It just so happens that this year’s top-ranked NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers have proven themselves the series’ best road course competitors too. And with eight races remaining to set the 2020 championship field, Saturday’s UNOH 188 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course (Aug. 15 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) becomes especially compelling.
Only a small handful of competitors have ever turned laps on the 3.61-mile, 14-turn course on both Daytona International Speedway’s high banks and its challenging infield. Among those are the two Xfinity Series championship leaders – Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe – who competed there just this January.
Cindric, last week’s winner at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., holds an 11-point advantage on five-time winner Briscoe, who won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in July. Both have run the Daytona Road Course – minus the chicane installed for the NASCAR weekend. Cindric has competed in three Rolex 24 races with a best finish of fifth in the GTD Class in 2019. Plus, both ran the four-hour IMSA SportsCar Challenge race that opens the Rolex 24 weekend in January.
Justin Allgaier, is the only other multi-time Xfinity Series road course winner competing fulltime for the Xfinity Series title this year. He owns three career Xfinity Series road course victories. He’s ranked seventh in the championship standings, more than eager to finally notch his first win of the year.
Joining them are several “road course ringers” to contend with this weekend. A.J. Allmendinger, who has a NASCAR Cup Series win at Watkins Glen and three previous Xfinity Series road course victories, has been a factor in deciding every road course race this year. He is another with plenty of Daytona International Speedway Road Course experience with 14 starts in the Rolex 24 including the overall win in the 2012 Rolex 24.
Another veteran on the Daytona Road Course entered this week is Andy Lally, who started 23rd and finished fifth last week at Road America in the No. 02 Chevrolet. He has 29 sports car starts at Daytona, including 19 in the Rolex 24 – a race he’s won five times in class.
Australian sports car star Earl Bamber will be making his NASCAR debut at Daytona driving the perennial-contending No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Bamber is a five-time IMSA winner and was runner-up in the GTLM class in the Rolex 24 this January.
While this one-of-a-kind event on the Daytona Road Course circuit is intriguing on its own, it also represents an important race toward establishing the championship contending 12 drivers. Six drivers – Cindric, Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton, Brandon Jones and Justin Haley have punched their Playoff ticket with wins this season. They all also happen to be competitive road course racers as well.
There is certainly a lot of competitive drama for those final few Playoff transfer positions. Eleventh place Riley Herbst holds only a 19-point edge on 12th place Brandon Brown in the final two transfer positions. Jeremy Clements, a former road course winner it should be noted, fell to 13th position in the standings and is 53 points behind Brown. Myatt Snider, another driver with a lot of road course experience, has also fallen out of the Playoff transfer group and is 73 points behind Brown.
A first-time season winner is always a possibility and especially so on a first-time visit to a road course turning this week’s event into a thriller on many levels.
“Truthfully, these first-time races have worked out great for me between the Roval and Indy, so I’m all for it,” said Briscoe, driver of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. “I enjoy going to places where I feel it’s a clean slate just because I don’t feel like I’m behind the eight-ball as much.
“You go to a place like Mid-Ohio or Road America, where I’d never been to before, and I’m trying to play catch-up to guys who have a lot of laps at those tracks. When we go to a place like the Daytona Road Course for the first time, we’re all on an even playing field. I would rather run the road course than the superspeedway just because I feel like it puts the race more in the driver’s hands. So, I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really good race.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!