Denny Hamlin, the 2020 Daytona 500 winner, is the favorite to win the race again Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla. File Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Three-time winner Denny Hamlin, reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are the favorites for the 2022 Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
NASCAR's Great American Race will welcome back its full capacity of more than 100,000 fans after allowing about 30,000 in 2021, a limit put in place due to COVID-19.
"It is the Daytona 500," Joey Logano, another Top 5 favorite, told reporters Thursday at a media day news conference. "It is everything. You come down here and it is a sold-out grandstand and everyone is here.
"So many key decision-makers are here. You want to be the one hoisting the Harley J. Earl Trophy and when you don't it hurts. It hurts a lot."
Michael McDowell's No. 34 Ford was the first car past the checkered flag last year in NASCAR's most-celebrate race.
The 40-car starting order for this year's race was determined through time trials and the Bluegreen Vacation Duels, a pair of 60-lap, 150-mile races held Thursday in Daytona Beach. Cars will cruise at nearly 200 mph through 200 laps Sunday on the famed 2.5-mile, tri-oval track.
Larson and Alex Bowman earned the first and second starting spots, respectively, on Wednesday when they reached the fastest speeds in qualifying time trials. Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher, who won Thursday's duel races, will start in the second row Sunday.
Austin Cindric, McDowell, Ryan Blaney, Harrison Burton, Chase Biscoe and Kyle Busch will be among the other first 10 cars in the starting grid.
Logano, who crashed in the last lap of the second duel race, will start 20th and use a backup car in the Daytona 500.
"I would much rather win on Sunday, personally," Elliott said Thursday, when asked about winning the pole. "I think anybody on our team would tell you the same.
"I feel like we've always had fast cars down here. ... I do think it's an area where they put a lot of emphasis and put a lot of work into the cars, but we all want to win on Sunday more than anything."
Elliott and Blaney join Hamlin, Logano and Larson among the Top 5 favorites to win Sunday's main event, which starts at 2:30 p.m. EST and airs on Fox.
Logano, the 2015 Daytona champion, opened the season with a win at the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum, an exhibition race held Sunday in Los Angeles.
William Byron, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Keselowski, Bowman, Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace are among the other expected contenders this weekend.
"I just think I have a good understanding of the air here and how it moves around the walls," Hamlin told reporters.
"Talladega is different. If you look at our results, we haven't won as much at Talladega, but we've been pretty good. Here, there is just something about -- whatever it is -- the banking or the width of the track, height of the walls or something that I just kind of know where those little pockets of air are it seems like that are a little bit better."
Hamlin, who won two of the last three and three of the last six Daytona 500 titles, finished third in the 2021 Cup Series. Larson won a series-best 10 races to earn the 2021 Cup Series crown. Martin Truex Jr. finished second and Elliott finished fourth. Larson also led a record 2,581 laps last season.
The 2022 Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series seasons also get underway this weekend at Daytona.
The Truck Series NextEra Energy 250 airs at 7:30 p.m. EST Frida on FS1. The Xfinity Series starts with the Beef. It's What's For Dinner. 300 at 5 p.m. EST Saturday on FS1.
2022 Daytona 500
Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: 2:30 p.m. EST Sunday
Favorite: Denny Hamlin
Defending champion: Michael McDowell