Go Bowling 235 at Daytona Race Preview

TRACK: Daytona International Speedway (3.57 mile road course) DISTANCE: 65 Laps – STAGE 1: 15 Laps, Stage 2: 15 Laps, FINAL STAGE 35 LAPS, 235 Miles)
WEATHER: RAIN 40%, 90 degrees high

Favorites

Martin Truex Jr. 

He has four wins on road courses so he has to be a favorite. Truex, went through a stretch starting at Watkins Glen in 2017, with a win or a runner-up in six of seven starts on road courses. The only reason it wasn’t a perfect 7-for-7 was he was crashed while leading coming to the final turn in 2018 on the ROVAL.

Kevin Harvick

He has one road course win but 11 top 10’s in his last 13 starts on them including a top seven effort in all three road courses a year ago and a top 10 in all three in 2018 as well.

Chase Elliott

He’s won three times in 10 road course starts including two straight. He won at Watkins Glen the last two years and on the ROVAL in Charlotte last year.

Ryan Blaney

He doesn’t necessarily think of himself as a road course ringer, but Blaney won on the ROVAL in 2018 and has four straight top eight finishes on road courses overall. Furthermore, he has six top 10’s over his last eight in general.

Sleepers

Clint Bowyer

A playoff wildcard driver could steal a win this weekend. Bowyer, has five top five finishes in his last eight road course starts. He was in the top five in both ROVAL races thus far too.

Erik Jones

Worth a look here. Jones, has four top eight finishes in his last six road course starts. The only two finishes though not in the top 10 were on the Charlotte ROVAL. That’s worth noting.

Matt DiBenedetto

He was in the top 11 in all three road course races last year with Leavine Family Racing.

Race Preview

We all thought the move to put the regular season finale at the Daytona International Speedway was bold enough. The final race coming down to a wildcard moment. In the past, Richmond and Indianapolis has served as the 26th and final stop of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season. Neither of those races have the abilities to provide the unexpected like a superspeedway race can.

But, Sunday’s race may provide even more unpredictability. Yes, it’s at Daytona, but this weekend is on the road course. That alone is a wild card. So is this, a NASCAR has never raced on this course before. This is new to everyone. Furthermore, we’re not even practicing before either.

While some drivers in the field have raced in the IMSA race at Daytona during the annual January visit, that race is vastly different than circling the track in a NASCAR. The first laps these guys will be making at Daytona in a NASCAR, on the road course, is going to be in race conditions on Sunday afternoon.

Road courses are always unpredictable but throw all of that into this, well watch out.

Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott are the best on road courses in general right now. They’ve combined to win six of the last seven on them. The only one that they didn’t win are the ROVAL in Charlotte in 2018 in which Truex was leading on the final lap heading into the final turn but was crashed by Jimmie Johnson. That’s it.

So, in terms of favorites, you have to look at these two.

Ryan Blaney may be the best of the rest with four straight top eight finishes on road courses and six top 10’s in his last eight tries on them overall. The rest of the drivers have been hit or miss.

Also, the bubble drivers will have to play is easy on points and honestly have to be conservative while everyone else will certainly swing for the fences.

Kyle Busch is looking for a win this year and could very well do so in Daytona. He has nine top seven finishes in his last 12 road course starts including four wins overall, but on ROVAL’s, he’s not been so hot. Busch, was 32nd and 37th respectively at Charlotte on their ROVAL.

Clint Bowyer (5 top fives in last 8 on road courses), Matt DiBenedetto (4, 6, 11 last year on them) and Erik Jones (4 top 7’s in last 7 on road courses) are bubble drivers and could thrive on good points days.

Key Stat

Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott are the best on road courses in general right now. They’ve combined to win six of the last seven on them. The only one that they didn’t win are the ROVAL in Charlotte in 2018 in which Truex was leading on the final lap heading into the final turn but was crashed by Jimmie Johnson. That’s it.

They Said It

“I’d obviously like to win it really bad,” Ryan Newman said of winning this weekend in Daytona. “That’s a no-brainer, for a playoff berth and just to get in Victory Lane in any form and any fashion would be pretty spectacular for me.  And then obviously some bittersweetness being in Daytona after February, but the reality is I’m probably one of a few guys that has laps even though it was back in the IROC days in an IROC car there, I don’t remember the exact year, but I’m one of the few guys that probably has laps.  Obviously, Kurt Busch and some other guys that have done the 24 Hours do, and that’s gonna play to their advantage, and we’ll definitely do some sim work in trying to get a better understanding of our types of cars and that racetrack, but the reality is it’s gonna be a lot of greenness for a lot of people when the green flag drops.”
 

Penske drivers could struggle this weekend in Daytona

For the first time of the season, NASCAR will make left and right hand turns as Sunday’s race on the Daytona International Speedway road course not only marks the first non oval of the season, but also the first race ever on the DIS road course as well for NASCAR.

Despite that, I question on how well we can expect the Team Penske trio to do.

Brad Keselowski is 0-for-22 on road courses during his career. While he did have two top 10 finishes in three tries on them last year, five of his last seven road course starts have seen him finish 13th or worse.

Same for Joey Logano. He’s had no top fives of them since 2017 (8 starts). While he was fifth and first in the two races in 2015 and third and second in 2016, his finishes since are – 12th, 24th, 19th, 37th, 10th, 23rd, 23rd and 10th respectively.

Ryan Blaney may be their best bet. Blaney, has four straight top eight finishes on them including a win on the ROVAL in 2018.

Busch is good on road courses, but the ROVAL paints a different picture

If Sunday’s historic race on the Daytona International Speedway road course was on just a natural road course, I’d say watch out for Kyle Busch. But, the fact that it’s also part road course part oval, I say pump the brakes a bit.

Busch, has four road course wins during his career. He has nine top seven finishes in his last 12 starts on them overall. But, if you look at his results on the Charlotte ROVAL, well I now begin to question whether his No. 18 Toyota will be factor for the win on Sunday or not.

Busch’s two ROVAL finishes are 32nd and 37th respectively. With them struggling on setups this year, I don’t necessarily think this is Busch’s best shot to end a winless streak that dates to last year’s season finale.

Truex/Elliott the ones to watch this Sunday in Daytona

This weekend will be historic. For the first time ever, NASCAR will race at the Daytona International Speedway on the road course. With that said, there’s no possible way of knowing for sure who will be the ones to beat or not. But, if you base this off of past road course history, then you can’t go wrong with the Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott combo.

Truex Jr. and Elliott are statistically the best on road courses in general right now. They’ve combined to win six of the last seven on them overall. The only one that they didn’t win are the ROVAL in Charlotte in 2018 in which Truex was leading on the final lap heading into the final turn but was crashed by Jimmie Johnson. That’s it.

So, in terms of favorites, you have to look at these two.

Plus, they’re heating up in general on the season. Truex, is becoming a top five machine (2nd in Kentucky, 3rd in Kansas) while Elliott has four top eight finishes since June.

Playoffs could get shaken up this weekend in Daytona

Cole Custer and Austin Dillon gave the first major shakeup in back-to-back weeks for the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings. Daytona could do the rest. We have four races left in the 2020 regular season. Half of them will take place at the Daytona International Speedway. One of which will take place this Sunday on the DIS road course.

Yes, the first time NASCAR has ever raced on the road course will come this weekend and yes, no practice or qualifying will take place prior. It’s also the first road course event of the season as well.

Can you say, unpredictable.

We already know the Coke Zero Sugar 400 which this year serves as the regular season finale will create an unpredictable mess. I mean Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon (2017, 2018 Daytona 500’s), Erik Jones and Justin Haley (2018, 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400’s) have won four of the last six points paying races at DIS on the 2.5-mile oval. All were their first career wins on a superspeedway with for Jones and Haley, it was their first career NASCAR Cup Series wins in general.

If we get another unlikely winner, one that’s currently not in the top 16 of the playoff standings at either of the two Daytona races, and lets be honest, it’s highly likely, then the playoff bubble shifts up again.

Right now, we have six drivers holding onto wildcard spots. Half of those six are good to go with Aric Almirola (+158), Kyle Busch (+140) and Kurt Busch (+137) all over 100 points to the good. There’s not much of a chance for anyone behind them to even catch these three.

But, Clint Bowyer (+60) Matt DiBenedetto (+57) and William Byron (+26) are a little more worried. Still, for Bowyer and DiBenedetto, they’re sitting good with the points accumulated. As of NOW.

But, say someone behind them wins, well all hell will break loose again.

Instead of Byron being 16th, DiBenedetto as of now would be. That means the fight between Bowyer and DiBenedetto is bigger because they don’t want to be in danger of falling to the 16th spot should someone outside of the top 16 right now win. Then, you get a fight between Byron, Tyler Reddick, Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones for the 16th and final spot now too.

For everyone else, it’s just a focus on winning and winning only. That’s their best paths to the playoffs.

With Dover likely going to be won by a driver that has already won this season, that leaves the two Daytona races to go for broke.

Bowyer has five top five finishes in his last eight starts on road courses. He was third and fourth respectively on the ROVAL. DiBenedetto, was fourth, sixth and 11th on road courses last year with Leavine Family Racing. Byron, was eighth in 2018 at Watkins Glen and sixth last year on the ROVAL. Jones, has four top eight finishes in his last six starts on road courses. Reddick is a rookie.

Johnson, has struggled. He has one win in 38 career road course starts. His last top five on one was 2012. He does have two top 10’s in as many tries on the ROVAL in Charlotte, but those are his only top 10’s in his last 10 road course starts too.

So, as you can see, Sunday’s race will make your head spin with all the scenarios at play for playoff positioning. Then, we get to do it again two weeks later for the finale of the regular season on the oval.

Emotional visit this weekend for Newman

This weekend, Ryan Newman will return to the site of his frightening crash in the season opening Daytona 500. This Sunday though will be a bit different since we’re using the 3.57-mile road course instead of the 2.5-mile superspeedway, but just being back at the scene from a crash that changed his life is going to be what he describes as “bittersweet.”

See, due to the pandemic, NASCAR had to cancel the race weekend at Watkins Glen this year. In its place is a road course race on Aug. 16 at the Daytona International Speedway. Then, 13 days later, they return for the new regular season finale on the oval for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Aug. 29.

Both visits will be emotional for Newman. Just days before the ‘500 back in February, Newman and his wife announced that they were going to separate. Then, three days later, we all feared for his life as he was involved in a violent last lap crash of the Daytona 500 while he was leading coming to the checkered flag.

Amazingly, Newman walked out of the Halifax Medical Center just a stones throw from DIS less than 48 hours later with his daughters on each side of him. While he had a recovery process, with the pandemic causing a lengthy break in the season from March into May, the Roush Fenway Racing driver really only missed three races.

Since his return to the No. 6 Ford, Newman has been up front and honest about the crash and his recovery process. He said he has no memory of the crash and if he didn’t see a replay, he wouldn’t believe it happened to him. He’s lucky that the only major injury that he even suffered was a brain injury to which he says now that he’s fully healed from.

“No, I feel fine,” Newman said last month of his physical condition. “I’ve been good, even after hitting the wall as hard as we did, which wasn’t near as hard as everybody else did it at Indy.  I’ve been fine.  No issues, just trying to get some more speed and balance in our Roush Fenway Ford Mustang, so that’s been really the focus.  Healthwise, I feel 100 percent.”

Newman, will definitely be the talk of the sport when the series goes back to Daytona this weekend. While it’s going to be emotional, he says that every day since that February crash has been in general.

“I guess after February I’m pretty emotional every day,” said Newman. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to continue on.  I get to hit the reset button in a roundabout way, not with my life, but the reality is just to continue to play on.

“I will probably be some sort of emotional going back to Daytona, but I don’t see it being a whole lot different than the kind of emotion I had getting in the car at Talladega or even going back to Darlington for that matter when I went and did my first test.”

Now that he’s had time to process what has happened and evaluate his life now, Newman admitted that he does go back and replay what could have happened differently in February. While he has no memory, he replays in his mind from the replays that he’s seen and if that crash doesn’t happen, where would his life be today?

“No doubt I’ve thought about it, but the reality is it’s not the truth, it’s not what happened, it’s the what could have been and everybody has that in their season,” said Newman. “We have to do our job to go back and kind of replay those events and make corrections to whatever mistakes or whatever differences we can to try to be victorious.

“That doesn’t go just for Daytona, that goes for every racetrack.  The season no doubt has been a challenge in so many ways for so many people and our team, I feel like we’ve struggled a little bit, but I feel like we have the things that we need to make the corrections to be better and be stronger and be successful, so we’re just gonna keep our nose to the grindstone and carry on.”

Newman, is in a position to where if he’s going to be a part of this year’s playoffs, he is going to have to win one of the two Daytona races or one of the two next week in Dover.

“I’d obviously like to win it really bad,” Newman said of this weekend’s race. “That’s a no-brainer, for a playoff berth and just to get in Victory Lane in any form and any fashion would be pretty spectacular for me. 

“And then obviously some bittersweetness being in Daytona after February, but the reality is I’m probably one of a few guys that has laps even though it was back in the IROC days in an IROC car there, I don’t remember the exact year, but I’m one of the few guys that probably has laps. 

“Obviously, Kurt Busch and some other guys that have done the 24 Hours do, and that’s gonna play to their advantage, and we’ll definitely do some sim work in trying to get a better understanding of our types of cars and that racetrack, but the reality is it’s gonna be a lot of greenness for a lot of people when the green flag drops.”

While it’s hard to go this long without a win and have realistic championship aspirations, it’s not like it’s impossible either.

“I completely agree with you,” said Newman. “It does become more difficult as you get to this point in the season, if you haven’t been successful, to play catch-up.  It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

Newman points to the 2014 season in which he went winless all year but still found his way to the Championship 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway that season vying for a title.

“I do believe that the map is there to do what we did in 2014,” Newman continued. “Now, keep in mind, we did that with quite a bit of drama amongst the rest of our peers to get to that point.

“There was some crashing.  There was some fighting.  There was a little bit of laying low and playing it safe that helped progress us to that point where we were in the final four and, at the same time, we barely made that.

“We made it by one point, one spot.  I think that, like I said, it’s still possible.  It’s still a reality mathematically, but I would love to be that guy that’s the high point guy going into the last 10.”

Newman thinks that it’s possible and Daytona could be a storybook spot to win at to make himself playoff eligible. With an unknown about both races, Newman talks safety too.

“Controlling the speed is obviously very important no matter what racetrack we go to and as we get to this situation with different angles of impact and walls and things like that, that we’re not used to, I guess my personal opinion on safety is not necessarily the slower the better, but the slower the safer.  That’s just something that definitely needs to be considered and obviously has been considered otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about it, but I feel like if you are gonna do this, you have to err towards the side of safety and that will be with lesser speeds and trying to calculate what risk is involved with, again, the angle of impacts that we could have to entertain.”

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