What you need to know ahead of NASCARs first Daytona road course weekend
Welcome to the NASCAR’s first attempt at racing the Daytona road course.
With races at road courses Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Watkins Glen unable to be run because of the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR is running Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series races at the Daytona road course this weekend. The Xfinity Series runs first on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) while the Truck Series (Noon ET, FS1) precedes the Cup Series (3 p.m. ET, NBC) on Sunday.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of those races, especially Sunday’s Cup Series race.
No practice, no qualifying
Each of the three races will be run without practice or qualifying ahead of them. That means the first lap of each race will be the first time each driver has turned a lap at speed all weekend.
Is that a good idea? We’ll find out. NASCAR is committed to holding no practice and qualifying ahead of all races for the rest of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption to the 2020 season. Without practice and qualifying ahead of a race, a team doesn’t have to bring a backup car to the race. And NASCAR’s social distancing protocols mean teams are bringing fewer crew members to the track on a weekly basis.
Taking fewer cars and fewer people to the race is saving teams money. But we’ve got a feeling that teams will be spending a lot of money after the race. A bunch of drivers trying to race each other on a track layout they haven’t had a chance to familiarize themselves with outside of simulations and iRacing could result in a lot of crashes.
“Yeah, it’s going to be pretty wild,” Kurt Busch said. “Just driving a little bit on iRacing and the simulator with Chevrolet, having a mindset of driving the car at 80 percent pace has seemed to have provided the most stability in laps times and in as far as tire wear and just finding a rhythm. That’s the key thing. You have to find a rhythm and we’re all going to be doing it as they drop the green flag and as there are 39 other cars around us and who knows? Thunderstorms are in the forecast and we may as well throw rain tires on our cars in 2020 just to say we checked that off the box.”
Yes, Busch mentioned rain in that quote above. NASCAR has brought rain tires for teams because it’s using the road course layout at Daytona.
There are chances for afternoon thunderstorms on both Saturday and Sunday. NASCAR does not race when lightning is within a 10-mile radius of the track — remember how Justin Haley won at Daytona in July in 2019? — but would be willing to let the race go on if there was rain and no lightning close to the track.
A new chicane
The track layout is the same as the one used for the Rolex 24 sports car race every January with one exception. NASCAR added a chicane off the exit of the final oval turn to slow the cars and trucks down heading into the hard left turn past the start/finish line that begins the road course section of the track.
It remains to be seen just how much speed the new chicane will scrub from vehicles as they exit Turn 1 and if it’ll create an additional passing zone itself.
“The speed you carried from bus stop to the Turn 1 entrance really lended itself to drafting and making moves with the draft and air,” Kyle Busch said. “So now, with us having the chicane, that’s certainly not going to be the case for anyone familiar with the Daytona road course and the Rolex 24. It’s one section that has changed, but it will change the whole complexion of the track, in my opinion.”
No one can double dip
Because of the lack of practice and qualifying, NASCAR made a rule prohibiting anyone from competing in more than one race over the weekend. Had it not, you would have seen a bunch of Cup drivers racing in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series to gain some track time.
Instead, we’re guaranteed the chance for three different winners over the three races. Congratulations people who don’t like Kyle Busch winning Truck and Xfinity Series races, he’s barred from sweeping the weekend.
Chances of a surprise winner?
There are just three more regular-season Cup Series races before the playoffs begin. Could Sunday be the best chance for a driver currently outside the provisional playoff field to get a win?
Maybe. But the road course could also be the best chance for a driver to take himself out of playoff contention before the postseason begins. An early-race crash for a driver on the playoff bubble could mean a DNF and just a handful of points. Being conservative early may be the best way to attack for a driver on the edge of the playoffs.
Playoff bubble standings
Sixteen drivers make the playoffs. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and Cole Custer are locked in because they’ve won races. As of now, there are six spots available for winless drivers. The final driver in the playoffs at the moment is William Byron.