Chase Elliott has shown some moxie on the handful of road courses where the NASCAR Cup Series competes. He’s won the series’ last two events where left and right turns are the norm, diversifying his portfolio of oval-track success.
This weekend, there’s not much normal about the road-course “norm.”
Elliott and the rest of the Cup Series regulars will lock horns in the tour’s debut at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course layout in Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM).
The 3.57-mile course has been used in some form — minus the additional chicane for stock cars — for IMSA’s showcase Rolex 24 for years. A handful of NASCAR stars have dipped their toes in the sports-car waters for the annual endurance event, most recently Kyle Busch in a GTD-class Lexus for the AIM Vasser Sullivan team in January. Elliott suggested that extracurricular start may provide the Joe Gibbs Racing driver with an advantage on a circuit where few know what, exactly, to predict.
“I think this weekend’s going to be a big-time challenge for everyone,” Elliott said in a Monday video conference. “I think the one guy that I look at that really has a leg up is Kyle, having come off that 24-hour event this year. Heck, I think if we all knew that we were going to be doing this road course, you probably would have seen all of us trying to get in that 24-hour race this year to go and do it. You never know with things like that.”
Indeed, the Daytona Road Course became a late addition to the NASCAR national-series schedule as part of the sanctioning body’s evolving overhaul to meet COVID-19 pandemic protocols. Without practice or qualifying scheduled the rest of the season, drivers will have to rely on racing simulators or any brief experience from past Rolex 24 events.
Though simulators can provide detailed insights into navigating a certain circuit, Elliott says he’s ready to absorb the Daytona circuit with some real-life laps.
“I think it’s going to be a fun challenge for everyone,” said Elliott, who has three career road-course wins — two at Watkins Glen and one on the Charlotte Roval. “I mean, I’ve never entered a race like that where you literally just have no idea what to expect. Road racing, in my opinion, is a lot about brake markers and visual aids and these little nuances around the track that you can see with your eyes to help your hands and your feet do the right things at the right time.
“I mean, heck, I have no idea where I need to stop on Turn 1 on Sunday, or 2, 3, all the way back around to the start-finish line. So I think that’s going to be super, super difficult for everybody, and it’s going to be one of those things where you have to creep up on it, and it’s a hard thing to guess. We can run in the sims and iRacing and all those things until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately that doesn’t — in my opinion — give you those visual aids that you need to do the right things at the right time. The only way to get that is laps around the race track and 65 laps is not really a ton of time to figure those things out. So, learn. Learn fast and try not to make any big-time mistakes in doing it.”
Points leader Kevin Harvick will be vying for his third consecutive Cup Series victory in Sunday’s 235-miler. The veteran actually has some limited Rolex 24 experience, sharing the wheel of a GT-class Corvette that retired early in 2002, and has two road-course wins in his Cup career.
Like Elliott, Harvick says he’s bracing for a dose of the unknown.
“I think it’ll be interesting. I have no clue what I’m doing,” Harvick said in the midst of last weekend’s doubleheader sweep at Michigan International Speedway. “The last time I only made a little bit of a 2002 24‑hour race, so it’s been a long time since I made any laps there. I’m a week‑of preparation guy, so I’ll start Monday and Tuesday on iRacing just to get acclimated with the track. We’ll go to the simulator on Wednesday, back on iRacing Thursday, Friday, Saturday, just to make sure that it’s fresh in your mind so you know where to shift and things like that, and then it’s just trial and error after that.
“I’ve watched enough races there that I know the race track in my mind, but I don’t know where our cars need to be and what gear I need to be in. I’ll learn that next week, and we’ll be ready and hopefully have a good day.”