17 Aug 2020
Chase Elliott won the inaugural NASCAR Cup race on the Daytona road course, narrowly beating Denny Hamlin to take his third straight road course victory.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the first stage by nine seconds after staying out while the front runners made late green flag pit stops. Then after falling back in stage two as a consequence of that strategy, he began the final segment in the lead and remained there for the duration, save for during a final green flag stop cycle.
As the race wound down, Elliott held a 10-second lead over stage two winner Hamlin, but a caution for a spinning Kyle Busch on lap 60 of 65 closed up the field. On the final restart, Elliott was easily able to get away, but while Hamlin applied the pressure in the final three laps, he couldn’t find a way by.
Martin Truex Jr. finished third, after rallying back from a pit lane speeding penalty in the second stage. He passed Jimmie Johnson on the final lap to claim the spot.
Truex spent much of the first stage battling for the race lead alongside Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Busch quickly fell out of the battle, pitting on lap four after flat spotting a tyre while passing Hamlin for the lead, while Hamlin and Truex both made contact while fighting up front.
The contact caused Hamlin to have a left front tyre rub and he pitted on lap 10 as a result. Truex came in three laps later, sacrificing a shot at the stage win to play the long game in hope of the overall race win – a strategy severely hindered by his penalty.
Chris Buescher enjoyed a late surge to finish fifth. The Roush Fenway driver made a move on Truex on the final restart, but couldn’t hold the position. The battle, which was for second at the time as Elliott took off in front, did allow Hamlin to overhaul both.
Sixth went to Clint Bowyer, while Kaz Grala, making his Cup series debut as a late substitution for Austin Dillon following his COVID-19 diagnosis finished a fine seventh – an achievement made all the more impressive by the lack of practice and qualifying at races since NASCAR’s resumption from lockdown.
William Byron finished eighth, ahead of Joey Logano who was the only leading driver to pit on the final restart – he surged from 17th in the final restart. Road course specialist Michael McDowell rounded out the top-10.
Kevin Harvick, who started the race from pole position following a random draw, finished a lowly 17th having fought back from a race-low 37th place. While he lost the lead to Hamlin on the opening lap, he remained towards the front until he was hit by Christopher Bell on lap 33.
Harvick spun going into turn three, cutting over the grass and ending up in the patch of oncoming traffic, all of which managed to miraculously avoid his stricken Ford Mustang. He pitted for fresh tyres a lap later, having already tumbled down the order.
With no prior running for drivers on the Daytona road course before this weekend, many expected carnage, but the 65-lap race was relatively tame. Discounting cautions for stage ends and one for lightning that led to a mandatory halt in proceedings, there was only the one proper caution which came for Busch towards the end of the race.
After suffering brake failure on lap 48, he returned on lap 55, albeit 7 laps down and in 37th out of the 39 runners. Five laps later his brakes again failed on the back stretch, resulting in two rear punctures and contact with the wall.
The incident was the latest in a long run of misfortune for the reigning champion who has yet to win in 2020, despite finishing in the top-five 10 times from 23 starts so far this season.