By Cole Cusumano
It was a historical weekend at the World Center of Racing as the NASCAR Cup Series tackled the inaugural road course event. Having to live up to the titanic standards set by the lower divisions, the sport’s best rose to the occasion masterfully and proved why they’re elites among the sanctioning body.
Calamity and uncertainty highlighted the 14-turn wild card entering the day, but had you tuned in for the first time, you’d never believe it. All 39 teams clearly came composed and prepared, after countless hours of homework ranging from simulator training to watching film.
Fully expecting a day of carnage, the Go Bowling 235 ran exceptionally clean with only one caution outside of stage breaks and a weather delay. Passing was plentiful and it was a hard fought battle all day that totaled 13 lead changes.
In the end, Chase Elliott solidified his status as the road course king with his third consecutive victory of the sort. The 24-year-old put on a dominant performance, leading 34 of 65 laps. This win came at the perfect time for the sport’s most popular driver, as he made the leap from being the 10th to sixth seeded driver in the playoffs with three regular season races remaining.
With the postseason in mind, those who needed to step up to the plate capitalized on their opportunities in a day where many thought could be as disastrous as the track’s oval counterpart. Seven drivers in search of their first victory of 2020 composed the top-10 positions at the checkered flag.
While Denny Hamlin emerged as the only worthy opponent to Elliott, it was guys like Jimmie Johnson, Michael McDowell and Ryan Preece who really turned heads after making their presence known. Varying pit strategies enabled these unlikely names to be in position towards the end, but the execution and determination by teams was felt from the get go.
Kaz Grala was equally as impressive after finishing seventh in the Cup debut while piloting the No. 3 car for Austin Dillon. The 2018 Daytona 500 Champion was the latest victim to get COVID-19, but he revealed that his family and himself are in good spirits.
Rarely did we see mistakes, but when we did, they came at the expense of Goodyear’s tires. To be clear, the compound brought to the 3.61-mile venue was adequate and durable; failures only really occurred when drivers overshot their turns and flat-spotted the rubbers.
Kyle Busch headlined this area, as his season from hell slogged forward. The reigning champion had a competitive car from the beginning and even led a lap in Stage One, but overcompensation proved to be the demise of the Candyman, who is in dire need of consistency if he wants to be a contender come September.
The Daytona road course event provided fans incredible racing, without turning the infield grass into a graveyard of sheet metal and despair. It may not have been the wild card many predicted in that regard, but it certainly was in a sense that we saw underdogs claw their way to deserving top-10 placings.
It should come as no surprise that discussions are already underway for NASCAR to work the famed road course into future schedules after an immensely successful showing. It appears this is yet another event that has been long overdue and it’s likely to be a new tradition for generations to come.
Should this add a fourth road course to the 1.5-mile heavy Cup circuit, it could spell trouble for every competitor without the legendary name, “Elliott.”