Go Bowling 235 Preview: New Road Course

Go Bowling 235 Preview: New Road Course

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series visits the Daytona International Speedway road course for the first time.  This course is a 14-turn, 3.57-mile circuit that is intertwined with most of the Daytona oval.  The event is 65 laps, divided into three stages of 15 laps, 15 laps and 35 laps.  Top speeds are higher than a normal road course due to most of the 2.5-mile oval being incorporated, but two "bus stop" style chicanes will keep the oval from being completely wide open racing.  

The circuit is reminiscent of the Roval course at Charlotte that NASCAR has raced the last two seasons.  That experience and familiarity should translate well to the Daytona road circuit.  The teams that can navigate the challenging chicanes and stay on the infield portion of the course will collect a good finish this Sunday at Daytona.  This event was created to replace the road course at Watkins Glen due to the COVID-19 interrupted schedule of this year.  The road course in New York is challenging in other respects, but this first time NASCAR race on the Daytona circuit will be a worthy challenge for these talented stock car drivers. 

Since this is a completely new race, at a completely new course, we have no historical loop stats to examine this weekend.  That does put us at a bit of a disadvantage.  However, we're not completely without some numbers.  For much of our analysis this week, we're going to rely on the statistics that our NASCAR Cup

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series visits the Daytona International Speedway road course for the first time.  This course is a 14-turn, 3.57-mile circuit that is intertwined with most of the Daytona oval.  The event is 65 laps, divided into three stages of 15 laps, 15 laps and 35 laps.  Top speeds are higher than a normal road course due to most of the 2.5-mile oval being incorporated, but two "bus stop" style chicanes will keep the oval from being completely wide open racing.  

The circuit is reminiscent of the Roval course at Charlotte that NASCAR has raced the last two seasons.  That experience and familiarity should translate well to the Daytona road circuit.  The teams that can navigate the challenging chicanes and stay on the infield portion of the course will collect a good finish this Sunday at Daytona.  This event was created to replace the road course at Watkins Glen due to the COVID-19 interrupted schedule of this year.  The road course in New York is challenging in other respects, but this first time NASCAR race on the Daytona circuit will be a worthy challenge for these talented stock car drivers. 

Since this is a completely new race, at a completely new course, we have no historical loop stats to examine this weekend.  That does put us at a bit of a disadvantage.  However, we're not completely without some numbers.  For much of our analysis this week, we're going to rely on the statistics that our NASCAR Cup Series drivers have accumulated the past two seasons on the road circuits of Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.  It's the only real measure of which drivers tend to thrive on winding circuits.  The data will be over the past two seasons, or six races, so it will be fresh statistics.  In the table below are the driver's standard stats at Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen International and the Charlotte Roval over the past two seasons, sorted by average finish.

DriverAvg. FinishWinsTop 5Top 10Laps LedAvg. Start
Martin Truex Jr.4.52451326.5
Kevin Harvick6.20266914.0
Chase Elliott8.33451705.7
Clint Bowyer8.7033212.7
Alex Bowman9.5023012.2
Denny Hamlin10.30231014.8
Ryan Blaney10.51341611.3
Kurt Busch10.5014817.7
Matt DiBenedetto14.0012023.8
Aric Almirola14.0002015.2
Jimmie Johnson14.800218.2
Kyle Busch15.0033348.7
Brad Keselowski15.50123215.8
Erik Jones15.7024117.0
Chris Buescher16.0000015.5
Daniel Suarez18.0011015.0
Michael McDowell18.3000016.3
William Byron18.8002448.3
Ryan Newman19.7001022.0
Joey Logano20.3002410.0

This weekend we will witness a little history being made.  For the first time ever, NASCAR will compete on the road circuit at the Daytona International Speedway.  For close to 60 years Daytona has hosted in one form or another road course racing at the historic oval.  For years it has been the home to sports car racing on the challenging circuit, and has been considered the North American equivalent to the amazing track in Le Mans.  The most recent version of the Daytona course that IMSA uses is the basis for this weekend's NASCAR triple header at the facility.  The only wrinkle is that the sanctioning body has added another bus stop or chicane on the front stretch tri-oval.  This will reduce speeds and give the track more of a road course feel than it normally offers to the sports car drivers. 

With the recent cancellation of the Watkins Glen event for 2020, this unique race was NASCAR's answer to replace the event and still offer fantastic road course action to the fans.  Since many of the NASCAR drivers have never competed on the Daytona road circuit, this event will be a wild card of sorts.  However, some of the Cup Series' drivers have stepped into a sports car and either made some test laps on the circuit or raced in the crown jewel of IMSA, the Rolex 24.  When it comes down to it, the drivers who have exceptional road racing skills will shine, and those who don't will struggle.  We believe the statistical table above and our two year stats at the similar facility, the Charlotte Roval, will be our greatest aides in evaluating drivers this weekend and projecting potential performance.  We'll give you the drivers you need to succeed in your fantasy racing games for the Go Bowling 235 at Daytona.      

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star rides a four-race Top-5 streak into this weekend, and now he comes to a track he can really sink his teeth into.  Truex has been the Cup Series' top road course performer over the past three seasons.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has three victories and two runner-up finishes on these circuits since 2017.  Two of the wins have come at the Sonoma circuit in California, and one came at the New York road course in Watkins Glen.  Truex has had less success on the roval style course in Charlotte.  However, he was painfully close to winning the inaugural race there before Jimmie Johnson took him out in the final turns.  Of the drivers in the field who can adapt quickly to this new event, and having the skill set to succeed, Truex tops our list.    

Chase Elliott – Elliott has battled with Martin Truex Jr. stride-for-stride on these road courses over the last three seasons.  Typically, if it's not the No. 19 Toyota pulling into victory lane, it's been the No. 9 Chevrolet of Elliott.  They've had some epic battles, including the last two Watkins Glen races where Elliott has held off Truex in both races to capture the wins.  In addition, the Hendrick Motorsports star was our last winner on the Charlotte Roval which is a similar circuit to this Daytona road course.  Who can forget his thrilling come back and rally to win at the Roval last September?  With three victories in his last five road course starts, this young driver and team have to be considered top contenders to win the Go Bowling 235 at Daytona. 

Kevin Harvick – Coming off the weekend sweep of Michigan this past week, Harvick will set his sights to win on the 14-turn road course in Daytona.  The Stewart Haas Racing star has been clearly a "third" in line road course driver compared to Truex and Elliott over the past three seasons.  Harvick has picked up one win, and three Top-3 finishes on the winding circuits since 2017.  That level of performance is pretty good, but not as sharp as the numbers Truex and Elliott post.  However, we want to focus on Harvick's last outing at the Charlotte Roval as a gage of potential this weekend.  Last September he peddled the No. 4 Ford to 34 laps led and a brilliant third-place finish at the Charlotte Roval.  He dominated a sizeable chunk of that race, and was overtaken late by a hard-charging Elliott for the win.  If there's any driver with the skills to upset the road course dynamic duo this weekend at Daytona, it's Harvick and the No. 4 SHR team.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney is a very skilled young driver.  He continues to improve on short tracks and road courses, and those have been his most challenging tracks in his brief career.  The driver of the No. 12 Ford was the surprise winner of the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval two years ago, and he's been razor sharp ever since.  Blaney rides a four-race road course Top-10 streak built on that victory into Daytona this week.  His 4.25 average finish position across that span speaks volumes of Blaney's improved road-racing skills.  Blaney has been an elite performer on these circuits the last two seasons.  If there's an upset minded driver in the field with a realistic chance of pulling the upset Sunday at Daytona, it's Blaney.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Brad Keselowski – The Penske Racing star is coming off a mixed-bag weekend at Michigan last week.  Keselowski finished runner-up in the first race of the doubleheader, but crashed out in the second while racing for the lead.  He'll look to hit the reset button this week in the new Daytona road course event.  Keselowski has been an up-and-down performer on the road circuits over the years.  However, he does have a combined six Top-5 and nine Top 10's between Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.  What's more intriguing is this surging driver's recent exploits on the road courses.  Keselowski scored a ninth-place finish at the Glen last summer, and he followed that with a strong Top-5 finish at the Charlotte Roval last fall.  The No. 2 Ford team is in a good place right now, and should have no trouble challenge the Top 5 this Sunday afternoon at Daytona.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin gets a little fantasy racing downgrade this week.  He slides from the contenders list to the solid plays list.  He's never really been a big time performer in terms of wins at these style tracks.  With only one road course win in 30 starts, you can see the reason for our rating this week.  However, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota is usually a face among the Top 10 in these events.  His 13 road course Top 10's checks in at a reasonable 43-percent rate.  There are other drivers among the top tier that will likely do better than Hamlin this week.  Still, the Joe Gibbs Racing star should slug it out and battle to a Top-10 finish in the Go Bowling 235.        

Kurt Busch – The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran is riding a two-race Top-10 streak into Sunday's action, and Busch has nabbed five Top 10's in his last six starts.  The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has been super consistent in recent weeks.  Busch's road racing skills are lesser known that some other drivers, but still very impressive.  The veteran owns a Sonoma victory in his resume and 21 Top-10 finishes combined between Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.  That's a strong 53-percent Top-10 rate on the winding circuits.  In the inaugural Charlotte Roval race two seasons ago, Busch claimed the pole position, led 7 laps and finished a stellar fifth-place that afternoon.  This is a driver and team with a very high ceiling and reasonable floor for this first-ever Daytona road course race.

Clint Bowyer Bowyer is what we consider to be a proficient road course driver.  While he's had his struggles on pure ovals of late, the left and right turn tracks are a boost to his fantasy racing value.  Over just the last three seasons alone, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford has five Top-5 finishes in his last eight road course starts.  Uncharacteristically, Bowyer tends to stay out of trouble on these winding circuits.  Over that span he has only one finish outside the Top 15 and all have been finishes on the lead lap.  The average finish across the span checks in at a strong 7.4.  In his last outing at the Charlotte Roval last fall, Bowyer peddled his Ford Mustang to a fifth-place starting spot and fourth-place finish in the Bank of America Roval 400.  That's the potential he brings to the table this weekend.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history of road course racing & solid upside

Alex Bowman – Bowman has not only displayed road racing skills, but he's displayed an excellence on the roval course at Charlotte.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver has three Top 10's in his last six road course starts, and two of those were brilliant fourth- and second-place finishes at the Charlotte Roval.  This has been a tough, inconsistent season for the No. 88 team, but they've had their highlights along the way.  Bowman is mired in a three-race Top-10 drought as we come to Daytona this weekend.  This new event on a road course/oval circuit provides an opportunity for Bowman.  We don't believe he'll waste this opportunity and could be one of the surprise finishers in Sunday's Go Bowling 235.

Joey Logano – Logano has never been a world-beater in road course racing.  His oval excellence far outweighs his performance on the winding circuits.  However, the Penske Racing star has been just good enough to warrant some Top-10 driver consideration.  Logano is 11 for 24 in terms of road course starts and Top-10 finishes for his career.  That's a respectable 46-percent rate.  The wins have been few, with just one that came a few years ago at Watkins Glen.  More interestingly, the driver of the No. 22 Ford has racked up a pair of 10th-place finishes the last two seasons at the Charlotte Roval.  His ability to adapt to that new circuit and succeed is what we're most interested in this weekend.  Logano should present a steady fantasy racing return at the Daytona road circuit, with a lower ceiling but high floor. 

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson has been an up-and-down performer on the road circuits over his career.  However, it's painfully clear that he likes the courses that are incorporated into ovals.  The seven-time champion's two starts at the Charlotte Roval saw him racing for the win two seasons ago, and finishing eighth-place.  In 2019 Johnson followed that performance up with an equally impressive ninth-place finish in last year's Bank of America Roval 400.  Those pair of outings are his only two road course Top 10's of the last three seasons.  It seems the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is a bit of a ringer for this specific style of racing.  When you also consider that Johnson has made eight starts on the Daytona road circuit over the years in various sports car events, including being a two-time runner-up finisher in the Rolex 24, it's clear that he's a driver to depend on this weekend.

Matt DiBenedetto – The Wood Brothers Racing driver has been on a tear of late.  DiBenedetto rides two Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes over the last three events into this weekend's action.  The veteran driver is on track for a career-best performance in 2020.  DiBenedetto has stepped up his game on the road courses over the past season plus.  With finishes of 13th-, fourth-, sixth- and 11th-place in the last four road course events, he's pushed his level of performance well above his career marks.  The average finish of 8.5 across that span will hold its own with most any driver in the series on these difficult tracks.  The Charlotte Roval in particular has rewarded DiBenedetto with solid 13th- and 11th-place results.  We like the No. 21 Ford team to stay on a roll this weekend and continue putting up good road course finishes. 

William Byron - The young driver's road racing skills have been improving since moving into NASCAR's top division in 2018.  Byron has grabbed two Top 10's in his last five starts on these winding circuits.  Most notably, one of those was his last time out at the Charlotte Roval last fall.  Byron won the pole position in a bit of an upset over bigger road course names, and led 23 laps before finishing a stellar sixth-place in last season's Bank of America Roval 400.  With 44 combined laps led in just his last three road course outings, we have to cast our eyes on the No. 24 Chevrolet team more and more in these events.  The young driver is quickly figuring out this style of racing, and consequently becoming more skilled at it. 

Michael McDowell – The veteran driver to watch closely in the deeper tiers of weekly line up and salary cap leagues is McDowell.  He's been a consistent performer over the years on both the superspeedway ovals and the road circuits.  They're his best tracks by far.  McDowell earned a steady 16th-place finish at Watkins Glen last summer, and a more impressive 12th-place finish at the Charlotte Roval last fall.  He and crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, have a good handle on these circuits.  Blickensderfer guided Marcos Ambrose to several Top-5 and Top-10 finishes on the road courses between 2012 and 2014, so that experience is quite valuable to McDowell.  With an average finish of 15.0 in his two starts on the similar Charlotte Roval, we believe this driver and team are pegged to crack the Top 15 Sunday at Daytona. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kyle Busch – It's not often that we put Busch in the slow down list, so pay close attention.  The No. 18 Toyota team has been mired in a tough campaign in 2020.  The defending champion is still winless 22 races into the season and still looking for week-to-week consistency.  Road course racing has been a love-hate affair for Busch over the years.  He does have wins, but Busch seems to have many more letdowns in this style of racing than successes.  The reason for our caution this weekend is twofold.  His current inconsistency and the team's inability to adapt each week.  Secondarily, Busch's struggles on the Charlotte Roval the last two seasons which is a very similar facility to the Daytona road course.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has run into problems and finished 32nd- and 37th-place in those two events.  Sunday could be a real struggle for this driver and team.

Erik Jones –  Another Joe Gibbs Racing driver who's a cautionary tale this weekend would be Jones and the No. 20 team.  The young driver is mired in a three-race Top-10 drought, and he's just received word this past week that he won't be back with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021.  That's some major psychological baggage to carry into a challenging race that will require greater than normal focus.  Jones has historically been a good performer on the road circuits.  With five Top 10's in eight-career starts, he's been cracking the Top 10 in 63-percent of his starts.  However, the Charlotte Roval has not been a part of that success.  Jones' two starts at that facility have been forgettable 30th- and 40th-place finishes the last two seasons.  It's a pretty big reach to expect him to do better in his debut on the very similar circuit in Daytona.

Austin Dillon – Despite coming off a brilliant eighth-place finish at Michigan this past Sunday, the No. 3 Chevy team is headed for rough waters this weekend at Daytona's road course.  The veteran driver has been slicing up intermediate ovals this season, but this is far from that type of racing.  Dillon has historically struggled on the road circuits, and they're his worst tracks in his NASCAR resume.  In 14-career starts on these tracks, Dillon has never managed to grab a Top-10 finish and his average finish is a bloated 24.5.  Dillon's two outings at the similar circuit in Charlotte the last two seasons have yielded poor finishes of 39th- and 23rd-place.  This is clearly an event and weekend where we don't expect to see Dillon finish among the Top 20.  It's best to leave him on the bench for the Go Bowling 235.                         

Bubba Wallace – While 2020 has been a career season for the driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet, it has been challenging for Wallace on his more difficult tracks.  Short tracks and larger ovals have provided him a boost, but intermediate ovals have been challenging at times.  With this weekend being the first road course event of the season, we expect that theme to carry on with Wallace.  The last three seasons have seen him fail to crack the Top 20 in all of his six road course starts.  The average finish across the short career span is checking in at 28.0.  The Charlotte Roval has been no better with an average finish of 30.0 in those two attempts.  There have been weeks and will continue to be weeks to deploy Wallace in fantasy leagues to good effect, but this is not one of those occasions.  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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