“The Great American Race” will kick off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with someone’s future changing for the better at Daytona International Speedway.
Roush Fenway Racing drivers Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher are hoping it will be them. They will be among the many who set out to unseat two-time defending champion Denny Hamlin during Sunday’s Daytona 500.
The pair will open the 2021 campaign after neither Buescher nor Newman were able to reach Victory Lane last season.
Newman, entering his third season with Roush Fenway, ran in 33 of 36 races after a horrific crash at last year’s Daytona 500 left him hospitalized and out of commission for approximately three months. Newman did, however, return to record a pair of top-10 finishes in 2020.
Buescher enters his second year with RFR after racing in all 36 events during his initial campaign. He earned a career-best eight top-10 finishes while finishing in the top-5 twice.
Each enter Sunday’s race having had past success at Daytona, too. And you don’t have to look any further than just last season as both were in the mix on the 2.5-mile course before Newman’s wreck.
Buescher has five top-10 finishes including three top-five finishes in his 10 career runs at Daytona. The driver of the No. 17 Ford finished third during last year’s running of “The Great American Race.”
Newman has 12 career finishes inside the top-10 with six inside the top-5 and one victory during the 2008 Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 6 Ford finished in the top-10 at Daytona in two of the last three seasons, and would have done the same last year before the crash granted him 36th.
That crash was undoubtedly the biggest storyline to come out of the 2020 season for the Roush Fenway team. It made an incredibly challenging season with the COVID-19 pandemic, as RFR co-owner Jack Roush noted, all the more challenging.
It even looked like it could be Newman’s last ever race. But while it may be tough for NASCAR fans to envision a return to that same track, and ultimately the mental hurdle, Newman isn’t thinking about that. As the 43-year-old driver put it recently, he has no memory of the accident and therefore has no fear of competing on the same speedway.
Newman’s return to Victory Lane would make for quite the NASCAR story while a win by either him or Buescher would be the perfect start for the Roush Fenway team.
The Daytona 500 is set to take place at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.