A week after a chaotic Daytona 500, all the teams stayed at Daytona Beach for the Daytona Road Course, the first of seven road-course races this season. After a chaotic race that saw many drivers spin and crash over the course of three grueling hours, Christopher Bell picked up his first-career Cup Series win after passing Joey Logano with two laps to go.
It’s the first time since the first two years of NASCAR’s existence (1949, 1950) that the first two races of the season were won by first-time winners.
Chase Elliott came into this race on a four race, road-course winning streak and looked to extend it as he blazed out to a big lead at the start of the race. The Daytona 500 winner, Michael McDowell, ran off the track on the first turn, causing damage that forced him to pit on the second lap of the race. Also, Busch Clash winner Kyle Busch suffered damage to the right side of his car near the passenger-side door, forcing his car to slow and drop toward the back of the pack. Busch also had to pit as a caution came out for debris.
Elliott reasserted his lead on the restart with Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin battling for second behind him. As Elliott cruised ahead of the pack, Chase Briscoe stalled on the track around lap 7 and Erik Jones suffered a flat left tire on lap 11.
Brad Keselowski suffered a brake problem on lap 11, overshooting the chicane and bringing out the caution due to debris. Matt DiBenedetto suffered severe damage on the right side of his car, pitting during the caution.
Since Keselowski pitted before the caution, he restarted in the top five. Elliott dominated to win the first stage as Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski finished behind him. Kurt Busch worked his way up to fifth after starting 17th.
To start the second stage, Elliott pulled away from Logano on the restart and started to run away from the rest of the field. Full-time Xfinity Series driver A.J. Allmendinger, who crashed during yesterday’s Xfinity Series race at the Daytona Road Course, worked his way up into sixth place on lap 21 after starting the race 34th. Martin Truex Jr., the last driver to win at a road course that wasn’t Elliott, passed Hamlin and Logano for second place with eight laps to go in stage 2. Elliott was cruising until Ross Chastain collided with the wall in 20th place, bringing out the caution flag with six laps left in the stage. Elliott’s pit stop was slow, causing him to fall behind Hamlin, Logano and Truex. Allmendinger and Kyle Larson did not pit, prompting them to restart in the lead.
Elliott restarted in 14th as Allmendinger jumped out to the lead on the restart. With four laps to go in the second stage, Hamlin passed Allmendinger for the lead after running in the top five for most of the race. Hamlin won the second stage, picking up his third stage win already in the 2021 season. Elliott worked his way up to sixth, finishing behind Truex who suffered a tire lockup on the final lap of the stage. After the pit stops, Busch restarted in the lead after winning the race off pit road.
Busch jumped out to the lead, but with 32 laps to go in the race, Busch got loose and went into the grass, dropping him back to 25th place. Bell took the lead with Elliott and Truex right behind him. Elliott passed Bell two laps later for the lead. Bell kept up with Elliott, staying within two seconds until both completed their green flag pit stops with 18 laps to go. Elliott’s stop was faster, allowing him to gain some separation from Bell.
Elliott was cruising over Bell when rain clouds appeared over the track, pouring over specific turns that prompted NASCAR to bring out the caution for weather. However, the track mostly remained dry and the teams came into the pits for a change for regular tires. Logano and 10 others stayed out of the pits while Elliott and Bell pitted, restarting outside of the top 10.
Elliott came off the track during the restart as Logano led before a caution came out for Tyler Reddick, whose car lit on fire. Another caution was brought out after Truex slid off the track and took a few cars with him.
The next restart saw crashes as Larson crashed into the tire wall, Kyle Busch slammed the wall and Elliott was turned by Hamlin while trying to pass Keselowski. With two laps to go, Bell caught Logano for the lead on his fresher tires. Bell held his leave on the final lap to pick up his first-career win in the Cup Series, the second week in a row where a Cup Series driver wins his first career race in the series. Logano finished second, the second-consecutive road course race he finished second (2020 Charlotte Roval). Hamlin finished third.
Despite both driving off the track and having car issues, Kurt Busch and Keselowski finished fourth and fifth. Kevin Harvick finished sixth and Allmendinger finished seventh despite having a flat tire during the final stage. McDowell finished eighth after working his way into the top 10 after a disastrous start to the race. It’s the first time McDowell has scored back-to-back top-10 finishes in his Cup career.
Ryan Preece and Alex Bowman rounded out the top 10. For Preece, he matches his top-10 total from 2020 and, unofficially, has 74 points on the year. It took him eight races to reach 76 points last season.
Ty Dillon finished 19th for Gaunt Brothers Racing. It is the team’s first top-20 on a road course in the Cup Series.
Elliott could not overcome his mistakes, finishing 21st, bringing his four-race winning streak at road courses to an end.
The Cup Series will head to Homestead, Florida for the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday.
UNOFFICIAL RACE RESULTS: