No matter how many times a professional racer makes their annual wintertime journey to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks, there’s always a sense of awe about the race track and the events that are run there, especially the Daytona 500.
The Wood Brothers, who are returning to Daytona with Harrison Burton driving their No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Mustang, have been racing at Daytona in February since the late team founder Glenn Wood drove – and regularly won – on the old beach-road course that preceded the 2.5-mile Superspeedway that opened in 1959.
Burton has been making the trek to Daytona for most of his young life, with his early trips as a child watching his dad Jeff Burton competing there.
Brian Wilson, crew chief on the No. 21 Mustang also has a fairly long history as a racer at Daytona. His first Speedweeks was in 2002, when he was an engineer and shock specialist for ARCA veteran Frank Kimmel.
“I thought it was so cool,” Wilson said of his Daytona debut. “In that moment I accomplished my goal in racing – to be on a team.
“From there I’ve made other goals, but that time in 2002 was my first one.”
He’s returning to the World Center of Racing to start his second year as crew chief for the Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Mustang, and the sense of awe and anticipation that he felt 20 years ago remains just as strong today as it was back in the beginning.
“Every year when we start our season in Daytona all of the teams find reasons to have hope,” Wilson said. “There’s an excitement in the garage to see how the season will go.”
Wilson said the No. 21 team’s late-season surge in 2022 has brought an air of optimism to the entire organization as NASCAR heads into its 75th year.
“When looking at the end of our season on the No. 21 and how we progressed overall through the year it’s easy to have excitement within our team,” he said, adding that there have been some tweaks to the team’s line-up for 2023. “Within our group we’ve added experience, talent and depth to our roster. We added a new engineer, setup plate specialist and front tire changer, but the core of our 2022 group is still together.
“In preparing our car for Daytona we can see the strength of the team as we’re all starting to work together.”
There are other changes as well heading into Sunday’s Great American Race.
“Another storyline this week will be the new bodies that each manufacturer has for 2023,” Wilson said. “The data that we get shows that Ford has really done an exceptional job in preparing for this change.
“The cars we’re bringing to Daytona are a great balance of drag vs. downforce. The Ford engineers were very efficient.”
The first time Burton and the No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Mustang will be on the track is for single-car qualifying on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. Eastern Time.
The first of two 60-lap,150-mile Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying races is set to get the green flag at 7 p.m. on Thursday followed by the nightcap at about 8:45 p.m.
The first Cup practice session is scheduled to start at 5:35 p.m. on Friday, with the second and final practice getting the green flag at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The 65th-annual Daytona 500 is scheduled to start just after 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, with Stage breaks at Laps 65 and 130.
FOX Sports 1 will carry the TV coverage of the preliminary events, with FOX broadcasting the Daytona 500.