As the venue for NASCAR’s biggest race of the year, Daytona International Speedway is where history, tradition, speed, exhilaration, fame, celebrity, entertainment, and culture intersect.
The 65th Daytona 500 was sold-out well in advance. It draws NASCAR’s highest television rating of the season. It’s one of the most-watched sporting events of the year.
Just one weekend after the Super Bowl, sports fans around the United States and Canada are still housebound, seeking comfort from the cold winter chill.
For NASCAR fans, it’s the most-anticipated race of the season and for mainstream sports fans, it’s a chance to experience the thrills and drama that happen on the high-banks of Daytona International Speedway.
That’s why such celebrities as Kid Rock attend nearly every year. Bryce Harper of the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies is also a regular attendee.
Even former pro basketball great Artis Gilmore and his wife come to the big race every season as the 7-foot-2 hoops star can be seen in the Daytona 500 Driver’s Meeting and in the NASCAR Cup Series garage area before the big race.
To the winner, fame, glory, and riches await.
Races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, however, are different than any other race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
These are tracks where drafting is the key to victory. It’s where a smart driver on a mid-pack team can use strategy and the ability to get in the right drafting line at the right time to win the race.
Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports proved that in 2021 as he successfully made it to the checkered flag as some of the big names in the race crashed behind him.
In a typical NASCAR race, car preparation, horsepower, driver skill, race setup and strategy are the keys to success.
The Daytona 500, however, requires a great deal of fortune that is often outside of the team’s and driver’s control.
It’s like spinning the lottery drum and suddenly stopping. Whatever number on the ball that jumps out is the winner.
“I’ve always thought it was sort of interesting that the biggest event in our sport is the one that requires the most luck,” Trackhouse owner Justin Marks said. “The Daytona 500 has always been that way.
“There are a lot of things you can control. You can build and bring a really fast race car to the race track. You can execute strategy well. You can make decisions to put yourself in a spot to mitigate the risk, but you can’t really escape it.”
Marks has a unique insight into the ingredients necessary to compete in the Daytona 500. He drove for team owner Rick Ware in the 2018 Daytona 500, starting 29th and finishing 12th, just one lap down to the winner.
He started second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona in 2015 but was involved in a crash on Lap 93 and finished 34th in a car owned by Robby Benton.
Marks drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the 2016 Xfinity Series race – the Subway Firecracker 250 on July 1, 2016. He started 21st and finished 37th, out after 14 laps because of a crash.
Marks also competed in three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at Daytona, including an eighth-place finish in 2008.
As a team owner, the stakes of the game at Daytona are even higher. This will be the third Daytona 500 for Trackhouse.
Ross Chastain returns in the No. 1 Trackhouse Chevrolet, and Mexico’s Daniel Suarez is back in the No. 99 Trackhouse Chevrolet.
Both drivers can’t wait to get the season started.
“I had the best off-season I’ve ever had,” Suarez said. “Normally in the past, I would be dealing with moving from one team to another. This off-season was the first time ever that I was really able to disconnect from racing for a few weeks, and that really made me recharge my batteries 110 percent. It was very, very good for me to have some time off.
“We came back excited and ready to go race again. Everyone in November is tired, very exhausted. So, for me, it was very important to be able to take that time.”
Marks understands the keys to success at Daytona. The hard part comes in the execution and avoiding mayhem.
“Daytona is one of those races where you have to be really intelligent about how you approach it mentally,” Marks explained. “You know all the excitement of the season and everything we are trying to accomplish over a 38-race body of work, both cars could go to Daytona, be very fast and leave there with 36th and 37th place finishes.
“It’s not indicative of the competitiveness of the enterprise you are bringing to the sport that year. It’s a bit of a difficult task for a lot of people because you are so excited about racing again, you want to set the tone for the season and win this tentpole of the sport.
“But you can’t escape the fact there is a lot of luck and circumstances involved. You have to make sure you approach that with that mindset that if the week doesn’t go that well, it’s not indicative of the way your season is going to go at all.”
From a team standpoint, Marks believes Trackhouse is prepared for the 65th Daytona 500.
"This is probably the most unique off season this sport has ever experienced,” he said. “The Daytona cars are basically ready to go just as they were when they came off the track last year. It's nice because it has opened a lot of bandwidth and allowed us to really look at the operations of our company, invest in the culture, people, and continue to build a really strong team."
One of the cornerstone principles of Trackhouse is to merge entertainment with racing and move the sport forward. The Daytona 500 captures the celebrity of racing and the superhero aspect of it.
That is why it is the most watched race of the year
“It’s hugely important, but honestly where we can be the most effective in that goal as a brand in trying to bring something different and try to transcend the sport,” Marks revealed. “That’s a lot of work we do outside of race cars.”
To accomplish that goal, Trackhouse has built a brand strategy division during the offseason.
Branding has become a very important aspect of NASCAR and one of the reasons why so many sponsors have become partners of the stock car racing series.
“We brought some really talented social digital strategy elements in and some content shooters,” Marks said. “We’ve got very ambitious plans to bring fan engagement to the sport that a team never has done before.
“If you put all your eggs in the basket of race results and cars on the race track to push the brand forward, you are limiting yourself a lot. There are millions of NASCAR fans that are looking for inspiring and compelling engagement and content and experience. There is a lot of opportunity to do that in between Sundays.
“That is really where, as an organization, we are focused on putting a lot of effort, time, and investment capital into growing that.
“The fact we get to go racing on national TV every Sunday is the icing on the cake, but I’m excited about scaling that part of the company.”
Trackhouse ownership partner “Pitbull” — Armando Christian Perez — is the perfect example of bringing celebrity and NASCAR together in the garage area and on the track.
“He is a big part of that initiative,” Marks said of Pitbull. “With someone like Armando, Trackhouse has exposure that no other team has. He is such a big megaphone and amplification of what we are doing.
“He’s putting us in lyrics of his songs and wearing our logo in his music videos. It’s a great opportunity to start the process of Trackhouse being a brand that engages with all different types of people, not just racing fans.”
By moving the sport forward, there are different faces in the grandstands of NASCAR events. It’s more diversified than the past.
Although NASCAR has deep roots in the American South, it is now a home to people of different backgrounds and cultures.
That diversity is more reflective of the United States and the World in 2023.
Marks believes NASCAR has to appeal to more than just NASCAR fans.
“It’s hugely important because this is becoming a world where there is a lot of competition for attention,” he said. “There is a lot of competition when it comes to sports and entertainment.
“NASCAR as a sport, has to transcend and grow beyond its endemic fanbase. It has to appeal to lots of different people. When you see more diversity in the grandstands and you see younger people and NASCAR finding its way into corners of culture it hasn’t necessarily been in before, to me that is a huge metric of success.
“It’s something the teams and the drivers have to continue to push the envelope on forever because there are a lot of choices for people right now to choose its entertainment.
“The more different types of people NASCAR can appeal to, the more long-term success the sport sets itself up to have.”