The Low Tier – Daytona 500
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – In the Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the 2013 and 2006 Daytona 500’s will be making his Cup return driving the #84 Legacy Motor Club Toyota. Johnson is years removed from full-time competition in his prime but if he keeps his car in one piece, I think he might be able to sneak in a solid finish. That said, Johnson has had problems avoiding trouble, and he had it yet again last year as you’ll read below. Last year over the three races he competed, Johnson went 3 for 3 at crashing and had a 35.3 average finish. At Daytona, I would view Johnson as an ultra-risky option who has upside for those looking to roll the dice.
Daytona Track History – At Daytona, Jimmie Johnson is a 3-time winner, but things haven’t been great for him in recent races. In 8 of his last 11 races at this “Wild Card” venue he’s finished outside the top 15. In recent Daytona 500’s specifically, Johnson’s finished 31st or worse in 4 of the last 5. Last year, Johnson flirted with a top ten and was running in 12th on lap 198 but then during overtime he crashed, dooming him to a 31st. I’ll note, Johnson did finish 7th in Stage #1 and looked like a solid top 15 driver over much of the final 50 laps. In 2020 when he next most recently raced here, Johnson finished 17th in the summer and then crashed in the 500 which led to his 35th. In 2019, Johnson swept the top ten with results of 3rd (summer) and 9th (Daytona 500).
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – Carson Hocevar will be making his first Daytona 500 start in the Spire #77, and he might be able to sneak in a good result if he drives a clean smart race and avoids trouble. Will he do that? I don’t know, but at least he doesn’t come along with an already bad track record like many others. Hocevar has run well in the Truck series here being 3 for 3 at finishing in the top 12 with an 8.6 average finish, so I’ll be hopeful.
Daytona Track History – Carson Hocevar has never competed on the Cup level at Daytona. In the Truck series as you just read, he’s 3 for 3 at finishing in the top 12 and his average finish is 8.6. Last year, Hocevar finished 12th. In the two Truck series races prior to that he had results of 9th (2022) and 5th (2021).
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – Riley Herbst snuck in a top ten in last year’s Daytona 500 (10th), and he might just do it again, courtesy of the draft/attrition being great equalizers. Would I count on it, no but it’s possible and he’s already done it. In the “Great American Race”, Herbst will be piloting the Rick Ware Racing #15, which is what he drove in the 2023 “500.”
Daytona Track History – Riley Herbst has two starts on his resume at Daytona and the results are at polar opposites of the spectrum. Last summer, Herbst piloted a Front Row Motorsports #36 entry and finished 38th. Herbst looked sporty early and logged some laps in the top ten but when the checkered flag waved, he finished 38th. In the race, Herbst was in 15th on lap 77, but then on lap 83 he got penalized during green flag pit stops. Then shortly after that on lap 95, Herbst was collected in the “Blaney/Gibbs Big One” which marked the end of his race. In last year’s Daytona 500, Herbst snuck in a 10th. That result doesn’t reflect his performance but things like that can happen in the Daytona 500 when things get really wild late!
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – Todd Gilliland has shown potential at Big Superspeedways, but the results column has been pretty brutal at Daytona with him being 4 for 4 at finishing 23rd or worse and having a 28.8 average finish. That said, Gilliland’s run great at Talladega and over the last three races there he boasts a 9.6 average finish and he’s had a result in the top 12 every race, so there’s reason for optimism. If Gilliland can avoid trouble which he’s never done here, I think he might be able to sneak in a good result for those willing to roll the dice.
Daytona Track History – Close your eyes when you look at Todd Gilliland’s Daytona resume because he’s yet to crack the top 20 and his average finish is 28.8. Next to his really bad results you’ll see “Overheating, accident, accident, and accident.” Last summer in his only non-accident race, Gilliland finished 32nd with his race ending quietly due to “overheating” after completing 131 laps. Gilliland never ran well, and his car never seemed to be right. In the 2023 Daytona 500, Gilliland finished 10th in Stage #1, around 19th in Stage #2, was running in 21st on lap 198 but then shortly after that he was caught up in the “Overtime #1 Big One” which relegated him to a 27th. For the afternoon, Gilliland’s average running position was 20.4. In summer 2022, Gilliland finished 6th in Stage #2, had a 15.2 average running position but was collected in the “Rain Big One” while running around 17th which led to his 23rd. In February 2022 in his Cup debut, Gilliland ran a great race but had a late demise. In the race he finished 3rd in Stage #1, 10th in Stage #2, had a 14th place average running position but then finished 33rd when the checkered flag waved. On lap 189 he was running in 13th but then the next lap he was collected in the mass carnage.
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – Harrison Burton is capable of running well at Daytona, but finishing good is a different story. In terms of the results column at this “Wild Card Track”, Burton ranks as one of the very worst. Burton’s best finish is 19th and his average finish over his four starts is 28th. At big superspeedways over his nine starts, Burton only has two top 20 finishes with them being results of 19th and 20th, so make sure you keep expectations low. In 2023 at big superspeedways, Burton had a near bottom of the barrel 30.5 average finish with him having a best finish of 26th.
Daytona Track History – Daytona has been pretty dismal for Harrison Burton with his average finish being 28th. Last summer, Burton finished right at his average finish and came home 28th. I’ll note, Burton’s race wasn’t incident free. On lap 95 he was running in 14th, but then that very lap he was involved in the “Blaney/ Ty Gibbs Big One” and from that point on he was mired back in the high 20’s. In the 2023 Daytona 500, Burton had a good chance to walk away with his best Daytona result, but he crashed during the first restart in overtime which led to his 26th. On lap 198 shortly before his crash, Burton was running in 16th. When the checkered flag waved, Burton finished 26th, had a 19.5 average running position and take note he led 9 laps late, between laps 179 to 187. In 2022, Burton showed potential in both races. In summer 2022, Burton finished 3rd in Stage #1, was running in 13th on lap 134, but then on lap 137 he was damaged in the “Rain Big One” which led to his 19th, but keep in mind he finished 20 laps down. In the 2022 Daytona 500, Burton ran well and led 3 laps but on lap 62 while he was running in the top five, Burton was a “Brad Keselowski bump draft victim” which ended his race and led to his 39th.
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – Rookie, Josh Berry will have big shoes to fill in the #4 in 2024. Berry will have a fast Ford underneath him and plenty of capable teammates, so if he executes a smart race and avoids trouble, he’ll be capable of coming home with a good finish. Rookies haven’t exactly fared too well here recently and Berry’s Xfinity track record that you’ll read about below isn’t great.
Daytona Track History – Last summer at Daytona in a pre-rookie start in the #42, Josh Berry had a “Mid Pack” evening. In the race, Berry finished 22nd, had a 21.9 average running position and had the 30th best Driver Rating. Considering Berry was actually running in 15th at the start of overtime, his evening looks a little worse. In the Xfinity series at Daytona, Berry has five starts on his resume and not once has he cracked the top 15. Over his five starts, Berry has a 20.8 average finish and is 5 for 5 at finishing between 16th to 27th. Last year, Berry had Daytona Xfinity finishes of 17th and 26th.
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – In the Daytona 500, Kaz Grala will be driving a third Front Row Motorsports entry, the #36. Grala will have to race his way into the “Great American Race”, but I think he’s capable of making it. On the Cup level at big superspeedways, Grala has 1 top ten (Talladega) but in his other three races (all at Daytona) he’s finished 26th or worse. Grala does a good job at making the most of his situations, so don’t overlook him.
Daytona Track History – Daytona has been like a buzz saw to Kaz Grala in terms of his results and his average finish over his three starts is 29.7. That said, I wouldn’t read too much into his track history. In 2022 when Grala last raced here for “The Money Team”, Grala finished 26th. In 2021 in the Kaulig Racing #16, Grala had finishes of 28th and 35th.
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – At Daytona, Anthony Alfredo will be returning to action, driving the Beard Motorsports Chevy #62. I would view this opportunity as Alfredo driving a “D-level” RCR equipment and having a sub-standard pit crew. Ultimately, I think Alfredo has “Hail Mary” potential to walk away with a good finish and he’ll have to survive a lot of crashing to attain it.
Daytona Track History – On the Cup level at Daytona, Anthony Alfredo is 2 for 2 at crashing with results of 34th and 37th, with those results being back in 2021.
Daytona 500 Bottom Line – In the Daytona 500, I have no doubt BJ McLeod will field the least competitive car on the track. That said, attrition/ the draft are great equalizers, so I wouldn’t count him out from finishing abnormally well by his standards and by that, I mean viewing him as a ~20th place driver and breaking out the good luck charm.
Daytona Track History – At Daytona over the last six races, BJ McLeod has two top 10’s and his average finish is 20th. Last year at Daytona, McLeod finished 23rd in the summer and then 30th in the 500. In 2022, McLeod snuck in a 7th in the summer and a 27th in the 500. In 2021, McLeod’s finishes were 10th and 23rd.