The biggest unknown for Sunday’s inaugural Cup race on the Daytona road course?
Ryan Newman says “there are so many unknowns that it would be fabricating for me to tell you if I knew what the biggest unknown was.”
But with all the uncertainties heading into the race (3 p.m. ET on NBC) on a new course for Cup teams — and no practice — Newman is counting on one near certainty.
“I hope it rains,” he said. “I hope you add in the extra that we have to bolt on rain tires and we get something that is just spectacular. I hope that. The reality is that could be the biggest unknown that we have. We’re in Central Florida in the middle of August when it pretty much rains every day. We’ll see. I don’t know. I look forward to it.”
Good chance he gets his wish.
The wunderground.com forecast for Sunday calls for isolated thunderstorms throughout the afternoon. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:24 p.m. ET. There is a 34% chance of isolated thunderstorms at that time. The chance of scattered thunderstorms increase in the afternoon.
Goodyear will bring rain tires for the weekend and teams will run in the rain, provided it is not a downpour and there is not lightning within an 8-mile radius of the track. Cup teams have never run a race on rain tires.
Only three times in Cup history have rain tires been employed. Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin used them in a test in 1995 at Watkins Glen. Teams practiced and qualified on rain tires at Suzuka in 1997 for the exhibition race in Japan. Rain tires were last used in Cup for a practice session at Watkins Glen in 2000.
Rain or shine, the task of racing on a new course without practice will be challenging enough for competitors.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being difficult, this is a 10,” Kurt Busch told NBC Sports.
“I’m excited for the challenge, the uniqueness of it all, how it’s just crazy, basically.”
Said Chase Elliott, who won last year’s race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval after crashing: “I’ve never entered a race where you literally just have no idea what to expect.”
Patience will be key. But not all 39 drivers will practice that equally when the green flag waves.
“I’ve got laps around that track without the extra chicane but that doesn’t mean I won’t haul off into Turn 1 and blow through the grass,” Newman said. “You don’t know. It will be more patience than aggressiveness I promise you by pretty much everyone. Those that don’t, you’ll notice.”
Kevin Harvick, who swept the Cup races at Michigan last weekend, will lead the field into Turn 1 and he’s not sure what to expect.
“I think me leading everybody into Turn 1 at Daytona could be interesting because I have no freaking clue where I’m going as we go down there,” he said. “Most everybody in the field is the same way.”
Turn 1 on the Daytona road course is a left-hand turn off the frontstretch just past pit exit. That begins the six-turn infield portion of the 3.61-mile course before cars return to the oval in what is its Turn 1.
Teams stay on the oval through the backstretch before turning into the chicane there and going back on to the oval. A chicane was added off what is Turn 4 on the oval to help slow the cars before returning to the infield portion of the course. That was done for fear that the high speeds would wear the brakes over the race.
“I think it’s going to take everybody a little bit of time,” Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports. “I think there are going to be some people who have raced road courses a lot that probably feel more confident than others and possibly be overzealous and just charging it hard right away, and there’s probably going to be other people who are careful and see how many people slide into things. … It should be really interesting. If I was a fan, I’d be all about not having practice.”
Here are Cup drivers entered for Sunday’s race who have competed on the Daytona road course (overall finish)
Clint Bowyer — 2013 Rolex 24 (finished 16th)
Kurt Busch — 2005 Rolex 24 (27th), 2008 Rolex 24 (3rd)
Kyle Busch — 2009 Brumos Porsche 250 (10th), 2020 Rolex 24 (26th),
Cole Custer — 2018 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (3rd), 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (9th)
James Davison — 2014 Rolex 24 (48th), 2015 Rolex 24 (29th), 2016 Rolex 24 (44th),
Kevin Harvick — 2002 Rolex 24 (69th)
Timmy Hill — 2012 Rolex 24 (51st)
Jimmie Johnson — 2004 Rolex 24 (28th), 2005 Rolex 24 (2nd), 2007 Rolex 24 (36th), 2008 Rolex 24 (2nd), 2009 Rolex 24 (7th), 2010 Rolex 24 (21st), 2011 Rolex 24 (15th)
Matt Kenseth — 2005 Rolex 24 (27th), 2006 IROC race (10th)
Michael McDowell — 2005 Rolex 24 (42nd), 2007 Rolex 24 (10th), 2008 Rolex 24 (15th), 2011 Rolex 24 (7th), 2012 Rolex 24 (3rd)
Ryan Newman — 2006 IROC race (3rd)
Martin Truex Jr. — 2006 IROC race (6th)