If the ratings are any indication, I have a feeling that we’ll see the Daytona International Speedway road course back again soon. I asked that question in my top 5 Daytona takeaways report on Monday, but after the ratings report came out on Tuesday, the answer may be clear. The Daytona road course experiment may have come to an end, but is the future over?
Adam Stern of the SBJ reported that Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 drew a 2.8 rating with 4.750 million viewers. That’s a pretty strong rating in the sense that this was the most watched road course race for the Cup Series since 2014 he said. It’s also the most watched sports event of the weekend too.
So, if this comes back, would the schedule grow to eight road courses in the future? Would someone lose a date? Would it even be the ‘400? The Brickyard 400 moved off the oval this year in Indianapolis, so it’s not out of the possibilities that Daytona and NASCAR just move the Coke Zero Sugar 400 to the road course which could give us 8 of the 36 points paying races on road courses.
The new question that could then come up is, would that be too many?
Some of the NASCAR drivers were questioning the fact that we have so many road courses now. They think this could just be a fad that would eventually wear off. NASCAR is hoping that’s not the case since they jumped fully into this idea. They’ve submerged themselves in the road racing game.
But, with how a majority of Sunday’s race at DIS looked, you have to wonder if the other six road courses on the 2021 schedule are going to be a Chase Elliott vs. Joe Gibbs Racing battle for wins on them. I mean, Sunday further proved that these guys are the class of the field on road courses.
Elliott, is the best driver while JGR has the best cars.
Elliott, led the first 12 laps. The only reason it wasn’t more was that he pit on Lap 13. He then took the lead back over though on Lap 14 and would actually lead 27 of the first 28 laps overall. He was so smooth and didn’t turn a wheel wrong.
Right before the final round of pit sequences began, he passed a JGR driver, Christopher Bell, for the lead. Then, the fluke caution came out. At the time of the caution, Elliott led 45 of the first 57 laps.
You can’t deny now that Elliott is the top road racer in the game right now and it’s honestly not all that close either. At the time of the yellow, it was Elliott and three JGR drivers in the top five. Hamlin was in the top seven himself. That’s five of the top seven belonging to them.
They still get two of the top three finishing spots. They went 1-2-3 on this track last year. Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win eight of the last 10 road course races with the only two occurrences that they didn’t win being flukes.
So, why would the remaining six road course races honestly look any different?
“The hard part is, it’s very clear, every time we come to a road course now, it’s been the 9, then one step back is the Gibbs cars, feels like the next step back has been our car with the 22,” said Joey Logano.
Logano says that the hardest thing to do right now is to close that gap. That’s because there’s the lack of practice each weekend.
“It’s hard to make up that ground because you can’t just throw the kitchen sink at it because you have a bunch of theories that aren’t verified, right?” Logano continued. “On top of that, it’s hard to compare one race to the next because the temperature is different, you name it could be different.
“It’s hard to make up that difference sometimes because of the lack of practice where you can just AB something. More sway bar, less sway bar, what’s better? You can just line that up and know.”
Luckily for the rest of the field, there will be practice for some of these new tracks. COTA, Road America and the Indianapolis road course will feature practice. Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte ROVAL won’t. Is that enough to shorten that gap and allow someone arguably outside of Elliott, Truex, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell or Kyle Busch to win?
“For us, it’s nice we had the Clash last week, we tried some things there,” Logano said. “I thought they were better. We tried some more this week. We made some gains again. So as long as we keep being methodical and inching up on it, it’s good. If you throw 10 things at it, like I said, it’s too many variables.”
Hamlin agreed. He said the addition of all these road courses could in turn help everyone else catch up. It’s all about track time.
“I think how I’ll get better is on-track time,” he said. “I think in general, the more that we run road courses, the tighter the field is going to get. Everyone is going to get better. The gap is going to shrink. Really Chase passed the 19. Those two guys got a gap fifth to 10th to 20th. That will shrink the more we do road racing.”
Hamlin, noted that he’s just stuck right now with what he can do. He just can’t break through. He does note that he’s catching up, but without a lot of track time, he’s not able to close that gap up to Elliott or Truex.
“For me, I’m stuck at par right now,” Hamlin continued. “I can’t break par. I’m just right there third to fourth fastest, and that’s where I’m at. I think the more times I run, the tighter that gap is going to get.
“I think I’m catching up. I think I got 20 to 30% there. I mean, he’s still lightning fast. I mean, honestly, when he got the lead, I beat him maybe a couple laps, but who knows. He’s probably just sitting back one-handing this thing just cruising. Who knows.
“I definitely feel like I gained a little bit, but I still got some work to do for sure. There’s nothing I could see honestly that was, like, earth shattering, wow, he’s just killing me here. It’s a little bit everywhere. It’s just going to take time for me to figure out.”
I think you can almost break out the Sharpie for an Elliott or Truex win at Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the ROVAL so long as nothing fluke happens, and maybe even COTA, but Road America and Indianapolis may be the outliers for someone new.
Then, 2022 with a new car and seven road courses under out belt for 2021 could tighten that gap up even more.