Cup Back At Daytona For A Road Show

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 20 2021

The Cup Series cars will be racing on the Daytona infield road course on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

When NASCAR’s Cup Series receives the green flag Sunday on the Daytona Road Course the event ushers in a part of the premier division’s schedule unlike anything ever seen previously.

This year, the Cup schedule boasts seven road course races, the most ever since NASCAR’s premier series made its debut in 1949. Previously, the most was four in 1957 and 1964. In addition to the Daytona Road Course, the series visits Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma Raceway, Road America, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis Road Course, and The ROVAL at Charlotte.

“Obviously, the new road courses are kind of a wild card,” Erik Jones said. “You don’t know exactly how things will go there and a lot of us have never run laps on these tracks, but it does bring more opportunities.”

More opportunities for drivers with smaller teams, such as Front Row Motorsports, which won the Daytona 500, and possibly more for NASCAR to reach new fans in Europe and Latin American countries where road racing is the popular form of motorsports.

Currently, NASCAR and its broadcast agency partner IMG have made NASCAR content available to nearly 200 countries and territories in more than 25 languages. Countries where NASCAR races can be seen live include China, India, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. NASCAR has forged partnerships with TSN in Canada, ESPN in Latin America, Sweden’s Viasat, Discovery in India and China’s Tencent, which is airing nine NASCAR Cup races live this year.

“During the COVID situation, we were one of the only things that IMG was out selling and could sell,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “Our growth internationally from a television standpoint is important. I think road racing certainly could be a big part of that.” 

After winning the Daytona 500, Michael McDowell’s crew chief Drew Blickensderfer noted that road courses and superspeedway races provide the best opportunity for the smaller teams, such as his, to excel. With its Daytona 500 victory, Front Row Motorsports has now won three races – one each at Daytona, Talladega and Pocono.

“You have to pick your chances,” Blickensderfer said. “I love to come to Daytona and Talladega and so does Michael and those are chances for us. 

“We might not have the fastest car at (a) road course, but we have a chance to run really well and if circumstances play out … we could be there at the end. We have to maximize those chances.” 

  This year NASCAR made the largest overhaul to the Cup schedule since 1972 when it eliminated all tracks less than a half-mile in length and reduced the number of races from 48 in 1971 to 31 in 1972, a season that signaled the beginning of NASCAR’s Modern Era. Not only did it add seven different road courses and a dirt track race at Bristol this year, it reduced the number of races at 1.5-mile tracks, moved one race at Dover to Nashville, eliminated one race at Michigan, assigned Pocono a double-header, returned two race weekends to Atlanta and Darlington, and removed Chicago and Kentucky from the schedule. Auto Club Speedway was originally on the schedule, but was replaced with the Daytona Road Course due to the pandemic. 

“I like the commitment to variety,” said Brad Keselowski, the series 2012 champion. “I’m not particularly beholden to any specific decision, but I think we’ll do a few things here for a few years and it’ll be fun and exciting and new, and then we’ll have to change it again. I generally am in love with the idea of having a little bit of variety throughout the years to go to different tracks. Not necessarily abandon our base tracks, but mix up a few of the ones we wouldn’t consider to be our major events.” 

Despite the major changes to the schedule there will be very little practice and qualifying this year due to the continuance of the pandemic. Initially, it was difficult for the competitors to adjust to the new format. However, Ryan Blaney said that by the time they reached last season’s midway point everyone had adjusted.

“Granted, last year you couldn’t show up to the race track with an experimental setup like we used to do in our practice and see how everything works because you don’t have any time,” Blaney said. “It goes back to preparation at the shop, just talking and preparing and comparing notes from year to year.”

Phelps expects more practice and qualifying sessions in 2022 due to the broadcast partners’ request for more on-track content.

“We had on NBCSN and on FS1, 60 of the top 100 programs for each of those networks,” Phelps said. “The cable companies want to have programs that are going to drive ratings.”

Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 will air at 3 p.m. on Fox.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 20 2021
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