Of all the places NASCAR’s Cup Series has raced, and with all the history between stock cars and Daytona International Speedway, the series has never hit Daytona’s road course. Until this weekend.
NASCAR’s top series will make its debut at Daytona’s 14-turn, 3.61-mile course in Sunday’s Go Bowling 235. Here are five things to know about the race:
1. It wasn’t on the original schedule
Originally, Cup drivers were set to race a different road course, Watkins Glen International. But public health regulations in New York caused the event to be called off, and NASCAR replaced it with another trip to Daytona. It will be the 12th different road course to host a Cup event.
The road course has plenty of other history, though. It hosts the famed sports car event, the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
2. The course is new to most of the field
Tampa’s Aric Almirola is excited about a new opportunity, but he’s also a little nervous about his lack of experience on the course. “By lack of experience, I don’t mean I have a little,” Almirola said. “I have none.”
The good thing for him is that most of his competitors don’t have any, either.
Ten drivers in the field have competed on the road course previously but only one (Kyle Busch) has done so in the last four years. Jimmie Johnson has raced on it eight times, but none since 2011.
The results should be even more interesting because drivers won’t be able to practice on the course after NASCAR canceled all practices and qualifying for the rest of the season last month.
3. Almirola has been on one of the best stretches of his career
The Hillsborough High alumnus enters eighth in points thanks to a career-high streak of nine consecutive top-10 finishes. It ended last weekend when he took 16th in the first race at Michigan, but he started a new one by finishing sixth in the second part of the doubleheader.
“I just think that we’re getting on a roll here of understanding what I like to feel in the race car,” Almirola said. “Mike Bugarewicz, my crew chief, has been doing a phenomenal job with the car and all the guys on my team, they’re just doing a great job.”
Almirola has already led a career-high 264 laps this season and could be a contender when the playoffs start next month.
4. Busch might be the driver to beat
The two-time Cup champion is tied with Martin Truex for the most road-course races of any active driver (four). Notably, he also has the most recent experience on the course; he finished 26th overall and ninth in the GTD class at the Rolex 24 in January.
5. Jimmie Johnson needs a win (or at least a strong performance)
The seven-time champion heads to Daytona on the outside of the playoff bubble, 26 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron for the 16th and final spot in the field.
Johnson has only one road-course victory in his career (at Sonoma Raceway in 2010) but has finished in the top 10 in 19 of his 38 starts on road courses.
A poor showing would further dent his chances of one last title run in what he has said will be his final Cup season.