Daytona Road: Pole winner Elliot seeks a repetition

NASCAR Celebration chase elliott

The spotlight is on Chase Elliott this weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series tackles the Daytona International Speedway’s road course, with the reigning champion riding a four-race win streak.

Elliot clearly relishes the road tracks, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver also finished second last week in the exhibition Busch Clash event on the oval-road layout, after both taking and losing the lead on the last lap. Makes sense why Elliott is Sunday’s favourite, according to BetMGM, by 2-1 odds.

Furthermore the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will start from the pole position with Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford sharing the front row in the 40-car field.

Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 title holder, boasts a second-best 4-1 odds. He’s tied for second-most road wins among active drivers with four; Elliott has just one more. Truex has consistently been in the contention to win at road courses over the past decade, too.

En route to his championship, Truex split the road-course slate. He led a race-high 25 laps at Sonoma Raceway, only to lose his engine and finish 37th. He later won at Watkins Glen International, leading a race-high 24 laps.

Truex rebounded at Sonoma in 2018 to win by more than 10 seconds and lead a whopping 62 of the 110 circuits. At Watkins Glen, he was on his way to cross the finish line first but ran out of the gas and sputtered across in second. The Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval was also introduced this season as a third road-course show, and while battling for the lead in the final corner, Truex was spun by Jimmie Johnson and ultimately placed 14th.

In 2019, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota repeated at Sonoma after leading a race-high 59 of 90 laps. Truex once again was runner-up at Watkins Glen. And at the Roval, he navigated his way up to seventh after an engine change and two in-race penalties.

And then there’s last season. Sonoma and Watkins Glen were taken off the schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Roval remained, and the Daytona Road Course was added. Truex finished seventh and third, respectively, after overcoming speeding penalties in both events.

That’s three wins out of 10 opportunities. Truex could have won each race, but saying could have is different than promoting should have. The reasons he didn’t are valid – and a part of racing.

Elliott won five of the seven Truex did not. Kevin Harvick (2017 Sonoma) and Ryan Blaney (2018 Roval) round out the 10 total otherwise.

The wins may be skewed toward Elliott, but Truex and Elliott match in top fives (six) and 10s (eight). So, as the hype points toward Elliott, eyes can drift toward Truex with the expectation they may be side-by-side at the finish.

As NASCAR adapted to COVID-19 protocols last season, practice and qualifying were eliminated at a majority of national-series events to limit at-track time, exposure and to cut race weekend costs.

To determine starting lineups, competition officials used grouped draws, added inversions for weekend doubleheaders, and eventually adopted a performance-metrics formula.

That metrics format remains in place this season, drawing on performance from both individual races and season-long results.

NASCAR’s metrics formula for 2021 weighs:

  • 25 percent: Driver’s finishing position from the previous race
  • 25 percent: Car owner’s finishing position from the previous race
  • 35 percent: Team owner points ranking
  • 15 percent: Fastest lap from the previous race

See the full lineup for Sunday’s Cup Series race below.

Start pos.
Driver Car # Team
1 Chase Elliott 9 Hendrick Motorsports
2 Michael McDowell 34 Front Row Motorsports
3 Austin Dillon 3 Richard Childress Racing
4 Denny Hamlin 11 Joe Gibbs Racing
5 Kevin Harvick 4 Stewart-Haas Racing
6 Ryan Preece 37 JTG Daugherty Racing
7 Corey LaJoie 7 Spire Motorsports
8 Kyle Larson 5 Hendrick Motorsports
9 Ross Chastain 42 Chip Ganassi Racing
10 Bubba Wallace 23 23XI Racing
11 Joey Logano 22 Team Penske
12 Christopher Bell 20 Joe Gibbs Racing
13 Cole Custer 41 Stewart-Haas Racing
14 Kyle Busch 18 Joe Gibbs Racing
15 Brad Keselowski 2 Team Penske
16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing
17 Kurt Busch 1 Chip Ganassi Racing
18 Chase Briscoe 14 Stewart-Haas Racing
19 Martin Truex Jr. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing
20 Justin Haley 77 Spire Motorsports
21 Cody Ware 51 Petty Ware Racing
22 William Byron 24 Hendrick Motorsports
23 Josh Bilicki 52 Rick Ware Racing
24 Tyler Reddick 8 Richard Childress Racing
25 Garrett Smithley 53 Rick Ware Racing
26 Aric Almirola 10 Stewart-Haas Racing
27 Ryan Blaney 12 Team Penske
28 Scott Heckert 78 Live Fast Motorsports
29 Quin Houff 00 StarCom Racing
30 Chris Buescher 17 Roush Fenway Racing
31 Anthony Alfredo 38 Front Row Motorsports
32 Matt DiBenedetto 21 Wood Brothers Racing
33 Ryan Newman 6 Roush Fenway Racing
34 AJ Allmendinger 16 Kaulig Racing
35 Daniel Suarez 99 Trackhouse Racing Team
36 Alex Bowman 48 Hendrick Motorsports
37 Erik Jones 43 Richard Petty Motorsports
38 Ty Dillon 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing
39 James Davison 15 Rick Ware Racing
40 Timmy Hill 66 Motorsports Business Management

Practice and qualifying are tentatively scheduled for eight Cup Series races this year. Busch Pole Qualifying was held for the season-opening Daytona 500; the next race with time trials scheduled is the March 28 event at Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt track.