By Cole Cusumano
NASCAR set out to make a statement while attempting to provide more entertainment with its road course-heavy 2021 schedule for the Cup Series, and they’ve been successful. Although many fans and those within the sport were initially pessimistic about having seven of these events being added to the circuit, it seems as if the racing world can’t get enough.
Through four road course events there were unknowns coming with new tracks and gritty racing that rewarded physicality, endurance and sheer talent — something lacking in the sport for quite some time. With three spectacles remaining (two in the regular-season), it’s going to be imperative for drivers outside the bubble to capitalize, while some within the top-16 must catch on quickly in order to sustain consistency heading into the playoffs.
Now having a fair sample size, here is road course racing by the numbers thus far in 2021:
It all began at the Daytona International Speedway road course, where Christopher Bell notched an emotional first career Cup Series victory after hard-charging Hendrick duo Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson fell victim to late-race incidents.
Both Elliott and Larson would get their redemption — the driver of the No. 9 twofold at the Circuit of the Americas and Road America, while the California native put on a clinic at Sonoma Raceway while holding off his teammate.
Average Finish & Points
There is arguably no one better in NASCAR history at road courses than Elliott — even at 25 years old. The reigning Champion brought his win total to seven with two additions in 2021, becoming one-of-two drivers to post top-fives in three-of-four. His 171 points and 86 laps led are the most of anyone this season, while his 6.3 average is second to another Champ.
Besting Elliott in average finish is Joey Logano with a 6.0 and three top-10s. His 165 points are second-most amassed, while his 29 laps led are tertiary. Both Denny Hamlin (7.5) and Kurt Busch (10.3) have three quality finishes like the driver of the No. 22 — the only difference is the Joe Gibbs Racing product has yet to find victory lane, after winning seven last year. Luckily for him, he holds a 13-point lead over Larson in the regular-season standings.
Lastly, the Hendrick pair of Larson and Alex Bowman share a 12.3 average. The driver of the No. 5 has one victory, 155 points earned and 61 laps led (second-most), while the Arizona native racked up 117 points and three top-10s.
Ranking near the lower echelon of playoff contenders are Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Matt DiBenedetto, Daniel Suarez and William Byron, where all five have an average finish of 23.0 or lower. The driver of the No. 24 has had the toughest grasp on the winding tracks with a 28th-placing. This could be a bit deceptive, as he has 20 laps led and 28 stage points (sixth-most) at road courses this season.
Since 2017, it’s become imperative for teams to take stage racing into heavy consideration in their quest for a championship. Segment winners are a relative melting pot of drivers ranging from Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, Logano, Elliott, Hamlin and Byron, with Larson leading the way after sweeping at Sonoma.
Larson (51) has built up the most stage points, followed by Logano and Ku. Busch tied with 41, Elliott (40) and Reddick (29).
The Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen on Aug. 8 following a two week break, before going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix Circuit on Aug. 15. The Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval will be the final track variant of the season on Oct. 10.
This article will be updated as the remaining three road course races play out.
Categories: Cole's Corner, NASCAR Cup Series
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