Should Daytona's Road Race Stick?
By Bob Pockrass
The Daytona International Speedway road course has always been looked at as something for sports cars, one that can have international acclaim as the site for one of the world’s biggest 24-hour races but not be part of the NASCAR psyche.
NASCAR drivers belong drafting in a scary chess match at 200mph on its high-banked oval — that is where the accomplishments and disappointments and tragedies of NASCAR’s biggest stars reside.
The road course doesn’t have the speed and elevation changes of Watkins Glen and doesn’t require the technical ability of a Sonoma. And the NASCAR Cup Series already has one hybrid road course that combines an oval and infield turns at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So there really is no need for the Daytona road course as a points race on the schedule.
But NASCAR made a late switch from Watkins Glen to the Daytona road course after logistics of running in New York with the testing and quarantine required appeared too extensive. In 2020, anything is worth a try, so NASCAR gave it one.
After the race Sunday won by Chase Elliott – the same driver who had won the last two Cup road course races, as well as the last two at the Glen – it could be asked whether the Daytona road course deserves a permanent spot on the schedule.
NASCAR already has said it will use the road course for the Busch Clash next year. The problem of making the road course a points race is that NASCAR, starting this year, has set Daytona as the final race of the regular season – and it likely wants to keep the drama of a high-speed, drafting race as one last hope for everyone to make the playoffs.
In two weeks, NASCAR will see if it gets what it wants with that last regular-season race. At least it already knows now what it can get from the road course.
The races over the weekend weren’t bad, especially since drivers weren’t allowed to practice. The backstretch chicane did tear up some equipment as drivers blasted through the grass. It seemed NASCAR’s officiating of some of its chicane rules was a little bit inconsistent. Certainly, August isn’t a great time for races in the afternoon with all three days having lightning delays.
The leaders tended to be able to drive away from everyone else, and Elliott held a 10-second lead at one point in the event (that’s not totally rare for road courses).
The bottom line was this seemed as a legitimate road course race, albeit much tamer than expected. There were no cautions for any multicar incidents in the Cup race. It wasn’t one of those incredible moments, but it was certainly adequate and not a joke, with the best road racers in the series able to thrive.
"Myself and some friends were talking about that before the race today, and we were like, ‘I wonder how many cautions there will be?’" Denny Hamlin said. "I'm like, ‘These guys are pretty good.’
"They found a way to adapt and they've got a lot of tools to help them prepare for these races. These are pros, and you see a clean race whenever you see the driver quality that we have in the Cup Series."
Martin Truex Jr., who worked his way through the field from the rear after a pit-road speeding penalty to third over the final 35 laps, might have had the best view of the racing.
"I thought we've seen a good race, and obviously not a ton of cautions, not a ton of crashes and guys doing crazy stuff," Truex said. "I thought the race went really well. The racing was good.
"You could make passes if you were faster than a guy, and that's always as a competitor what you're looking for, and I think that's what puts on a good show, so I'd be totally fine with it [as another points race]."
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the drivers had practice, if maybe they would have been more aggressive from the start with more confidence in their cars. Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex met on pit road prior to the race and talked about the start as they comprised the first two rows.
"We said, ‘OK, when we take off we're going to start braking right there — we're not going to have any secrets, let's make sure we don't look like a bunch of dummies there in Turn 1,’" Hamlin said.
"We made sure we kept it clean to start, and then you can get your bearings about you after you run a few laps. Really, it's one of those tracks where I feel like it's not super technical, but it definitely rewards the guys that do the right techniques on road courses."
Typically when there is a new course, drivers lobby for changes. Not Elliott.
"I thought the track was fine," Elliott said. "They have a ton of 24‑hour events that they've run here over the years, so I don't think they need to do anything. I thought it was all good."
Of course, the winner is going to be happy. Joey Logano, who finished ninth, thought maybe the new front-stretch chicane should be tweaked.
"The biggest thing more than anything was learning how to pass cars and figure out where the passing zone were," he said. "That last chicane was pretty tough.
"You can’t really get in there. It isn’t a real good spot. If I was to adjust anything, I would adjust that last chicane because it doesn't present a passing opportunity."
If that’s the biggest gripe, then it was a successful race. NASCAR might not have meant to have people wondering if the course should be added to future schedules beyond the Busch Clash. The race Sunday doesn’t make it a no-brainer, but it did make one think.
Xfinity: Cindric wins ... again
Austin Cindric has won five of the last six Xfinity Series races, although he felt he made too many mistakes on the Daytona road course.
"I’m not 100 percent proud of my race, so it makes me apprehensive about being super-excited," Cindric said.
"I’m pretty hard on myself and usually don’t need too many people to tell me what I’ve done wrong, because I’ve probably already thought about it or at least beat myself up over it."
Truck: GMS Racing 1-2
GMS Racing went 1-2 with Sheldon Creed outlasting teammate Brett Moffitt in an overtime restart for the victory. It was Creed’s second victory of the season, with the first having come on a rain-shortened event.
"I know a lot of people say I tear it up and I ruin it," Creed said about his aggressive style. "Which I have, but today I finished it off."
On The Air
Gander RV Trucks KDI Office Technology 200 (Dover), 5 p.m., FS1
Xfinity Drydene 200 (Dover), 12:30 p.m., NBCSN
Cup Drydene 311 (Dover), 4 p.m., NBCSN
Xfinity Drydene 200 (Dover), 1 p.m., NBCSN
Cup Drydene 311 (Dover), 4 p.m., NBCSN
Stat of the Day
Chase Elliott's fourth road-course Cup win ties him with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch for the most among active drivers. Alan Gustafson now has four road-course wins — the most of all active crew chiefs.
They Said It
"Any win at Daytona is special, and [my crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] and I were joking, he said we had to change it to a road case to win a race here at Daytona." — Chase Elliott