The expectations were high going in to the first ever NASCAR race at the Daytona road course, but with no practice for either of the main series, I think most people were expecting three massive wreck fests. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but at the same time the racing wasn’t as good as I think most people were expecting either. Going to a brand-new track for most of these drivers and not giving them a single lap of practice was bound to make the races somewhat spread out, specially at the front of the field. Then again that tends to happen at most road courses anyways. I just think if they would have given the drivers 30 minutes of practice, the racing would’ve been a lot better. I was personally very positively surprised as to how clean the racing was, and how much great racing we still got to see throughout the field. Even though the front was somewhat spread out at times, there were still some really intense battles going on throughout each of the races.
In the Xfinity race on Saturday we saw a lot of cars slightly missing the entry to the back straight chicane, causing a couple of splitters to dig into the mud and literally send them flying over the track towards the infield barrier. Austin Cindric pretty much dominated the race, scoring and impressive 59 of the possible 60 points and his fifth win in six races. In the Truck race on Sunday, Sheldon Creed survived the late carnage and won following a green-white-checkered, also scoring 59 points. Then on Sunday afternoon Chase Elliott showed off his road course skills, capitalising on Martin Truex Jr. pit road speeding penalty and scored his third straight road course win. Denny Hamlin was right on Elliott’s rear bumper throughout the last three lap shoot-out but was never able to get close enough to make a move, so Hamlin had to settle for 2nd, with Truex in 3rd.
Further back behind those guys though there were some great performances by other driver we don’t normally see score a lot of points in the Cup Series, along with some of the playoff contenders racking up decent amount of points. Jimmie Johnson finished 4th with 8 stage points, Chris Buescher finished 5th, Clint Bowyer in 6th with 16 stage points, Kaz Grala who subbed for Austin Dillon finished 7th in his first ever Cup race, William Byron in 8th with 11 stage points and Michael McDowell finished 10th. Looking at the rest of the playoff bubble drivers we had Eric Jones in 11th, Matt DiBenedetto in 15th, Tyler Reddick in 18th and Kyle Busch in 37th. Now you may wonder why I would include Kyle, but with his misfortunes in recent weeks, he is only 100 points clear of the cut-off line, and should someone currently below the cut-off win either of the remaining three races, that gap is down to 75 points.
Here is the current playoff battle: (numbers in brackets are points gained or lost at Daytona)
13. Kyle Busch +100 (-40)
14. Clint Bowyer +66 (+6)
15. Matt DiBenedetto +66 (+9)
16. William Byron +25 (+1)
17. Jimmie Johnson -25 (+1)
18. Erik Jones -35 (-9)
19. Tyler Reddick -57 (-21)
The remaining three regular season races for the NASCAR Cup Series is a double header at Dover and a 400 miles race at the Daytona oval. So, coming out of Dover, all these seven drivers will be looking to be well clear of 16th place, as an upset winner at Daytona would move the cut-off line up. Unless of course, they can go out there and grab a win at Dover.
Later this week we will take a look at the Rookie of the Year battle as we are approaching the ⅔ mark of the season. Who’s done what, who’s been good where and who is in the best position to win this year’s title. I will also do my best to analyse next years schedule as soon as that is released, but as it stands now, that will probably not be released for at least another couple of weeks.