The following article is brought to you by BetMGM.
There will be a NASCAR Cup Series points race on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course for the second straight year. That had never happened before unless, of course, you count the pre-1959 beach and road-course races at Daytona Beach, Florida.
With the challenges of COVID-19, the traditional second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, had to be moved. A new venue had to be chosen. So all three NASCAR series will run on the Daytona Road Course this weekend, and Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) promises to be a wild NASCAR Cup Series points race.
So, who is good here? While restrictor-plate race finishes are tough to forecast, road-course racing can be a bit more predictable. There are several veteran drivers who are pretty darn good at it, and there are veterans who quietly would rather skip road courses. It’s an acquired taste, so to speak.
How are things sizing up for this weekend? BetMGM takes a look.
Chase Elliott +200
Like father, like son. Right? Back in 1983, a 28-year-old Bill Elliott won his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Riverside International Speedway — a road-course track in Southern California that is no longer on the circuit. The elder Elliott went on to a 44-win career in NASCAR’s top division, and the driver is now in the sport’s Hall of Fame.
His son seems to have a similar skill set when it comes to his affinity for certain types of tracks. Chase Elliott has now won four straight road-course races at the top level, including both last year (the COVID-19 improvised races at the Daytona Road Course and Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, since Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International couldn’t host races). The younger Elliott also captured the NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2020.
Summary? He’s pretty good at all kinds of NASCAR tracks, whereas some of his top competitors don’t enjoy road courses or superspeedways. But as any stock-car racing fan knows, you need to have Swiss Army knife talent if you want to conquer this level and win a Cup. Otherwise, it’s like you’re missing some chips, racing-wise.
Elliott isn’t missing any of those qualities. He’s the clear-cut favorite this weekend in Daytona at 2-1 odds.
OTHERS: Both Martin Truex, Jr. (+400) and Denny Hamlin (+1000) have had strong records at road courses. Since 2017, Truex has won three races at NASCAR’s typical road-course venues — Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Hamlin won at Watkins Glen in 2016 and has three top-five road-course finishes in the past two seasons.
THE DARK-HORSE THREAT
AJ Allmendinger +1400
Who are we kidding? A.J. Allmendinger is in NASCAR Cup Series racing because of road courses. The man can just flat-out wheel a race car when it comes to turning left and right (not common in stock-car racing).
No, he won’t be a full-time racer in the series this year. Does that matter a lick? Absolutely not. His lone NASCAR Cup Series win came at Watkins Glen in 2014.
Of his 57 top-10 finishes in the top NASCAR series, nine have come at road-course tracks, and there is not an abundance of road-course tracks to collect top 10s from. His other strength is racing on superspeedways. That accounts for another nine of his career top 10s. When it comes to non-vanilla, quirky tracks? Allmendinger is one of the best. Superspeedways and road courses don’t scare him.
Keep an eye on the ‘Dinger this weekend. He may not be driving a big-name team’s equipment, but that has never hurt him before.
OTHERS: More established veterans like Kevin Harvick (+1200) and Joey Logano (+1400) are known commodities in the road-course racing universe. They’ve both proven they can win races in this format. William Byron (+2000) has three straight top 10s, too.
THE INTRIGUING LONG SHOT
Erik Jones +6600
Don’t be fooled by the odds. This kid can race. He’s especially effective when he’s away from the cookie-cutter oval tracks and can improvise. He finished 11th last year on the Daytona Road Course and had top-10 finishes in five road-course races before that. He’s in new equipment this year with Richard Petty Motorsports, but he’s good in whatever equipment he’s in.
While Petty’s equipment is new for Jones, it is not a bad ride to be in. Just ask former road-course ringer, Marcos Ambrose. He won two Cup road-course races in the past 10 years in Petty cars. If a driver has the talent, he or she can win a road-course race with Petty. Ambrose and Allmendinger know it well.
If you like long shots who have a track record (pun intended), how about 66-1 for a guy who has done some things on these tricky tracks?
OTHERS: Nobody expected Michael McDowell to win the Daytona 500, but it happened. Well, this weekend’s race is at Daytona, so maybe it could happen again. Alex Bowman (+2500) hasn’t been too shabby the past two years on road courses, averaging a 10th-place finish in five tries. Matt DiBenedetto (+5000) had two top 10s in 2019. And hey, don’t forget Chris Buescher (+12500) was fifth last year on the Daytona Road Course.