An Ohio guide to NASCAR opening weekend at Daytona

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Here are the drivers and teams with Buckeye State connections

Ryan Blaney 2021 Daytona 500 qualifying

Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Blue DEF/PEAK Ford, enters his car qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 10, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The 2021 NASCAR season began this week with events leading up to the Daytona 500, the most prestigious race of the year. NASCAR’s three national touring series will take the track in races Friday through Sunday, and a handful of teams and drivers hail from Ohio.

Truck Series NextEra Energy 250

Friday, Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. 100 laps, 250 miles.

The action begins under the lights Friday night when NASCAR’s third-tier Camping World Truck Series takes the green flag for a 100-lap dash.

ThorSport Racing is NASCAR’s only full-time team based in Ohio. The four-truck team from Sandusky, founded in 1996, is the oldest Truck Series team still in operation.

ThorSport won Truck championships in 2013, 2014 and 2019, and its drivers regularly make the playoffs. Grant Enfinger, driver of the No. 98, won last year’s Daytona opener. In the No. 13, 88 and 99 trucks on Friday will be Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes, respectively.

Xfinity Series Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300

Saturday, Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. 120 laps, 300 miles.

The Xfinity Series is one step below the top-level Cup Series, akin to what the Columbus Clippers are to the Cleveland Indians. Saturday’s race features four cars for Ohioans to follow.

Kaulig Racing will field the No. 10, 11 and 16 cars, driven by Jeb Burton, Justin Haley and A.J. Allmendinger, respectively.

The team is based in North Carolina like most NASCAR teams, but owner and Columbus native Matt Kaulig runs his company, LeafFilter, out of Hudson, Ohio, a suburb of Akron.

All three Kaulig drivers have Xfinity Series victories, and Haley and Allmendinger also have Cup wins. Additionally, Allmendinger ran January’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona sports car race (unaffiliated with NASCAR) for Pataskala’s Meyer Shank Racing.

Austin Cindric returns to Team Penske’s No. 22 car this year. The Columbus-born defending Xfinity Series champion is the only Ohio-native driver to ever win a NASCAR title. Cindric, 22, will also run some Cup races this year (including the Daytona 500) before taking over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing car in 2022.

Austin Cindric NASCAR championship
Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Menards/Richmond Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 and the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Later this season, the Xfinity Series will race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday, June 5.

Cup Series Daytona 500

Sunday, Feb. 14 at 2:30 p.m. on Fox. 200 laps, 500 miles.

The Daytona 500, NASCAR’s equivalent to the Super Bowl, is 500 miles of some of the best racing of the year. The Cup race features five drivers for Ohioans to watch.

Ryan Blaney, 27, has won four Cup races in his career, including two at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. This superspeedway success gives Blaney, who has two second-place finishes in six Daytona 500s, an advantage on Sunday.

Blaney, the son of famous Ohio dirt track racer and former NASCAR journeyman Dave Blaney, was born in Trumbull County, outside Youngstown. He starts 14th in Sunday’s 40-car field.

Kaz Grala, 22, driving for Kaulig Racing, will make his first career Daytona 500 start after racing his way in to the final starting spot. His lone Cup Series race was a 7th-place finish last year on Daytona’s road course layout for Richard Childress Racing.

Austin Cindric will make his Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Daytona 500 after also racing his way in. His Team Penske Ford Mustang will roll off the grid 39th.

Cindric’s crew chief, Miles Stanley, is also an Ohio native; He grew up in Massillon and graduated from the University of Akron.

Bubba Wallace, 27, is the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level, and 2021 brings him to a new team owned by Michael Jordan and fellow driver Denny Hamlin.

One of Wallace’s sponsors on the No. 23 car this year will be Columbus-based Root Insurance, which announced its partnership with Wallace last fall in a powerful video.

Various other Ohio companies sponsor Cup cars, including Kroger and Fifth Third Bank.

Wallace was the runner-up in the Daytona 500 in 2018. He starts sixth on Sunday with a car good enough to win, which would make him just the second Black winner in Cup history and the first since 1964.

B.J. McLeod‘s team, Live Fast Motorsports, is possibly Ohio’s strongest connection to the Cup Series. McLeod formed LFM in the offseason with longtime friend and Medina County native Matt Tifft, 24, making Tifft NASCAR’s youngest owner.

Tifft raced in the Cup Series full-time in 2019 before mysterious seizures put a pause on his driving career and steered him toward ownership. McLeod, 37, will make his full-time Cup debut this year after five years of part-time driving.

McLeod’s best career Cup finish is 19th, in the 2019 Daytona 500. He starts 38th on Sunday.

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