All three of NASCAR’s top divisions return to Daytona International Speedway this weekend to compete on the 14 turn, 3.61-mile road course with the Motor Racing Network providing live coverage of each event.
A second straight weekend at Daytona was set after a shift in the schedule that will see Homestead-Miami Speedway have the third race of the season for the Cup and Xfinity Series along with Auto Club Speedway not being able to host a weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Camping World Tuck Series was slated to compete at Homestead when it was to be the second race of the year, but the race was realigned to Daytona.
This marks the second appearance for all three series at the Daytona Road Course following the debut of the track for NASCAR last August. Goodyear wet weather radials will be available if the conditions warrant.
See Also: Daytona Schedule of Events
Twenty-one of the 40 Cup Series drivers entered for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 (MRN, 2 p.m. ET) did get to opportunity to race on the course this year back on Feb. 9 in the Busch Clash. Kyle Busch took home the win in that event, that featured the low downforce, high horsepower package, after Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney got together in the final turn coming to the checkered flag.
"We certainly started the season off right last week by getting the win there," said Busch, who will start 14th. "We are celebrating 30 years of JGR and Interstate Batteries together, so we would really like to get these guys to Victory Lane there and get the Daytona road-course sweep.
"The biggest thing about the cars being faster last week is they had less drag on ’em. From last year’s package when we ran here on the road course race, more downforce, more drag, the cars took a little bit longer to get up to speed."
Busch is one of nine drivers entered in the race that has a road course win. He is tied for second, with teammate Martin Truex Jr, among active drivers with four wins. Chase Elliott, who has won the last four road course events, tops all active drivers with five trips to Victory Lane. With the addition of Daytona, this year’s schedule will see seven road courses.
"Road courses have been good to us the past few trips, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go good every time," said Elliott, who will start from the pole. "There has not been one part of me that watched the schedule change, saw seven road courses and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got it now.’ That’s just not how I am. At the end of the day, you have to be good everywhere and I want to be good everywhere."
Elliott will be joined on the front row by Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, who finished 10th from the 30th starting position last year at the Daytona Road Course.
"We feel really optimistic and confident," McDowell said. "We had a top-five car most of the day last year. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and I went for it near the end with taking tires but we didn’t get a late-race caution, so the strategy didn’t work like we wanted."
See Also: Blickensderfer Looks to Repeat History
Denny Hamlin, the 2016 winner at Watkins Glen International, led the most laps in the Busch Clash before finishing sixth.
"Yeah, we had a fast car during the Clash, and I’m sure this weekend won’t be any different," Hamlin said. "We’ll take that data and learn from it, and it will certainly help us as we return to the same course. It’s going to be a tough race like all road courses are, but I’m confident in our team to put us in a position to win."
See Also: Daytona Starting Lineups
With cars getting off track and dirt becoming a problem in the Clash, rumble strips were added to the bus stop chicane for this weekend.
"It looked like a good fix to me in short order," said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott and the No. 9 team. "It should be good. I don’t really have any issue with guys shortening and straightening that bus stop; that’s their job and that’s what they’re supposed to do. Just the dirt was a problem."
See Also: Daytona Road Course Chicane Tweaked
In the Xfinity Series, Austin Cindric will be going for his second straight win at Daytona in Saturday’s Super Start Batteries 188 (MRN, 4:30 p.m. ET). Cindric, who will start second, won last week’s season opener along with the Daytona Road Course event in 2020.
"One of my extracurricular goals for the year was to win on a superspeedway," Cindric said. "To get that knocked out early was really satisfying. It is a different discipline. To be able to control the race, how we did and the speed in our car, I was really proud of that effort."
Cindric is tied with AJ Allmendinger for the most Xfinity road course wins among active drivers, with four. Justin Allgaier is the only other multiple road course race winner, with three.
Allmendinger, who will also compete in the Cup race, has won the last two races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
"We struggled a bit last year at the (Daytona) road course, so I’m really looking forward to seeing everything that we’ve worked on and seeing what the car is going to feel like," Allmendinger said. "Even though we felt like we struggled, we still had a top-five finish, and I feel like we’ve improved on that. I’m looking forward to seeing all that hard work pay off."
MRN Outloud: Austin Cindric and Ben Rhodes
Noah Gragson has finished in the top 10 in each of his eight starts at road courses, including a third-place finish at Daytona.
"I made a few mistakes last year that really set us back, and I don’t plan on making those a second time around," Gragson said. "Our No. 9 team has shown strength on road courses and these races really fit my driving style."
Friday’s BrakeBest Select 159 (MRN, 7 p.m. ET) will mark the first of four road-course races for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2021.
Reigning series champion Sheldon Creed, Brett Moffitt and John Hunter Nemechek are the only drivers in the field with a series win on a road course. Creed won last season at Daytona.
"I’ve been putting in a lot of time in on iRacing to prepare for this weekend," Creed said. "I want to go back-to-back so the goal is to end the night in Victory Lane."
Last week’s Daytona winner Ben Rhodes will start from the pole. Rhodes, who finished 14th last year at the Daytona Road Course, drives one of the 12 Toyotas in the field and the next win will be the 200th for the manufacturer in the Truck Series.
"We did our homework," Rhodes said. "I feel like now with my new crew chief we’ve done some simulator testing. We’ve done a lot of stuff in the background and I really feel like now we can go there, and if handles like how I think it’s going to handle we’ll be pretty good."