (21st) has the best starting spot of his Cup career.
- Garrett Smithley (25th) replaces Joey Gase behind the wheel of the Rick Ware Racing Ford. Smithley failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 with MBM Motorsports last week.
- Scott Heckert (28th) replaces BJ McLeod in the Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 Ford. The road course ringer will be making his Cup Series debut.
- AJ Allmendinger (34th) replaces Kaz Grala in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing. He'll make his first Cup Series start since Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2018.
- Ty Dillon (38th) makes his 2021 Cup debut for Gaunt Brothers Racing after failing to qualify for the Daytona 500.
- James Davison (39th) makes his 2021 Cup debut, replacing the now-retired Derrike Cope in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.
- Timmy Hill (40th) makes his first 2021 start for MBM Motorsports after failing to qualify for last week's Daytona 500.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: O'Reilly Auto Parts 253
Track: Daytona International Speedway Road Course (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Date: Sunday, Feb. 21
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 70 laps (253 miles)
Stage 1: 17 Laps
Stage 2: 17 Laps
Final Stage: 36 Laps
Reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric stops by the Frontstretch Podcast to chat about his thrilling Daytona 500 debut. Then, host Davey Segal joins up with Kyle Souza to preview the sport's transition from 2.5-mile superspeedway to 3.61-mile road course... at the same venue.