The NASCAR Cup Series field is set to tackle the first road course race of the 2021 season, in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253. NASCAR has packed the year with seven road course races, the most in a single season.
The first stop is the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, where the Cup drivers will race for just the second time. Back then, Chase Elliott dominated the race to extend his supremacy on road courses, and much of the talk leading up to Sunday’s race has been around the reigning champion.
Elliott starts on pole position, and a surprise Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell starts alongside Elliott on the front row. The pole position start makes Elliott a bigger favorite, and he will be keen to bag his first win of the season.
On Sunday, drivers are expected to face a lot of different conditions than at the Daytona 500. Not just due to the different nature of the track, but even the weather gods are expected to show mercy on the race.
There is no doubt that Elliott is the favorite. However, there are other contenders who are extremely strong on road courses too, hopefully setting up a tough battle out there.
The biggest challenger will be Martin Truex Jr. The former Cup champion from Joe Gibbs Racing has won three of the last nine road course races and is only one of two active drivers apart from Elliott with four road course wins.
Truex starts quite low in the starting line-up. However, it will be no surprise if he is among the frontrunners quite early in the race.
While Elliott and Truex will aim to extend their records, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin will certainly come out with a point to prove. Both drivers were very impressive at the Daytona 500 as well, and while this is a road course, expect them to make a serious challenge.
Hamlin and Harvick start in fourth and fifth places respectively, while Austin Dillon in third completes the top five.
Dillon is another man who is riding on some good confidence; he won one of the Daytona Duels and showed his class in the 500 too. He has said he is improving as a road course racer, and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table.
While only one Cup points race has been completed on the Daytona road course, there was another race there just a few days ago. This year’s Busch Clash was on the road course, which a Busch one. Kyle Busch will bring great confidence from that race into Sunday’s race.
The challengers are certainly there. However, it is quite tough to pick anyone else for the win except the man with a four-race streak on road courses. Chase Elliott is in the best zone of his career after a title win and his strongest Daytona 500 finish.
He will view a road course race as the perfect way to bag his maiden win in 2021. And what place better than Daytona to get that win?
PREDICTION: Chase Elliott to win his fifth straight road course race, one short of Jeff Gordon’s record.