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      NASCAR Cup Series season begins as Axalta No. 24 returns to DAYTONA 500

      © 2023 Nigel Kinrade / NKP

      DAYTONA 500
      Daytona International Speedway
      Sunday, Feb. 18 | 2:30 p.m. ET

      DAYTONA DUELS: William Byron will make his seventh start in the Duel at Daytona qualifying races on Thursday, Feb. 15. In last year’s qualifying race, Byron lined up on the outside row for his duel race but with split pit strategy taking place late in the event, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native finished 10th. However, in 2020, Byron captured his first win in a NASCAR Cup Series event when he started fourth in his qualifying race before going on to score the checkered flag.

      TWENTY FOUR TO THE FRONT: In five of the last nine DAYTONA 500 races, the No. 24 has started from the front row – in 2015 with Jeff Gordon and in consecutive seasons, 2016 and 2017, with Chase Elliott all from the pole position. Byron most recently added to that stat by becoming the second-youngest DAYTONA 500 pole winner in 2019 (at 21 years, two months and 12 days), which also marked his first pole in the Cup Series. He wound up back on the front row for the 2021 DAYTONA 500.

      BACK AT THE BEACH: During his time in the Cup Series, Byron has 12 starts at Daytona International Speedway. In that time, he has collected one win, two top-five finishes, three top 10s and led 95 laps. However, his stats don’t accurately depict Byron’s success at the 2.5-mile oval. Not only is this the venue where he collected his first pole award (2019 DAYTONA 500) and his first Cup Series win (2020 summer race), but he also won the Duel qualifying race in 2020. Additionally, Byron was in position to capture the win during the summer race in 2019 before inclement weather ended the event early, leaving him with a runner-up finish. Byron’s success at Daytona doesn’t end there. During his 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship campaign, he qualified third in the July race and led 29 laps to score the victory, becoming the youngest driver with an Xfinity Series win at Daytona at 19 years, seven months and one day.

      SUPER ON SUPERSPEEDWAYS: When it comes to tracks that involve drafting, Byron is normally running upfront. He has three points-paying wins on these types of tracks – his first Cup Series win at Daytona in August of 2020 and at the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway in March of 2022 and in July of 2023. Since the start of the 2022 season, he has led 226 laps at drafting tracks and also has four consecutive top-10 finishes on that style of track – the longest active streak in the series.

      RUDY RETURNS: Crew chief Rudy Fugle enters his fourth season with Byron at the Cup level and will climb on top of the No. 24 pit box for his fourth DAYTONA 500 and his seventh Cup Series start at the 2.5-mile oval this Sunday. In 2021, the duo started both races at the Florida-based track from the front row. Despite running up front in every Daytona event they’ve raced at together in the Cup Series, misfortune has struck the No. 24 as they have been collected in on-track incidents before the checkered flag on five occasions. Aside from those six Cup starts, the Livonia, New York, native has nine other starts at Daytona, with seven coming in the NASCAR Truck Series. Fugle has one runner-up result, one top-five finish and two top 10s across those seven races. One of those Truck Series starts was with Byron, where the duo qualified and finished 13th.

      AT IT AGAIN WITH AXALTA: Once again, Axalta will be back onboard Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. This is Axalta’s 32nd year of partnership with Hendrick Motorsports.

      © Axalta Coating Systems / Barry Cantrell

      BYRON TALKS NEW SEASON: “Technically the season started with the Clash but I’m ready to get to Daytona and really get the season going. Usually, we start the season with a couple of bad races and then pick up the pace a few races in. This time the goal is to hopefully get off to a better start. We want to be around at the end of the DAYTONA 500, going for a win and then back that up with a solid run at Atlanta. I know the team has been putting in the work to have us ready to get going, I’m just ready to go execute.”

      FUGLE ON DAYTONA SPEEDWEEKS: “I love to prepare for how to execute the full week there. Most times we worry about executing a weekend. This is what we live for and look forward to. We have to prepare the car just to qualify and then you swap the car over for the duel race. After that, we take the information from the race to apply to practice and then make final adjustments before the biggest race of the year on Sunday. Whoever wins the race on Sunday, their life is going to change. They will be a DAYTONA 500 champion and that’s what we want to be with our Axalta Chevy. I’m more excited to get to Daytona than I have been in a long time.”

      © 2023 Nigel Kinrade / NKP


      FABULOUS 40: In 2024, Hendrick Motorsports is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Among the categories that the Rick Hendrick-owned organization holds the NASCAR Cup Series record for are all-time wins (301), poles (246), laps led (79,757) and championships (14). The organization has won at least one race in each of the last 38 seasons. In addition, the team has at least three victories in each of the past 30 seasons, the longest streak by a team in the Cup Series.

      LAST YEAR LOOK BACK: Last season, Hendrick Motorsports notched a series-best 10 wins and placed two drivers – Byron and Larson – in the Championship 4. Larson won four races as well as the non-points All-Star Race and finished second in the final standings. Byron won a best-in-series six times and placed third in the final standings. Elliott and Bowman each missed time with injuries and Elliott led the No. 9 team to the Round of 8 in the owner’s playoffs. The season saw the organization earn its 300th Cup Series victory (Byron at Texas Motor Speedway) and the engine department earn its 500th national series win (Larson at Darlington Raceway). The four-car team led the Cup Series in wins (10), top-five finishes (42), top 10s (67) and stage wins (19).

      SETTING THE FIELD: The starting lineup for the DAYTONA 500 is set in a very different manner than any other race. Wednesday’s single-car, two-round qualifying will only set the front row for the DAYTONA 500. The remaining order of qualifying will determine the field for the two 60-lap Duel at Daytona races on Thursday night. The rest of the starting lineup for the 40-car field in the DAYTONA 500 will be set by the results of twin 150s. The duel qualifiers also represent the first chance for drivers to earn points in 2024 with the top-10 finishers in each race earning as many as 10 points (for the win) all the way down to one point (for 10th).

      POLE POWER: With 16 poles for the DAYTONA 500, Hendrick Motorsports leads all Cup Series organizations by a wide margin (the next closest team has six). Those 16 poles account for 40% of the poles for DAYTONA 500s that Hendrick Motorsports has competed in. Nine drivers have combined for the 16 poles: Bowman (three), Ken Schrader (three), Elliott (two), Gordon (two), Jimmie Johnson (two), Byron (one), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (one), Larson (one) and Mark Martin (one). The organization has won eight of the last nine poles for “The Great American Race” with all four active drivers securing at least one pole position in that stretch. On top of that, Hendrick Motorsports engines have won nine straight DAYTONA 500 poles.

      © 2023 David Rosenblum / NKP

      OPPOSITE ENDS: Elliott’s 2016 pole position still stands as the youngest pole winner in the event’s history at 20 years, two months and 17 days. In fact, Hendrick Motorsports has five of the six youngest pole winners in DAYTONA 500 history. At the other end of the spectrum, Martin’s 2010 pole at 51 years old has held as the oldest pole winner in the crown jewel race’s storied past.

      FRONT ROW FOCUS: There have been nine instances of a front row sweep for the Rick Hendrick-owned team at the DAYTONA 500. Six of those have occurred in the last nine years (2015, 2017, 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023) including four of the last five. Last year, Bowman (first) and Larson (second) held the top two starting spots. In addition, the organization has had at least one car start on the front row in each of the last nine DAYTONA 500s.

      DUEL DOMINATION: Hendrick Motorsports’ 16 wins in the Duel at Daytona races are tied for most among all teams in the Cup Series. Gordon leads the way with five victories followed by Earnhardt Jr.’s three. Elliott and Johnson each have two wins. Byron, Schrader, Benny Parsons and Darrell Waltrip each have tallied one win. The 2015 wins by Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson mark the organization’s lone sweep of the qualifying races.

      © 2023 Matthew T. Thacker / NKP

      GREAT AMERICAN VICTORIES: The eight wins for the Concord, North Carolina, based team in the prestigious season-opening event are the second-most by all teams and the most among active teams. Gordon’s three wins (1997, 1999 and 2005) are the most for the organization. Johnson has two wins (2006 and 2013), while Geoff Bodine (1986), Earnhardt Jr. (2014) and Waltrip (1989) each picked up one apiece for the squad. The five different drivers to win for one team in the DAYTONA 500 are tied for the most.

      HIGH FIVE: With a win in Sunday’s DAYTONA 500, Hendrick Motorsports would become the first organization to win the race in five different decades. Currently, it is one of two organizations – Petty Enterprises is the other – to win the DAYTONA 500 in four different decades.

      OVAL-WHELMING SUCCESS: The Daytona oval has been the site of much success for the 14-time championship-winning Cup Series organization. Their 42 wins at the 2.5-mile superspeedway have come in the following ways: the Duel at Daytona (16), DAYTONA 500 (eight), Clash (seven), Coke Zero 400 (seven) and NASCAR Xfinity Series races (four). In addition, Elliott won at the Daytona Road Course in 2020.

      Via Hendrick Motorsports