Wednesday, Feb. 15: Daytona 500 qualifying (single-lap qualifying to determine pole for the Daytona 500)
● Time/TV/Radio: 8 p.m. ET on FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Thursday, Feb. 16: Bluegreen Vacations Duel (twin 150-mile qualifying races that set the field for the Daytona 500)
● Time/TV/Radio: 7 p.m. ET on FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Sunday, Feb. 19: 65th annual Daytona 500 (first of 36 points-paying NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023)
● Time/TV/Radio: 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Notes of Interest
● “I want the Harley J. Earl Trophy:” Aric Almirola has won races at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in NASCAR’s top two series, but the Daytona 500 has managed to elude him, once by just half a lap.
● History at Daytona: Almirola scored his first career Cup Series win in the rain-shortened July 2014 race at Daytona, when he led 14 laps. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he started on the pole in his first outing in July 2007, and he captured a win there while piloting the No. 98 Biagi-Den Beste Ford Mustang in July 2016. In 2021, he won his Duel qualifying race for the first time in his career. Almirola also has three Daytona starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with a best finish of 12th. This year’s Daytona 500 marks Almirola’s 23rd points-paying Cup Series start at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
● In the 2018 Daytona 500, Almirola was a half lap away from becoming a Daytona 500 champion. As he was leading the field to the checkered flag, he made an aggressive block on the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon before he was turned into the outside wall, ending his bid. In last year’s Daytona 500, Almirola showed strength by running at the front of the field on occasion, ultimatley bringing home a fifth place finish. Click here to watch last year's Daytona 500 vlog.
● To earn a spot in the Daytona 500, drivers must first compete in the Duel – twin 150-mile qualifying races Thursday night (Feb. 16) that set the 40-car field for Sunday’s main event. Almirola’s 2021 Duel win was his third consecutive top-three finish in the qualifying event.
● Before drivers compete in the Duel, they race the clock in single-lap qualifying Wednesday night (Feb. 15). The two fastest cars are locked into front-row starting spots for the Daytona 500 while the rest of the field is determined by the results of the Duel. Even-numbered qualifiers race in the first Duel and odd-numbered qualifiers race in the second Duel. Almirola’s best Daytona 500 starting position was third.
● Drew Blickensderfer returns as crew chief for the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for the second year in a row and for the fourth season overall with Almirola. Blickensderfer and Almirola were together in 2017 and 2018 at Richard Petty Motorsports.
● Almirola’s career: In 424 NASCAR Cup Series starts, Almirola has earned three wins, 28 top-five finishes, 91 top-10s, three poles, and has led 974 laps.
● Almirola has a solid record at superspeedways with two wins, six top-fives, 12 top-10s and 84 laps led. In June 2020, he scored his eighth-consecutive top-10 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to tie the track record for most consecutive top-10s – a mark first set by Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., from April 2001 to October 2004
● 2022 Recap: Almirola earned one pole, two top-five finishes, seven top-10s and led 81 laps. He started the season as the only NASCAR Cup Series driver with three consecutive top-10 finishes – fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500, sixth at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He earned his fourth Cup Series pole at the Sept, 17 race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
● Smithfield Foods rejoins Almirola and the No. 10 Ford team as the anchor sponsor for the 2023 NASCAR season. Fans will see the iconic white, black, and gold scheme adorn Almirola’s Ford Mustang in the Duel and the Daytona 500. Smithfield has been a sponsor of Almirola’s for the entirety of his fulltime NASCAR Cup Series career – making it one of the longest-lasting partnerships in NASCAR.
● Back for More: Last year, Almirola announced that he would step down from fulltime racing following the 2022 season.Through the course of the year, he discovered a new balance between his passion for racing and dedication to his family. His wife Janice, and kids Alex and Abby, joined him on most race weekends, oftentimes enjoying once-in-a-lifetime experiences together as they traveled the country. His rapport with crew chief Blickensderfer flourished, and the intense pressure he had put on himself was replaced with the joy of simply being present. Not only did Almirola see the sport from a new perspective, so did anchor partner Smithfield Foods, who broached the subject of Almirola returning to fulltime racing in 2023. On Aug. 26 in the media center of Daytona, Almirola, SHR and Smithfield Foods announced his return with a multiyear agreement and Smithfield’s largest allotment of races since joining the team in 2018.
● Beyond the 10 YouTube Series:In 2023, Almirola will continue to share his life beyond the No. 10 Smithfield Ford with season five of his award-winning YouTube series. Fans and media can subscribe on YouTube to see Almirola’s personality on and off the track. Episodes have already featured life as a dad, a husband and an athlete, and it gives fans a unique perspective on what goes on in the life of a professional NASCAR driver. Fans can also follow Almirola’s social media channels: @Aric_Almirola on Twitter and Instagram, and @AricAlmirola on Facebook.
Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are you most excited for this season?
“I’m just excited for a new season in general. Every year, at this time of the year, it’s just exciting and it’s a land of opportunity. Every single weekend is a new opportunity to go win. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most, just coming back for another year with the same crew chief and the same group of guys and trying to go compete at a higher level and win races. I feel more prepared than I ever have. I really honed in on my recovery this offseason. My training regimen changed, and I feel more disciplined and physically and mentally prepared than ever. You have to be in this sport. Recovery and staying fresh is going to be a huge part of finding success each weekend.”
What is the feeling like moments before the Daytona 500?
“When I strap in for the Daytona 500, it is an exhilarating feeling. All of your senses are on high alert. You’re getting ready to roll off pit road for The Great American Race. There are 150,000 people on the property and millions watching at home. It is such an unreal feeling. It is so hard to describe what that feeling is like. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach, but not the nervous kind. It’s more of an antsy, ready-to-go feeling. There’s been all this hype and build-up during preseason and Speed Week, and finally you’re at the moment where you’re going to roll off pit road and go to battle. You’re going to battle to win the most coveted trophy in racing, the Harley J. Earl trophy.”
Do you think that SHR has a good balance of driver personalities and characteristics now with the addition of Ryan Preece?
“I think it does add a nice little flare of opposites. Having Kevin being in the sport for as long as he has, and then me having a moderate level of experience, and then having Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece coming in as the young new guys. Chase is young and eager and a gasser – just constantly going for it. Ryan has been in the sport for a while and has had an opportunity to go Cup racing, but it wasn’t the greatest of opportunities, so here he is in a great opportunity here at Stewart-Haas Racing and he’s eager to prove himself. He’s going to be fired up and he’s going to be really aggressive. I think the combination of that experience and that young and fresh aggressiveness is a great combination, and it helps keep everybody in check.”
What can the fans look forward to during NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season?
“I think the fans will get what they’ve always gotten with NASCAR in 2023 – a high level of competition and a lot of new and exciting races. We’re going to be running wheel to wheel, fender to fender, rubbing side by side and competing at a very high level. And that’s what our sport delivers week in and week out every single year. I don’t think 2023 will be any different. Every single race team works tirelessly to bring the best racecars to the track, and this past year in 2022 saw the most parity that we had ever seen in NASCAR’s history. I think we’ll see even more of that in 2023.”
Why is the Daytona 500 such an iconic and much-anticipated race for you?
“First off, Daytona is always exciting for me. It’s my home racetrack, having grown up just two hours away in Tampa. I have a lot of childhood memories from going there with my family. To top it off, I’ve won there both in Xfinity and Cup cars. I just have a tremendous amount of fond memories of spectating at Daytona, even all the way back to my beginning days. I would go back and go-kart in Daytona. It’s always exciting because it brings back all those great memories. Not to mention, it’s the world center of racing. It’s the greatest place on earth to go race at. It’s the biggest race of the year, the one everyone wants to win. Your name is forever etched in history. There’s just no other race like it. It’s such a special race because of the prestige and the paycheck at the end. It’s the highest-paying race. Anybody who is alive and breathing knows of the Daytona 500. Even if you’re not a huge race fan or even a NASCAR fan, you know of the Daytona 500. There’s just so much history around this race that being a Daytona 500 champion is a really big deal.”
Do you feel like last year there was a changing of the guard with more young drivers winning, or was that just a product of the NextGen car’s first year?
“Well, a veteran won the championship, but I feel like the young guys certainly had a much more level playing field with the NextGen car. The guys who had a lot more experience didn’t have an advantage because the NextGen car brought on all sorts of nuances that we had not experienced. We had no notebook and, in the past, veterans knew exactly the feel that they were looking for in practice to be successful in the race. We didn’t have that feel with the NextGen car. We didn’t know what to look for. We didn’t know the feel we were looking for, and from a crew chief and engineering side, it was a big learning process to learn what these new cars needed for setups and aerodynamics. So I still think that the cagey veteran has caught up and won’t be shooting from the hip like we all were at the beginning of the season.”
Walk us through the final lap of the 2018 Daytona 500, when you were half a lap away from being crowned a Daytona 500 champion.
“I felt so confident. I knew that if I hit all of my gears perfectly, I would have a shot at it and I did. I looked in my mirror and saw everyone racing side by side and figured that I was in control of the race and, if I made the right move, I was going to be the winner of the Daytona 500. About halfway down the back straightaway, they were coming with a run and I pulled over to block it. In your head, you know it’s the Daytona 500 and you’re a mile and a half away from winning, so you’re going to do everything you know to try and win that race. I pulled over to block and put a pretty aggressive block on the No. 3. I knew that if I blocked high, he was going to go low. As soon as I blocked high, I knew I was going to have to immediately block low. When I blocked low, he turned against my back bumper and (I went) into the outside wall. I wrecked a mile away from winning the Daytona 500."