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Daytona 500: A look at the open entries

For the second year in a row, the Daytona 500 features 42 entries for 40 spots.

The 36 chartered teams remain unchanged. However, two of the six open entries are returning from last year.

Gone are MBM Motorsports’ two entries, NY Racing Team’s one entry, Team Hezeberg’s one entry. In their places are one entry apiece from four different teams.

Chandler Smith – No. 13 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet

Among NASCAR regulars, Chandler carries arguably the least amount of experience on superspeedways. At Daytona alone, he has only two Truck starts and little to show for in results.

However, Chandler is backed by Kaulig Racing, a team that has shown strength on superspeedways, and Chevrolet, a manufacturer that has dominated Daytona 500 qualifying.

Chandler will be up against the odds to make the 500, to some extent, but he has the right support to pull it off.

Zane Smith – No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford

The Smiths are a legendary alternative rock group and an accurate descriptor of two of the newcomers to the 500, as Zane joins Chandler on the list of drivers trying to make their Daytona 500 debut this year.

With three Truck starts and one ARCA start at Daytona, Zane Smith’s experience slightly outweighs Chandler’s.

Zane also had had more success. He won last year’s Truck opener at Daytona and an ARCA race at sister track Talladega, while Chandler is winless on superspeedways.

His team, Front Row Motorsports, has only put one car in the top 20 on qualifying night. However, the Duels favor FRM as Fords like theirs have won six of the last eight Duel races.

No matter how the Duel lineups are set, Smith and his Ford power will be well set up if he needs any assistance getting into the 500 via his Duel.

Conor Daly – No. 50 The Money Team Chevrolet

Daly enters the 500 with only four NASCAR starts, since 2018, to his name. Combined with The Money Team, an organization that scraped to get into the 500 in 2022 with Kaz Grala, and this has the makings for a high-profile underdog story.

While Daly has to beat two drivers, he has challenged Travis Pastrana before, albeit at a wildly-different Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the September 2020 Truck race, and beat him.

Pastrana has also never run a Gen 7 car in competition before and has minimal superspeedway drafting experience.

Meanwhile, Daly ran the Charlotte Roval last year and boasts nine Indianapolis 500 starts.

If Daly can keep up in the draft and maintain through the inevitable green flag pit stop in his Duel, he could eek his way into the 500.

Austin Hill – No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet

The driver with the most impressive record to balance out a lack of experience is likely Hill. He scored top-5 finishes in four of the six Xfinity superspeedway races last year, including wins at Daytona in February and Atlanta in July. In the other two races, both at Talladega, he led the most laps in each race.

Even more impressive, Hill did this all in some of his first experiences with NASCAR cars, rather than trucks.

Hill’s Truck career dates all the way back to two starts in 2014 and starts at Talladega and Daytona, each in 2015, that has likely fueled his superspeedway success.

Combined with Beard Motorsports, a team that has made the Daytona 500 as an open entry every year except for 2021 and has even taken the lead on speed on superspeedway races, the No. 62 team is an underrated, yet potent combo.

Travis Pastrana – No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota

It has been nearly 10 years since Pastrana qualified fourth for the Xfinity opener at Daytona in his first-ever NASCAR superspeedway race – and qualified on pole and 2nd in the other two SS races that year.

10 years later, drafting on NASCAR tracks has changed and Pastrana is no longer backed by Roush power. However, Pastrana is with Toyota and 23XI Racing, a team that has looked strong with Bubba Wallace the last two years.

Pastrana will have the backing of the Toyota drivers, depending on how qualifying goes Wednesday night, and Toyota power no matter what.

Even still, Pastrana showed 10 years ago that he has the potential to succeed in qualifying and not have to worry about the Duel. If he can pull through in qualifying, the Duel will be a refresher that could propel Pastrana to a good chance at a win Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson – No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet

One of the most interesting entries belongs to the seven-time Cup champion and newest Cup car owner. For the first time in his career, Jimmie Johnson will have to race into an event he’s won twice.

Johnson is backed by Legacy Motor Club, a team he now co-owns with fellow seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty and GMS Racing owner Maury Gallagher.

2022 was the first year with Gallagher as a co-owner. While Erik Jones and Ty Dillon qualified 23rd and 24th, it was an improvement from three of the previous four 500s resulting in a sub-29th-place qualifying for the team.

Now, with Johnson as a co-owner and his strong ties to Hendrick Motorsports – a team that has historically performed well in Daytona 500 qualifying – Johnson could be one of the likely candidates to qualify into the 500 on qualifying night.

Even if it comes to his Duel, Johnson’s experience far outweighs any other open driver. This, despite his lack of experience with the Gen 7 car, makes him an odds-on favorite to make the 500.

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