The NASCAR weekend at the Daytona Road Course provided race fans with a glance at how the rest of the 2021 season might go, with six more non-oval events still on the schedule.
The result in all three divisions was a bit surprising. A repeat winner, a newcomer that dazzled the competition, and a road course streak that came to a crashing halt, added some real excitement over three days.
For the most part, Mother Nature cooperated with NASCAR, and while she did drop some of the wet stuff on the track, it didn’t stop the Camping World Truck Series from racing. Road course racing has its advantages because a tire similar to what you have on your private vehicle is available to teams on a wet track. For the Xfinity Series on Saturday and the Cup Series the next day, you needed sunglasses at Daytona International Speedway.
So here is a look at what happened in Week 2 of the NASCAR season.
A NASCAR truck driving (Ben) Rhodes scholar
Ben Rhodes is suddenly a NASCAR star. Winning the first two races of the 2021 Camping World Truck Series will immediately put you in the spotlight. After a three-overtime victory in an appropriately named BrakeBest Brake Pads 159, the 23-year old just completed a Daytona sweep, winning the season-opener on the big track and repeating on its road course. The latter was on a wet track.
Rhodes appeared to be on his way to a victory when a caution came out with the white flag ready to fly. Had he crossed the line with one to go, which he thought he did, the next flag would be the final one. Rhodes was none too happy at the time, throwing out an expletive over the team radio, but held off Sheldon Creed during two more overtimes to win the race.
Red more: Ben Rhodes starts 2021 with a bang
The difference between early NASCAR stardom and just being a winner the previous week would come down to a second, then third overtime. Despite leading a race-high 17 of 51 laps, Creed wound up second. The win put Rhodes at the top of the points standings. Creed heads into an off week in third behind John Hunter Nemechek.
Who is this guy Ty?
Serious NASCAR fans know that he didn’t just get this chance because of his last name. Had it been Joe Jones from Podunk, chances are he would have had to make a pit stop in Trucks first, so maybe it helped just a tad. But after his road course performance Saturday in the Xfinity Series race, the doubters have been silenced.
As previously mentioned with Rhodes becoming an instant racing celebrity, it could also be fleeting. He is in his sixth full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and it doesn’t appear we can permanently affix a star next to his name just yet. But an 18-year old showed why his future is much, much brighter.
His name is Ty, as in Ty Gibbs. He is the son of Coy, who had a brief racing career in his mid-20s before becoming vice chairman of Joe Gibbs Racing. It also belongs to some guy who has been inducted into two Halls of Fame, football and NASCAR.
Just because Ty was entered in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, nothing else is guaranteed for him the rest of the year. He is likely once again to compete full time in the ARCA Menards Series, but you can bet Grandpa Joe will find some additional seat time in his No. 54, the one that Kyle Busch spends time driving.
Ty Gibbs has superstardom written all over him. Even if he got his chances via nepotism, he still has to drive the car under him. And he has done it superbly. Beginning in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour at the age of 14, he has raced in the K&N Pro Series East and West and ARCA Menards East and West Series’.
When he arrived at the top level in ARCA, he had 27 starts the previous two years, racking up eight wins, 19 top-fives, 24 top-tens, and seven poles. That will get anyone’s attention, especially when you did it before turning 18.
No matter how much seat time Ty Gibbs gets in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year, you can bet he will have a full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2022.
Chase-ing the NASCAR road course streak no more
A rather loose definition of the words NASCAR “road course ringer” is for drivers who excel on those tracks. When you hear the term, you generally think of guys like Boris Said, Andy Lally, Justin Marks, Alex Tagliani, AJ Allmendinger, or Chase Elliott.
The aforementioned, sans Elliott, have that tag because they are not full-time drivers in any of the three NASCAR touring series and brought in by teams hoping to get a better finish than having someone else driving their car. Note: Allmendinger is racing a full Xfinity schedule this season.
Elliott is not a NASCAR ringer. Neither is the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, or Martin Truex Jr. Those drivers race full time and have won on road courses. Calling them experts would be more to the point.
Elliott was on a streak, unlike anything NASCAR has seen since Jeff Gordon. He entered the 2021 season having won four straight points races on road courses. Elliott finished second in the exhibition Busch Clash, but the successful run was still going. That is until Sunday when he tied his second-worst finish on a road course. The worst part of it, he started on the pole.
As the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Elliott is in rarefied air tied with Darrell Waltrip for fourth on the all-time road-course wins list with five. When his consecutive win streak was snapped, he was two shy of tying Gordon.
A loose tire that slowed a pit stop and getting spun by Brad Keselowski contributed to a lost afternoon. All Elliott could say was that he hated to see it end with so many mistakes. He can start another streak, but he will have to wait until May when the Cup Series makes a stop at Circuit of the Americas.