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
● Beard Motorsports is back for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season and will be increasing its presence in the NASCAR garage with an expanded schedule. It all begins this Sunday’s 65th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The Beard Motorsports team is aiming to make its sixth start in The Great American Race and will be doing so with a new face behind the wheel of the No. 62 Chevrolet in driver Austin Hill.
● With a Chevrolet Camaro powered by an ECR-built engine, Beard Motorsports is accustomed to racing at the front, proven by its recent performances that include a top-five finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona last August with former driver Noah Gragson. Prior to 2022, Beard boasted a pair of top-10 finishes during the 2020 season at the hands of former driver Brendan Gaughan. With Gaughan behind the wheel, the Beard team finished seventh in the Daytona 500 in February and eighth in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in August.
● Beard’s Daytona 500 campaign will be boosted by a partnership with Bennett Family of Companies. The Bennett Transportation and Logistics brand will adorn the No. 62 Chevrolet. Headquartered in McDonough, Georgia, Bennett Family of Companies provides logistics and transportation services for companies across American. Bennett offers a suite of trucking and specialized logistic services, from flatbed and step deck trucking and manufactured housing transport to RV delivery, customs brokerage, and warehousing. With more than 46 years of experience in the industry, Bennett’s network provides the safest and best possible service to all of its business partners.
● Honoring the passion and desire of the late Mark Beard Sr., the founder of Beard Motorsports, is what drives the team. Linda Beard sits atop the organization as the owner with strong support from daughter Amie and son Mark Jr., as well as crew chief Darren Shaw and Gaughan who, upon retiring from racing at the end of 2020, made the transition from driver to vice president of competition for the team. Historically, the No. 62 Beard Chevrolet has only run the races at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. This season, Beard will expand that schedule with appearances at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval in October, as well as the August race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, which will serve as a homecoming for the Michigan-based Beard family and Beard Oil Distributing Company.
● Hill may be new to the No. 62 Beard Motorsports team but he arrives at Daytona having made one start in NASCAR’s top touring series. The native of Winston, Georgia, made his NASCAR Cup Series debut last season at Michigan driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing (RCR). He finished a respectable 18th after starting the race 31st. In addition to his previous Cup Series experience, Hill goes into Daytona knowing what it takes to be successful at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Driving for RCR in 2022, he raced his way to a win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season-opening race at Daytona. Hill led a total of 23 laps en route to the victory. It was one of two wins he scored in the series last season – the other coming at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July.
● While Hill will be competing in the NASCAR Cup Series on a limited basis in 2023, he will be competing fulltime in the Xfinity Series, where he aims to race for a series championship with RCR. The 2022 NASCAR season was his first racing fulltime in the Xfinity Series. In addition to two wins, Hill scored 11 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s and finished the year sixth in the driver standings. Before joining the Xfinity Series fulltime in 2022, Hill competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He was a fulltime competitor in the series from 2018 to 2021 but made his first start in the Truck Series at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in 2014 at the tender age of 20. The now 28-year-old scored his first Truck Series win in 2019 in the season-opening race at Daytona – an event in which he started 10th and led 39 of the 111 laps run. Hill has made at least one start in the series for nine seasons and has 121 starts in all, netting eight wins, 27 top-fives and 54 top-10s.
● Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unlike any other NASCAR Cup Series race. Before drivers compete in Thursday’s Duel qualifying event, they race the clock in single-lap qualifying Wednesday night, during which the two fastest cars are locked into the Daytona 500 field while the rest field is set by the results of the Duel. Drivers in odd-numbered qualifying positions race in the first Duel, and those in even-numbered qualifying positions race in the second Duel. Only 40 spots are available in the Daytona 500 and, for drivers like Hill, earning one of those coveted spots in the Daytona 500 comes one of two ways – by being one of the two fastest independent teams in single-car qualifying, or by racing his way into the Daytona 500 by way of the Duel. There are only four open spots in the Daytona 500 for independent teams, with the chartered NASCAR teams guaranteed one of the other 36 positions, as they are for each race on the 2023 schedule. Hill obviously wants to outperform 39 other drivers but, more specifically, any driver racing for the other independent teams looking to make the Daytona 500.
Austin Hill, Driver of the No. 62 Bennett Transportation and Logistics Chevrolet Camaro
Ready or not, the 2023 NASCAR season is upon us. How does it feel to be heading back to Daytona and getting the season started at the World Center of Racing?
“I’m super excited to get the year kicked off at Daytona. We had a really good season last year in the Xfinity Series, running consistently inside the top-five and starting the season off with a win at Daytona. Being the defending race winner on the Xfinity side is going to be cool to see if we can repeat. We seem to have a lot of success on the superspeedways, so hopefully we can use that momentum to our benefit. Then, having the opportunity to run the Cup car adds to the level of excitement I have going into this Speedweek in Daytona. I’ve never driven a Cup car on a superspeedway, so that is going to be a challenge – a good challenge – and one that I look forward to. Our Beard Motorsports Camaro has to make the show, whether that’s on time in qualifying or racing my way in through the Duel. The first step is to see how qualifying goes on Wednesday night, and then if we have to go into the Duel not being locked in, we will see how that unfolds. I’m going to approach it with the same mindset I have on the Xfinity side – to stay aggressive all race long and see where we end up.”
What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to run these six races with Beard Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series this season?
“As a kid growing up in this sport, getting the chance to run a NASCAR Cup Series car is the ultimate dream. Obviously I had the opportunity last year at Michigan to make my first start and I was so thankful to Richard Childress for giving me that chance. And now I have an even bigger opportunity with the Beard family and the Beard Motorsports team. I’ve gotten to talk over the phone with Amie Beard, and we’ve talked about her mom Linda and the men and women at Beard. We haven’t been able to meet face-to-face yet, and we will do that this week in Daytona, but I feel like I know them pretty well already. You can tell they’re super excited and stoked to be trying to make it into the Daytona 500. I think they may even be more excited than I am if that’s even possible. They seem like they really love superspeedway racing. And although it’s something that I didn’t necessarily enjoy until last year, I’ve really started to enjoy it more. And it’s just an honor to be able to race for Beard Motorsports and try to make it into the Daytona 500.”
How did this partnership with Beard Motorsports come about?
“Once we saw that Noah (Gragson) was moving on to another seat in the Cup Series and not going to be with Beard in 2023, we saw an open door. We started having talks and really just put our name out there. We said, ‘Hey, if you need someone and you don’t have anyone in mind, I would love to do it.’ We kicked it off with Beard and it’s been a really cool deal so far. I’m really excited to get to Daytona and see what we can do for Beard Motorsports. Hopefully it’s successful.”
Before you can run in the Daytona 500, you have to run the Duel. If you get to Thursday and the No. 62 team isn’t locked in from qualifying, how aggressive do you think you will need to be?
“As long as I don’t destroy a car and only mess up a fender or something that can be easily fixed, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make the Daytona 500. It’s something that as a little kid you always dream of, racing in the Cup level, and then also racing in the Daytona 500. It’s our Super Bowl. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it in. I will hang it all out on the line. And if it comes down to the last lap and we are racing another guy to make it in, I’m going to be as aggressive as I can possibly be to make sure that we get our No. 62 Bennett Transportation and Logistics Chevrolet in the show. That’s the goal. We want to make it into the 500, and from there it’s going to be a really fun Sunday. I’ll be learning all day and trying to make it to the end of the race by missing the big one. First and foremost, we have to make it in.”
While you are going into Daytona Speedweek as a Cup Series rookie, you are armed with not only superspeedway experience, but also with superspeedway success. You won the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona last February and you have a Daytona win in the Craftsman Truck Series. How did you adapt to superspeedway racing so quickly?
“I think one of the things that has helped me be successful on the superspeedways is RCR. We have really fast superspeedway Chevrolets. Anytime we go to a superspeedway, we just have that raw speed and we’re up front. When you do have that raw speed and you are fast, it makes it a little bit easier, but the driver still plays a role and the spotter plays a huge role. The spotter plays a crucial role, and you have to have that trust and that bond with each other. That’s something that we were able to do early in the Xfinity race at Daytona last February. It seemed like during the first stage we were just trying to figure each other out – the lingo and the things he’s saying and how quick I have to make a move when he tells me I’m clear. We worked through that during the first stage, and then the second and third stages obviously we started trusting each other more. That goes a long way and I think that’s one reason why we saw success throughout the superspeedway races. The only thing I can say I do on superspeedways is I just react. I don’t put too much thought in it. If I see I’m making a run on somebody, I make the move and I react. I have learned throughout the first stage of every superspeedway race what I can and can’t do with the car that day. I truly believe every superspeedway race is different from the next and you have to drive them a little bit differently. But to sit here and say I have some ability that other guys don’t have on superspeedways – I can’t say that. I just think I have a good understanding of where the runs are going and things like that. That just clicks for me.”
Locking yourself into the Daytona 500 is obviously priority number one this week. But looking ahead, this is just the first of a handful of Cup Series races you are planning to run in 2023. Can you talk about what the rest of the season looks like for you?
“I plan on running six Cup races this season – the two races at Daytona, the two at Talladega and then Michigan. We had the new road course race at Chicago circled, but then we found out about the new rule that keeps Xfinity drivers from running the Cup race and vice versa. So, we switched that one and will run at the Charlotte road course in October instead. I’m actually really excited about that one because I love road-course racing. I think that’s something that’s going to be really cool that I get to do. I’ll be doing all of these races with Beard Motorsports and I’m really thankful for that. Last year was really cool to be able to have my first-ever start in the Cup Series at Michigan. We had a good, clean day there and finished in the top-20. I’m going to try to take the things I learned in that race and apply it to this season with these six races that I have.”