Long before the 2020 GoBowling 235, from 1949-58, NASCAR's early foundation was built with its yearly race on the sands of Daytona Beach. Some of the sport's early greats, like Hall of Famers Tim Flock, Cotton Owens and Lee Petty, were winners on the 4.1-mile road course that helped spark the growth of stock car racing throughout the southeast.
With the construction of Daytona International Speedway in 1959, those beach races came to a close. For 61 years, no NASCAR driver has made a right turn at speed on the 2.5-mile superspeedway that became the home of the sport's Great American Race.
Sunday's stock car debut on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile DIS road course has become one of the year's most anticipated events. Added to the schedule when Watkins Glen International couldn't host its race due to COVID-19 restrictions, a successful Sunday might put it on the schedule for years to come.
Unlike the Charlotte ROVAL, this DIS road course has plenty of races under its belt through the years... from sports cars. The Rolex 24 at Daytona is held here annually, one of the world's top endurance prizes that has occasionally attracted a few stock car veterans for a one-off appearance.
But the vast majority of Sunday's field will have never turned a lap on this road course. They'll have seen it on TV, on the driving simulator... and that's about it. Add in no practice or qualifying under NASCAR's limited COVID-19 track time and you get a race that could produce plenty of unexpected surprises.
"I don't know if any of us are going to feel like we're ready to race," Bubba Wallace said this week. "So, it's going to be exciting for sure."
"I think the fun factor this weekend has got everybody's anxiety level up," Kurt Busch added about Sunday's event. "But also the challenge that's right in front of us because it's basically a wild-card style race. You could see a driver and a team that don't normally make the playoffs punch their ticket."
Among those might be two surprising winless drivers in 2020: Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Both have experience on this course with the Rolex 24; Johnson has two runner-up finishes, the last of which came in 2008. Could the wily veterans use that experience to charge up through the field early? In a 65-lap race, there won't be much time to figure this road course out.
Wallace thinks it's going to all add up to an incredible experience.
"It's crazy how, just from watching the 24 Hours, you kind of learn which way this kind of track goes," he said. "Obviously, turning left immediately after the start/finish line, going through the infield there. And then you kind of visualize, like man, I used to park here in the road course parking lot. So, it's going to be cool to kind of be racing all around that."
The question is whether they all can survive it without this race turning into a Demolition Derby. There's been a lot of talk about how stock car drivers have improved dramatically on road courses in recent years.
We're about to find out just how good they've become. It's a historic moment in a historic year at the birthplace of NASCAR racing.
Date: Sunday, August 16
Time: 3 p.m. ET
Track: Daytona International Speedway Road Course (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who's at the Front: Kevin Harvick
Harvick pulled off a weekend sweep at Michigan International Speedway, besting rival title contenders Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin in back-to-back days. In doing so, he became the first driver to win two consecutive Cup races in two days since Richard Petty in July 1971.
Harvick, at age 44, is rewriting NASCAR history at his age. The Stewart-Haas Racing veteran is on pace for his sixth Championship 4 appearance in the past seven seasons and has a sizzling average finish of 5.9 in 22 starts.
Who's at the Back: Alex Bowman
Bowman's tire issues at Michigan were the latest slip-up in a summer that's seen him headed south in the standings. The winner at Auto Club Speedway in March hasn't had a top-5 finish since the fifth race of the season, NASCAR's first race back from COVID-19 quarantine at Darlington Raceway. Bowman's tumbled from second to 11th in the standings, eighth of 10 drivers who have a win this season.
Is it testing for the playoffs? Did the two-month layoff interrupt the rhythm of this group? Whatever the reason, Bowman's headed for a first-round playoff exit unless the No. 88 Chevrolet team can reclaim their mojo.
Sponsors keep dashing Bubba Wallace's way. DoorDash has signed a seven-race deal to be the primary sponsor of the No. 43 Chevrolet beginning with this weekend's race at Daytona. Add in the Cash App (five races) and one of the sport's most popular drivers has added sponsorship for one-third of the Cup schedule in just the last few weeks.
Former NASCAR driver Justin Marks is launching a new Cup Series team in 2021. Marks, who sources say was a bidder for Leavine Family Racing's No. 95 charter, is actively searching for one next season while building up financing for a race team he's calling "Trackhouse." Marks, who told Sports Business Daily he already has a "nationwide family entertainment business" signed as a primary sponsor, will use investment capital to fund 50 percent of the team's budget in year one.
A fond farewell this weekend to Myrtle Beach Speedway, holding its final stock car race this weekend in South Carolina. The .538-mile racetrack, around for 62 years, has been dealing with struggling attendance for years after losing its NASCAR Xfinity Series event after the 2000 season. The speedway also hosted Cup races from 1958-65: Hall of Famers David Pearson and Ned Jarrett were among the winners there.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Playoff points for Kevin Harvick to lead the Cup Series. Only two other drivers have more than 20: Denny Hamlin (29) and Brad Keselowski (21).
Average finish for Matt Kenseth this season through 18 races. If that holds, it would be his worst at the Cup level since his five-race, pre-rookie season in 1999 (26.0).
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
There’s no past history on Daytona to go on, making this race one of the most unpredictable in daily fantasy. But when it comes to road courses, two drivers have stood out the past two seasons: Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. They've combined to win five of the past six road course races and would have won all six if Truex wasn't turned by Jimmie Johnson in the final lap of 2018’s Charlotte ROVAL debut.
My advice would be to play the hot hand while being realistic on Daytona's unpredictability. Chances are, with no practice or qualifying, a few crashes are all it could take for either of these wheelmen to become an innocent victim. I'd pick one and then save some cash to stash a few other B-level drivers on your roster.
Veterans like Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, with their Rolex 24 experience, could wind up valuable picks in daily fantasy formats. They're also less likely to turn their race cars into smoldering piles of sheet metal as decades of road course experience could accelerate their learning curves.
Remember, Johnson was just one turn (and position) away from ending his long winless streak in 2018. And Busch has a road course victory of his own, at Sonoma Raceway back in 2011.
You might want to take a flyer on another driver with Daytona road course experience: Brendan Gaughan. Starting shotgun on the field in the No. 62 Beard Motorsports ride, Gaughan has nothing to lose and could be a benefactor if half the field struggles to finish the race. The position differential points for, say, a 15th-place finish, could make the difference on your fantasy roster.
Michael McDowell has become a popular pick in this space each week and Daytona's road course is no different. Hate to recommend the same guy two weeks in a row but McDowell was 12th at the Charlotte ROVAL race last fall and has a history of solid, survival-type top-20 road course finishes. He'll fill out a roster nicely.
What Vegas Thinks
As you might expect based on their recent history, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. lead the odds for Sunday's race. Elliott sits at 7/2 while Truex is at 5/1 according to vegasinsider.com.
If you want to take a longshot? Now’s the time. Bubba Wallace at 200/1 and Michael McDowell at 250/1 might be worth throwing $5 on "just to see what happens."
What I Think
This race screams wild card and unpredictable winner. I don't think it'll be one of the 10 winners of 2020 thus far but I'm thinking it'll be a guy we're used seeing in victory lane. How about Kurt Busch earning his first win of 2020 with a Chip Ganassi Racing program that's run on the Daytona road course in sports cars.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.