The long winter is over. NASCAR Xfinity Series cars are back on track this weekend, opening the 2023 campaign at Daytona International Speedway.
Championship hopes are fresh, and new faces are in new places. It’s a new year in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. The 2023 season marks the beginning of a new era, one without the majority of last year’s race winners, and one with new names ready to climb to the top of NASCAR’s top support series.
One face that is certainly not new is the returning Cole Custer, who returns to the Xfinity Series full-time, manning the Stewart-Haas #00 ride once again. In three previous full-time Xfinity Series seasons, Custer collected nine wins. His best finish at Daytona is 14th, reaching that high-water mark both in 2018 and 2019.
Another driver returning to a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series ride is John Hunter Nemechek. His last Xfinity win came less than two years ago, winning at Texas Motor Speedway in 2021 in the Joe Gibbs Racing #54. In the past few seasons, Nemechek has been one of the top drivers in the Craftsman Truck Series, winning seven races in two seasons in the Kyle Busch Motorsports #4 truck. Given a lively Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra this season, Nemechek could reach the winner’s circle, starting on Saturday.
Rookie of the Year Battle
As fellow LWOS writer Matthew Breault noted in his recent article looking at exciting storylines throughout the upcoming Xfinity Series season, the Smith vs. Smith battle for Xfinity’s Rookie of the Year could go down to the wire. Sammy Smith gets a full-time spot at Joe Gibbs Racing this year, and Chandler Smith has the same opportunity for Kaulig Racing.
Both Smiths bring the skill to win, and both will be in capable cars to do just that. Chandler has the superspeedway experience lead over Sammy with a few Truck Series races at Daytona and Talladega, but Sammy is the only one of the pair to drive an Xfinity car at Daytona before this weekend.
A track that truly needs no introduction, Daytona International Speedway was opened in 1959 by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. to host racing that was held at the Daytona Beach Road Course in years prior. While the original Daytona Beach Road Course was a long “paperclip”, with drivers turning off highway A1A to head for the beach straightaway, Daytona was, and still is a giant 2.5-mile high-banked oval, allowing for faster speeds and better sight lines.
Daytona is the self-proclaimed “World Center of Racing”, hosting not only NASCAR’s signature event in the Daytona 500, but IMSA’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona as well on the road course back in January. The track has recently undergone a massive, $400 million renovation, titled Daytona Rising, which has seen a total revamp of the outside facade of the track, as well as a modern upgrade to the grandstand, including over 100,000 new seats.
NASCAR has raced at Daytona International Speedway since its inception, and the Xfinity Series has raced there since 1982.
44 cars make the NASCAR Xfinity Series Daytona Entry List. Of those 44, six will fail to qualify for the field of 38 that will take the green flag on Saturday afternoon.
Predicting winners has not been my strong suit in previous editions of my NASCAR Xfinity Series previews. Predicting winners at Daytona in Xfinity Series can very well be a crapshoot, just look at last year’s summer Xfinity Series race, won by Jeremy Clements. Xfinity at Daytona has proven chaotic, hectic, and costly for teams, and I don’t expect that to change in 2023.
One man who you can bet to compete at a superspeedway is Austin Hill. Hill won this race last year and took a victory and a second-place finish at the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway last year as well. Hill is where I’d put my money for a winner in Saturday afternoon’s race, and fingers crossed that 2/3 the field doesn’t wreck in the process.
How To Watch (All Times in EST)
- Practice: Friday, February 17, 4:30 p.m. on FS1
- Qualifying: Saturday, February 18, 11:30 a.m. on FS1
- Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300: Saturday, February 18, 5 p.m. on FS1