Busch Clash Daytona: If It’s a Road Course, Chase Elliott Must Be the Favorite

  • NASCAR Cup Series opens with an exhibition race on Daytona Road Course
  • Series champ Chase Elliott hopes to keep the streak of road course victories intact
  • If Elliott can’t get the job done, three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are good choices

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The coronavirus pandemic continues to produce changes in NASCAR racing. Because the Cup Series ran the vast majority of its 2020 races without qualifying sessions, the traditional season-opening Busch Clash at Daytona couldn’t depend on last year’s pole winners to fill the field.

Instead, the criteria were expanded to include the pole winners from the five races where qualifying was held; past Clash winners who were full-time drivers in 2020; past Daytona 500 winners who competed full-time last year; past Daytona 500 pole winners with full-time status in 2020; last year’s Playoff drivers; last year’s race winners; and drivers who won at least one stage last season.

Busch Clash Information
What Busch Clash NASCAR Cup Series Exhibition Race
Where Daytona International Speedway Road Course
When Tuesday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. ET
How to Watch FS1

NASCAR Moves the Busch Clash to the Daytona Road Course

The biggest change for this year’s Busch Clash is the venue. For the first time, Cup Series drivers will contest the season-opening non-points race on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile Daytona International Speedway Road Course. The starting field for the race will be set by blind draw on Monday night.

Twenty-one drivers are scheduled to take the green flag in the 35-lap Clash, which will be run in two stages, the first ending after 15 laps. All told, 24 drivers satisfied the eligibility requirements, but recently retired drivers Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth have opted not to compete.

The Daytona Road Course recently hosted the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race, essentially on the same layout the Cup cars will run—with the exception of an extra chicane added on the backstretch. On the Sunday following the Feb. 14 Daytona 500, the Cup Series will return to the Daytona Road Course for the second points-paying event of the season.

How Can You Pick Against Chase Elliott on a Road Course?

It should come as no surprise that Chase Elliott is the clear favorite to win the Clash at +175 according to DraftKings Sportsbook. After all, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion has won the last four events contested on road courses, including last year’s August 16th points event at the Birthplace of Speed.

Elliott has won the last four Cup events at road courses, at Watkins Glen, the Daytona Road Course, and the Charlotte Roval (twice). All told, five of Elliott’s 11 victories have come on road circuits. In addition, the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet competed in the DPi class in the Rolex 24 Hours in January, picking up extra seat time when the car he shared developed a transmission problem and fell out of contention during repairs.

What makes Elliott so good at tracks that require right turns as well as lefts?

“He does a good job at making a lot of speed and not making a lot of mistakes,” says Martin Truex Jr., the second favorite in Tuesday’s race at +300.

Really, that’s what it boils down to. On-road courses, you have to push really hard, but you have to do it with discipline. You have to understand your marks and be able to continuously hit them. If you look back at the last two Watkins Glen races, we finished second to him in both of those, and arguably had the fastest car, but couldn’t make the pass for the win both times.

If Elliott Falters, Joe Gibbs Racing Drivers Are Most Likely to Pounce

Chase Elliott may be the heavy favorite to win Tuesday’s Clash, but Joe Gibbs Racing drivers occupy three of the next four positions on the odds chart. After Truex at +300, Denny Hamlin follows at +800, with Kyle Busch fifth at +1100 (behind Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick at +1000).

Truex has three victories at highly technical Sonoma Raceway and one win at Watkins Glen. He finished third last year in his only start at the Daytona Road Course. Hamlin has a win at Watkins Glen and four top-fives in 14 starts at Sonoma. He was runner-up to Elliott last year at the Daytona Road Course. Hamlin is the last driver to win the Daytona 500 after winning the Clash, a feat he accomplished in 2016.

Busch has two wins each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Collectively, Joe Gibbs Racing has accumulated a record nine victories in the Clash. Then again, all those victories came on the 2.5-mile traditional oval, not the road course.

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Reid Spencer

Expert on NASCAR

Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]