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Denny Hamlin remained cryptic following a tweet that was largely interpreted as sarcastic.
“More road courses,” the Cup Series driver wrote after Friday’s Truck race at the Daytona road course.
In that race, Ben Rhodes eventually won under caution after three overtime attempts. It was the longest race in series history.
Sunday’s Cup race didn’t require multiple overtimes to declare a winner. Christopher Bell powered to his first win in the series with a late-lap pass of Joey Logano. He led the final two laps of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253, a race that saw eight cautions in 70 total laps.
The lead changes were plentiful — 12 between seven different drivers — as were the flat tires and trips through the grass for certain cars. Hamlin finished in third behind Bell and Logano, but his line was the same post-race.
“More road courses for sure,” Hamlin said echoing his tweet.
I asked him if that was sarcasm.
“I don’t know. Is it?” he said with a smile. “More. More of everything.”
The jury is still out, but given the brevity of Hamlin’s response, it’s safe to assume he’s still trolling a NASCAR schedule that has been heavily infused with right turns this year thanks to the addition of five new road courses compared to last year’s schedule, which incorporated just two road course events — at Daytona and the Charlotte Roval.
This year’s schedule will have seven road course races total — at Daytona, Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma, Road America, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis and Charlotte, which is one more than NASCAR originally intended. Sunday’s race at the Daytona road course replaced a previously scheduled event at Auto Club Speedway in California due to the pandemic. The exhibition Busch Clash even ran on the 14-turn course at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for this year’s points race on the same course, rather than where it traditionally takes place on the tri-oval at the track.
The next road course race isn’t until May 23 at COTA in Austin, but after two early events on that style of track, drivers weighed in on whether they’re excited for more. NASCAR said the addition of new tracks was based on fan feedback. Logano said he thinks it’s the “right for the sport.”
“We listen to the fans,” Logano said. “The fans said they wanted more road course racing, boom, you got it. Hope you like it because we got a lot of it.”
Logano said this with a laugh, but continued in a serious tone that the Daytona road course put on an entertaining show given the late-lap cautions that impacted the running order. There were three cautions called in the final 13 laps.
“You look at the strategy that comes into play, last night (Xfinity), tonight (Cup), even in the Truck race, the strategy really is interesting when you have this much falloff,” Logano said. “ … It’s fun because, not all the time, but more times than not it’s not always the fastest car that wins.”
He described how his team nearly “manufactured a victory” on Sunday as a fifth-place car based on a call to stay out while race leaders pitted under caution with 15 laps to go. Even cars that seemed down-and-out earlier in the race, like those driven by Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, were able to climb back up to top-five finishes.
Logano appreciates the variety in the schedule as a driver.
“I think it’s attractive for the best drivers in America to want to race in the NASCAR Cup Series because you have to be good at everything, including dirt racing,” Logano said, noting this year’s addition of a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway that has everyone curious.
The scheduling variety could also let some new drivers shine this year. Christopher Bell’s first win of his Cup career came on a road course after he led five laps. Bell held firm to a second-place position for a good portion of the final stage, then snaked through the field to first place between a chaotic set of restarts in the final 15 laps. Bell said he wasn’t “overly shocked” that he won.
“Last year, the road courses were not my best finishes, but speed-wise I was really fast at both of them,” Bell said. “I certainly knew we could be in contention or at least competitive today.”
Bell said that the pieces and pit stops all came together this year, along with Joe Gibbs Racing’s fast Toyota equipment and expert calls by championship-winning crew chief Adam Stevens, who transitioned to Bell’s No. 20 team from Kyle Busch’s No. 18 team this season. Bell, an expert dirt track racer, said he thinks his dirt background benefits his road racing capabilities.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon holds the record for most consecutive road course wins with six and was also a renowned dirt racer. The road courses added to this year’s schedule could leave the door open for new names to shake up the playoffs with race wins. Ryan Preece and A.J. Allmendinger both finished in the top-10 Sunday, and neither driver was racing for a team with a Cup charter.
Although the first two race winners of the season, Bell and Michael McDowell, are also first-time Cup winners, Stevens said he wasn’t surprised his team won Sunday. He said he knew in the offseason that the team could win.
“But I wasn’t putting any of that pressure on us so early in the season,” Stevens said.
He said that maybe one more unexpected winner this early in the season could change the complexion of the playoff competition. The next wild-card race is a month away on a dirt track at Bristol. Then, there are still six more road course races, after which a final ruling will come from fans, drivers and NASCAR whether to treat Hamlin’s tweet as sarcastic or not.