The top NASCAR Cup Series stars are racing on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course for the second time in less than two weeks. The difference? Unlike the exhibition Busch Clash on Feb. 9, Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 counts in the standings.
This race wasn’t on the original 2021 Cup Series schedule, but when the Covid-19 crisis made racing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, untenable, NASCAR substituted the Daytona Road Course for the 2-mile oval in Southern California. With Homestead-Miami Speedway following a week later, NASCAR now has a three-race Florida swing.
Sunday’s Cup race is scheduled for 70 laps (252.7 miles), with stage breaks after 16 and 34 laps. Chase Elliott won last year’s inaugural event on the Daytona Road Course.
|O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Information|
|What||O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 NASCAR Cup Series race|
|Where||Daytona International Speedway Road Course|
|When||Sunday, Feb. 21, 3 p.m. ET|
|How to Watch||FOX|
Chase Elliott did more than just win the NASCAR Cup Series championship last year. He made an effective closing argument that he’s the best road racer in the series. Two of Elliott’s five 2020 victories came on road courses—the Daytona Road Course and the Charlotte Roval. With those wins, Elliott extended his domination of road-course Cup events to four straight.
Small wonder he’s the prohibitive favorite (+200) to win the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on Sunday. On the other hand, Elliott showed vulnerability in the Feb. 9 Clash at Daytona. Racing hard with Ryan Blaney on the final lap, Elliott turned Blaney’s Ford in the front stretch chicane while trying to pass for the lead. The contact allowed Kyle Busch to steal the race, with Elliott running second. But that was a non-points event that doesn’t count in the Cup standings. And Elliott vowed to learn from the experience.Elliot said:
I haven’t really studied it, but I know what happened. I don’t get emotional watching it. It’s one of those things that it happened. It’s over with. I hate the result, but, yeah, you have to learn from it. I think there’s a lot of things I can learn from last week. I think we can be better, from a balance standpoint. I think I can be better behind the wheel.
If he is better behind the wheel, you can chalk up a fifth consecutive road course win for the Cup champ.
When the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano tangled and wrecked in Turn 3 on the final lap of the Feb. 14 Daytona 500, Michael McDowell streaked around the melee and held the lead when NASCAR called a caution—making McDowell the unlikely winner. The euphoria of the upset victory led to talk of a second straight win in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on the Daytona Road Course.
Yes, McDowell is an accomplished road racer. In fact, he was an instructor at the famed Bondurant High-Performance Driving School in Arizona before he earned a ride in NASCAR racing. And, yes, McDowell finished 10th on the Daytona Road Course last season, but that was his first top 10 in 20 Cup Series starts on road courses.
No driver has won the first two races of a Cup season since Matt Kenseth accomplished the feat in 2009, with Drew Blickensderfer as his crew chief. Guess what? Blickensderfer picked up his second Daytona 500 win last Sunday, as crew chief for McDowell. Even with that sort of cosmic coincidence, however, McDowell is not a good bet at +5000.
Ryan Blaney was on the way to the checkered flag in the Feb. 9 Busch Clash when Chase Elliott intervened. Elliott survived the wreck to finish second, but Blaney wasn’t as lucky. His damaged No. 12 Ford was credited with a 12th-place finish in the 20-car field.
On Sunday, in his 200th start in NASCAR’s premier division, Blaney will have to beat 39 other drivers in the second points race of the season, including Elliott, and oddsmakers give him a decent chance to do so. Blaney (+1000) is the third favorite along with Denny Hamlin behind Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. (+450).
Despite his victory in the Clash, Kyle Busch is priced at (+1400), and road course ace AJ Allmendinger is listed at +1600 for his debut in a Kaulig Racing Cup car. Allmendinger notched one victory in the Cup Series—on the Watkins Glen International road course in 2014—but he hasn’t raced a Cup since his last season with JTG-Daugherty Racing in 2018.
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]More info on Reid Spencer
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