Will The Penske drivers struggle this weekend in Daytona?
Team Penske was a half a lap away from a 1-2 finish last Sunday in Daytona. Now, they return to the same race track, just will be doing left and right hand turns this time around.
For the first time in a while, NASCAR will make left and right hand turns in race conditions in February. See, Sunday’s race on the Daytona International Speedway road course not only marks the first non oval of the season, but also the first time in decades that we had a race on a road course before June.
But, with Fontana being canceled, NASCAR needed a fill in race and here we go again on the DIS road course. I question though, how well we can expect the Team Penske trio to do.
They ended the 2020 season hot. They entered the 2021 campaign as the legitimate championship favorites. But, will they slide a bit after Sunday’s race?
Brad Keselowski is 0-for-24 on road courses during his career. While he did have two top 10 finishes in three tries on them in 2019, seven of his last nine road course starts have seen him finish 13th or worse.
Same for Joey Logano. His runner-up on the Charlotte ROVAL was his first top fives on one of them since 2017 (10 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, 10th, 9th and 2nd respectively.
Ryan Blaney may be their best bet. Blaney, has five top eight finishes on them in his last six starts including a win on the ROVAL in 2018. He nearly won the Clash as well.
Will The Bus Stop Be As “Dirty” Again? Track Making Adjustments
The Bus Stop was a tricky section of the 3.61-mile track during last weeks Busch Clash. Drivers would clip the grass and dirt through the inside portion of it and throw it all back up onto the race track behind. The dirt and grass would turn to mud and make that area treacherous.
You can point to Martin Truex Jr’s crash while leading in that section as a prime example. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch each spoke about it in post race too.
But, Denny Hamlin revealed on his social media this past week that changes are already being made. They’re adding concrete and the turtles in that section to help prevent what we saw in that area for the Clash.
How much will this change the racing through there?
Will The ROVAL Stay?
The two times the series has raced on the Daytona road course have come in a pinch. Watkins Glen was a late cancel last year due to COVID restrictions. They quickly need a race in its place. The Daytona road course was intriguing in the sense that they’ve never raced on it before but have always had a flirtatious relationship with. What better year than 2020 to try it out.
Well, with Fontana getting canceled in late winter, Daytona was a great option.
Watkins Glen, Fontana and Daytona all are part of the ISC company. When losing one track, the company overall doesn’t lose. So, it’s a win-win in that nature. Then, with the Daytona 500 being in February and Homestead after, why not shift Homestead back a week, fill in with the road course for race 2 and have a whole month of action in the Sunshine state.
Fontana was the third race anyways, so it all made sense.
Now, with a three race tryout on the road course, one in August, one in February and one also in February at night, there’s a large enough sample size to see if this race is a viable option to return to the schedule for 2022.
The racing last year was less than to be desired. The Clash is the Clash but it was phenomenal. There were as many lead changes in 35 laps of the Clash than 65 laps of the race last August. The lower downforce package worked this time around for the all-star race, how will it look when points matter on Sunday?
This race will essentially shape whether we come back to this layout intentionally, in a points paying manner, or if this gets moved back to a scenario where it’s only value is being needed in a pinch.
Is This Elliott And Truex’s Race To Lose?
Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott are the best on road courses in general right now. They’ve combined to win eight of the last nine on them including Elliott winning four straight. 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 were 1st and 3rd in this race last year.
Who Can Beat Elliott/Truex?
Denny Hamlin finished runner-up last year so he’s a viable option. So is Kyle Busch who won the Clash last week.
He doesn’t necessarily think of himself as a road course ringer, but Blaney won on the ROVAL in 2018 and has five top eight finishes on road courses in his last six overall starts on them. He had a car to beat during the Clash and would have won if not for last lap, last turn contact with Chase Elliott.
He has one road course win but 11 top 10’s in his last 15 starts on them including a top seven effort in all three road courses in 2019 and a top 10 in all three in 2018 as well. He was 17th (Daytona) and 11th (ROVAL) last year.
Worth a look here. Jones, has five top eight finishes in his last eight road course starts. The only three finishes though not in the top 10 were on the Charlotte ROVAL in his first two years of racing on it and 11th at Daytona last year. That’s worth noting because he was actually third on the ROVAL a year ago too.