NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Go Bowling 235 at Daytona Road Course

What happened

Chase Elliott won the Go Bowling 235 on Sunday (Aug. 16) in the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five finishers.

How did it happen?

In one of the most anticipated races in recent history, Hamlin and Kyle Busch pulled away from pole-sitter Kevin Harvick on the initial start. Quickly, Busch flat-spotted his tires entering a chicane and was forced to pit. But that was about the biggest incident of the opening stage; indeed, the first few laps with no practice on a new track went relatively smooth.

After Busch pit, Truex came up to challenge Hamlin and the two made contact battling for the lead. Truex appeared to have the faster car and Hamlin tried to force the issue. This time, it was Hamlin who had to pit due to a tire rub.

As the 15-lap first stage wound down, pit strategy began. Most cars came down just before pit road closed, including Truex from the top spot. Elliott, who was in second, stayed out and secured his sixth stage win of the season – tied with Brad Keselowski for the most this year.

After pitting, Elliott restarted the second stage 19th while Joey Logano, Hamlin and Harvick led the field to green. Logano, who was the only driver who hadn’t pit at all, quickly shuffled to the back as Hamlin, Harvick and Kurt Busch flew by. Truex would’ve started next to Logano but he stalled under caution and lost a few positions.

Hamlin led for the next four laps until Truex ran him down and retook control. Again, with three to go in the second stage, crew chief James Small called the No. 19 down pit road. This time, he was busted for speeding. The problem was that pit road was closed because there were two laps to go in the stage. As a result, Truex couldn’t serve his pass-through penalty, sacrificed his stage points (he finished seventh) and was forced to start the final stage at the tail end of the longest line.

With Truex restarting at the back, Elliott started up front after Hamlin and others made scheduled yellow-flag stops. From there on out, the No. 9 driver set sail. He pulled away from Kurt Busch on the restart before a lightning strike caused a 30-minute red flag with 28 laps remaining.

After the break, Elliott again flew out to a big lead, this time with Kyle Busch sneaking past his brother for second. But on the final green-flag stops of the day, Elliott and Busch pit together and the No. 18 had an issue. Busch couldn’t brake heading into the final chicane, a rotor issue that forced a trip to the garage area for repairs.

Once pit stops cycled through, Elliott held a 10-second lead over Hamlin. He was cruising to victory before Busch, who returned to the track six laps down, blew both tires at once and caused a caution with five laps to go.

The field bunched up and took one more shot at Elliott. A potential chaotic final restart instead was relatively calm (a Corey Lajoie spin notwithstanding) while Hamlin stuck with the No. 9 the final three laps. However, in the end Elliott proved too strong on a road course… again, fending off the challenge by .202 seconds to score the win.

Who stood out?

Is it safe to pencil the No. 9 into this slot for all future road races? Right now, no one is better than Elliott on road courses. Sunday marked his third straight road course win and his fourth in the last six races.

Elliott led 34 of 65 laps and has now led 149 of the last 264 laps on road courses. Considering all the pit strategy that goes into play at these tracks, that is downright impressive. Elliott replaced the all-time road course winner Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports, back in 2016, and he’s on his way to becoming an all-time great road racer himself.

Of course, a little help from some racing legends didn’t hurt, a group that included former NASCAR road ringer Boris Said.

The dominance was a welcome sign for a HMS team that struggled through the summer. In the last 10 races before Sunday, Elliott had just four top 10s and three finishes worse than 20th. Not awful, but not championship numbers – which is what this team aspires to be.

Going outside the box a bit here, Clint Bowyer quietly had a crucial points day that included stage bonuses. He doesn’t have the level of safety that Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola has when it comes to the playoffs (or a contract for 2021, for that matter). After Sunday, though he has to be feeling better about both.

Bowyer grabbed a race-high 16 stage points and finished sixth. He earned more points than anyone besides Elliott (47). And now, he has a solid 66-point lead with three races remaining and a comfort zone should a bubble driver (Johnson?) win at Dover International Speedway.

All in all, it was another day that his No. 14 team needed. Bowyer hadn’t finished in the top 10 since Pocono in June, and Sunday was his best finish since Bristol earlier that month. Much-needed momentum as the 41-year-old gears up for a playoff run.

In his Cup Series debut, Kaz Grala somehow looked like a seasoned veteran. The rookie was told on Friday he would be in the No. 3 car at Daytona because of Austin Dillon’s COVID-19 diagnosis. So, what did the 21-year-old go out and do in his first race? Oh, nothing much… just lead three laps and finish seventh.

To put that in perspective, Grala has only run two NASCAR Xfinity Series races this season. He’s barely been in the car, yet he still went out there and kept it clean for a top-10 run. Grala is the first driver to finish inside the top 10 in his Cup debut since Carl Edwards at Michigan in 2004.

Props to Grala for a job well done all afternoon, acing a track the Boston native said he didn’t even get to run in his racing simulator. Hopefully for him, this one-race deal leads to more starts and consideration for future rides.

TOMLINSON: GRALA WHEELS HIS WAY TO SEVENTH

ALBINO: JUST HOW IMPRESSIVE WAS GRALA’S CUP DEBUT?

Who fell flat?

He finished third for the fifth straight race, yet Truex still missed an opportunity at Daytona. Outside of Elliott, Truex is the best active road racer. In each of the first two stages, he led laps and was primed to pick up playoff points. Crew chief James Small decided to swing at the fences and go for the win. Looking back now, it’s easy to say he made the wrong choice.

Did he really though? In the end, it was the driver who was to blame here… not the pit strategy. A speeding penalty before the end of stage two ruined Truex’s chance at a victory and cost him precious track position. He nearly came back into the picture, restarting fifth with three laps to go, but he simply gave up too much ground with his miscues.

Truex now leaves Daytona with no playoff or stage points to show for what was one of the best cars all day. It would’ve been awesome to see him and Elliott battle it out for the win – the No. 19 just didn’t execute.

Harvick finally came back to earth on Sunday. It feels wrong to even put him in this category, and he won’t be here much the rest of the way, so I feel obligated to throw the point leader here while I can. Sunday’s 17th-place finish dropped Harvick’s average finish from 5.9 to 6.4 on the season. At this point in 2020, it’s laughable to even see that stat.

It was clear Harvick didn’t have his best stuff throughout the race. Christopher Bell made contact with him as the final stage began, and that ended his chance at a solid day.

Later, Harvick spun again trying to make up ground, adding insult to injury on one of his season’s worst days. It’s the most criticism of this veteran all year… and don’t expect it to last. He’ll probably go win at least one race next weekend now that he got his first finish outside the top 10 in the last 10 races.

Kyle Busch’s seesaw season continued at Daytona. One week, he looks ready to get his first win of the season, and the next, he’s completely out to lunch. The No. 18 was fast at Daytona on the initial start, but the flat-spotted tire early and brake issue late subjected him to a one-point day.

The worst part of the race for Busch was when he went back out on the track and caused that final caution. Six laps off the pace, he had no ground to make up, so why was he out there? The car clearly had problems and he was never going to pick up enough positions for extra points. What a weird move in what’s been perhaps the weirdest season of Busch’s career.

What did this race prove?

Elliott is the best in the business on road courses. No one compares to him right now. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver has now won three straight, and four of his eight career wins are on road courses. I gave you all the stats on his dominance earlier, so I won’t bore you again.

Next up in October is the Charlotte ROVAL, a track where Elliott triumphed last season. He even crashed into the wall and still came back to win that one. There’s no reason for anyone besides the Dawsonville, Ga. native to be the favorite next time a road race rolls around.

I’m already sold after one race. NASCAR needs to make the Daytona Road Course an annual event. With strategy and potential rain, this race was really fun. Elliott sort of stunk up the field for a bit in the final stage, but the final restart proved that he wasn’t that much better than the field.

Part of what made the race so exciting was the unknown. Without any practice or prior stock car experience, no one knew what to expect. It wasn’t a wreckfest as some predicted but it was still great racing. These are the best drivers in the world, and they proved it.

More road courses and short tracks, please.

Not to toot my own horn, but didn’t I predict last week that we wouldn’t get any surprise winners at Daytona? We’re halfway done with races there and there was no indication any wild card could win on Sunday.

Johnson was the closest to breaking through. The seven-time Cup champ showed strong speed at times, he just wasn’t nearly as good as his HMS teammate. Expect him to be among the favorites at Dover, where he owns a track-high 11 victories.

Michael McDowell also had a solid top-10 run, charging to third at one point; he just didn’t have a race-winning car. Front Row Motorsports has shown great improvement in 2020, it just isn’t a playoff team quite yet.

The superspeedway could still bring a surprise in two weeks, but I’ll stick with my original prediction.

Paint scheme of the weekend

After many years of different and exciting paint schemes, Johnson has rarely switched it up since Ally came on board. In an effort to bring some luck, he finally made a change – and the result was this beauty.

It’s a shame it took this long to change things up for the future Hall of Famer. Hopefully, we get some more new designs from the No. 48 as Johnson’s final full-time season nears its conclusion.

Better than last year?

There’s no direct race to compare to last year because this was the first race at the Daytona road course. The only thing we can do – because I make the rules – is to compare Sunday’s debut to last year’s race at Watkins Glen International. Elliott won that race in dominant fashion, leading 80 of 90 laps. It was nearly impossible to pass for the lead, even though Truex was probably as good as Elliott that day.

Daytona was a huge improvement from that race. The Glen had just one green-flag pass for the lead (not counting green-flag pit stops). This year, there was great action throughout the field and plenty of passing up front. It wasn’t the chaos that some expected, but it was still a really solid race.

Playoff picture

The Daytona road course didn’t shake things up as much as many anticipated. The 16 playoff drivers remained the same, with William Byron extending his lead to 25 points over Johnson. Erik Jones (-35) and Tyler Reddick (-57) were the big losers of the day, both ceding significant ground.

With only three races remaining in the regular season, guys like Jones and Reddick are nearing must-win scenarios.

What’s next?

After a great weekend in Daytona, the Cup Series heads to Dover for its third and final doubleheader of the season. Saturday (Aug. 22) and Sunday’s (Aug. 23) races in Delaware will both be titled the Drydene 311. Those 311 laps apiece will serve as the shortest scheduled races at Dover since 1970. A trip to Dover also means the short track package that has worked so well will return for the final time during the regular season.

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About Logan Reardon

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19 comments

  1. Avatar

    I thought the race was decent and worth watching. I couldn’t believe there was no competition caution but was happy that there wasn’t. Was it because the first stage was only 15 laps and it would have been stupid to bring them in after 5 laps? My only gripe was that I thought it was a bit short but that seems to be what everyone wants. Glad that someone besides Hamlin or Harvick won.

    Man, Kyle Busch has got to be ready to explode. I cannot believe he has went this long without a win. I would have bet a $1000 against that ever happening at this stage of his career. I still can’t fathom him not winning this season but it is starting to look like a possibility (but I still wouldn’t bet on it).

    One thing this race made me aware of was how much I missed the Watkins Glen and Sonoma races this year. Damn you Covid 19, damn you to hell!

  2. Avatar

    I didn’t care for this track. Cars ended up too spread out after a lap or two of green flag racing. Not enough side-by-side racing. It was a much more boring race than I expected.

    • Avatar

      I chopped it up to lack of practice. They all are fresh from their first practice laps at the Roval just 2 years ago now where most wrecked that I think many were very conservative out there. It was a take what the car will give you kind of day. The lack of practice time really hurt the product here imo.

  3. Avatar

    Run it at night and inspect all cars with equal venom. Big Bill would be proud, as they got Golden Boy another win to keep pace, Jimmie Johnson above the cut line, and some TV time for his baby.
    Not bad, unless you are in for real competition.

    The fix was in and some drivers seemed to know it as it was Follow The Leader time and then on to Dover.

    • Avatar

      Jimmie Johnson is still BELOW the cut line by 25 points. He had his best finish all year and still only gained 1 point Myron. Remember, there are two guys who won races and are below the top 16 in points (Custer and Dillon).

      • Avatar

        *reads Bill B’s comment and throws up a little*

        Of course Chase Elliot ran away.

        Any road course you go to you can expect Chase, Martin, and Kyle (well not lately, keeps taking himself out lol) to run away from the rest of the field. I am no Chase fan by any means but the kid is a phenomenal road course racer.

  4. Avatar

    One way to get the chosen one a championship would be to make the final race a road coarse one. God I hope that doesn’t happen

  5. Avatar

    NBC MAKES IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLLOW THE DRIVERS BY USING BANNER SCORING AT THE TOP OF THE SCREEN. YOU HAVE NO WAY OF FINDING YOUR DRIVER WITHOUT TAKING YOU EYES OFF THE ( LACK OF ) ACTION. THE CBS ( AND F1 ) PYLON SCORING ON THE LEFT OF THE SCREEN IS SO MUCH EASIER TO WATCH !!

    • Avatar

      15th 16th 17th 18th Brought to you by Credit One Bank 1st 2nd 3rd….LOL! I agree, NBC’s coverage has been terrible of late. You try and see where say Blaney went, you get no coverage on it and the banner rarely makes it through the field without an ad running across or cutting to commercial. Very frustrating indeed!

      • Avatar

        You can easily get the running order on NASCAR.com or the NASCAR app which gives you real-time scoring and timing. I use that with the TV on mute.

        • Avatar

          Why should you need to go somewhere else to get info on what you are watching? To not be able to see the full field go through the scroll because they are more worried about selling ad space is a joke.

          Watched very little of the race Sunday. But did watch Truex all by himself go round and round without much of anything else on my screen. Turned it off and watched something else. The broadcast partners of Nascar are not doing the sport any favors with their horrible coverage.

        • Avatar

          I’ve done it that way for years! Then I don’t have to listen to the terrible announcers. Earnhardt and Burton have irritating high-pitched whiny voices and sound like redneck hicks. Plus NASCAR timing and scoring lets you see the lap times to gauge who’s getting better and who’s getting worse. Then you can kind of predict when a pass is going to happen, which is good, since both NBC and Fox often miss any real action on track, because the announcers would rather hear their own voices talking about something irrelevant to the race that’s actually going on.

  6. Avatar
    Mike in Oro Valley

    Gene Haas needs to put Cindric and Elliott in his F1 seats. What a combination of young homegrown USA talent for it’s only F1 team. Not since Dan Gurney’s All American Racing F1 team has there been a better opportunity to showcase a pair of our yound and superbly talented drivers.

  7. Avatar

    Comers and goers, from here to the end…