FERGUSON: A botched caution call, Two first-time Winners & what Road Courses will look like in ‘21

FERGUSON: A botched caution call, Two first-time Winners & what Road Courses will look like in ‘21
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, and Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

There’s a lot going through my head immediately after watching that race.

I’m super happy for Christopher Bell, getting his first NASCAR Cup Series win of his career and driving his ass off throughout the day to overcome his competitors. He earned that victory.

But a big part of me wonders what could have been, and I think that overwhelmingly decided the results of this race.

If NASCAR doesn’t throw a yellow-flag for rain in the final 15 laps, does Chase Elliott maintain his two-second lead on Bell and does the rest of the field try to come in for rain tires? How many come in? How many stay out?

I think that’s a big part of strategy in a road course race with two, unique tire options; and there was no way Elliott nor Bell was going to come to pit road.

It would have been an epic proving ground setting for Bell, who wound up proving his worth anyways. Although, I wish we could have watched him try to out-run Elliott on a road course.

The biggest thing that stuck out there was that Bell was the one sticking with the No. 9 and not Martin Truex Jr. When the caution came out, the No. 19 was seven seconds back while Bell was holding his own. That was big.

Ultimately, I think Elliott wins that race by a 2-3 second margin at the end of the day. The way NASCAR prevented that from playing out really urks me in all the wrong type of ways. We’ve seen them botch too many calls over the recent seasons and I see no signs of that improving any time soon, and that’s a massive negative.

It might not seem like it, but I hate having to harp on poor officiating calls that take away from the product the fans get to see. (I don’t not have fun doing it though).

Beside the point, Bell became the second first-time winner in as many weeks to start off the NASCAR Cup Series season – the one that FOX is marketing as, ‘The best season ever.’

That will go a long way when it comes to parity this year, but also with the amount of winners we’ll see across the season.

Last year, we saw all but five drivers qualify for the playoffs with a win in the first 26 races. Eleven different winners isn’t even a high-mark in terms of what we’ve seen since the new system was put into place.

With two unexpected winners grabbing P1 finishes to kick off the season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that we could see 16 drivers with wins going into the playoffs and that’ll stir up as much controversy as ever.

We’ll worry about that in a month or two, though. One of my biggest takeaways from this race is how traveling to seven different road courses over the season will impact what we see on the track.

NASCAR will travel later this season to the Circuit of Americas (May 23), Sonoma Raceway (June 6), Road America (July 4), Watkins Glen (August 8), the Indianapolis Road Course (August 15), along with the Charlotte Roval in the playoffs.

My two main thoughts on that: Chase Elliott is still the best at them, and aside from a few guys that showed their cards on Sunday, there’s a long talent gap between the sixth best driver on road courses and the rest of the field.

It will be incredibly interesting to keep up with how different teams and drivers try to make up ground on the big guns and just how much that can change.

I do think, too, that Sunday showed the emergence of a couple of new names that we’ll see make their names known on road courses this season.

Yeah, I get it, obviously C-Bell. I’ve said how exceptional he was.

But I think there is room for a couple of new guys to show up on the talent list there aside from the driver of the No. 20.

Kyle Larson was hanging in the top 10 throughout the day. Whether it was through pit stops or if he was on a different strategy, the No. 5 car was sitting near the front of the pack within striking distance all race long. He biffed it into the tires in the closing laps, but still showed what he had on Sunday. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win a race (road course or not) in 2021.

We knew A.J. Allmendinger was a solid ringer to root for on Sunday, but I don’t think he had a car that was capable of winning the whole thing. I think that comes with Kaulig Racing’s first Cup Series road course race. I’d have to bet that we’ll see that program improve as we go through the season.

I thought Chase Briscoe ran a good race for the situation he was in. In his second Cup Series drive of his career, if he had made a couple less mistakes, he could have been fighting for a top-five finish. Even if you disagree, it’s settled that he’s the best blind driver in the sport.

So what’s that leave us with? Elliott, Bell, Allmendinger, Truex Jr., Larson, Briscoe and then the field? That goes without mentioning the large gap in-between.

The question remains if that gap gets bigger or smaller, and how much teams go after road courses with six more still to be ran this season.

Unfortunately, we won’t see another for three months, however I think we’ve been given a pretty fun and chaotic start to the season. The intensity will keep ramping up.

NASCAR’s next race will be a week from Sunday, on February 28 as they stay in Florida to run at Homestead-Miami. The event is scheduled to kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on FOX.

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