DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Unpredictability is as much a part of racing at Daytona International Speedway as bumping, drafting and the inevitable multicar crash known simply as the Big One.
The high-banked, 2.5-mile, asphalt tri-oval routinely delivers wild rides, harrowing wrecks and dramatic finishes. Drivers expect the unexpected. It's part of the lore and lure of NASCAR's hometown track and one of its only two superspeedways.
It's about to rise to another level.
Instead of the well-known main track, NASCAR's three national series are taking to the retooled road course — which uses a large portion of the tri-oval — at Daytona this weekend for an unprecedented experience for dozens of drivers who have only raced it online.
No practice. No qualifying. Just climb through the window and go — as fast as you can through a tricky layout with unknowns all around. No biggie.
The second-tier Xfinity Series raced Saturday afternoon, with the third-tier Truck Series and the top-tier Cup Series competing Sunday.
"It's going to be something to watch," said Team Penske driver Joey Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 winner. "There are just so many questions to answer. You can't really answer them until you get there."
Like most of his teammates and competitors, Logano has taken to a simulator in hopes of finding his bearings around the 14-turn, 3.57-mile road course. Logano's hot take: "I still stink at it."
"You're making laps and at least figuring out what turn is coming up next, but you have to take everything with a grain of salt," he said. "It's a simulator. How do you build a car for it? How much faith do you put in the simulator? How big are the curbs in the bus stop? How do you prepare for the load of the cars in those big corners? It's not like you can change anything, so what you have is what you have. Who the heck knows!"
Logano, the 2018 Cup Series champion, is one of the more accomplished drivers in the field. That might not matter.
"I think that's going to be super, super difficult for everybody," Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott said. "And it's going to be one of those things where you have to creep up on it, and it's a hard guess. We can run (simulations) until we're blue in the face. But ultimately that doesn't, in my opinion, give you the visual aids that you need to do the right things at the right times."
Kyle Busch should have an advantage even beyond that of the skill he has displayed as a two-time Cup Series champion and the all-time leader in NASCAR national series wins. He ran the Rolex 24 endurance race on the road course in January, his first venture into sports car competition.
The only current Cup Series drivers with multiple Rolex 24 starts are Jimmie Johnson (seven), Michael McDowell (five) and Kurt Busch (two); Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Timmy Hill and Matt Kenseth have one apiece. Kenseth and Ryan Newman have victories on the Daytona road course, each winning IROC races in the mid-2000s.
Even so, the layout this weekend is slightly different from the Rolex. NASCAR added a chicane at the exit of the fourth turn that provides another passing zone and another chance to screw up. The extra twist ensures no driver in the field has turned actual laps on this exact course.
Out for Daytona
One driver who will miss out on the new experience is Austin Dillon, who tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be able to compete on the road course.
Richard Childress Racing said Dillon tested positive Saturday morning after experiencing mild symptoms and seeking a test on his own. The 30-year-old who already qualified for the playoffs with a win in July at Texas Motor Speedway has isolated himself from the RCR No. 3 Chevrolet team, and Dillon's wife and newborn son had not shown symptoms, the team added.
Kaz Grala will replace him behind the wheel at Daytona.
Dillon is the third Cup Series driver to test positive for the coronavirus, joining Johnson — the seven-time season champion missed just one race but ended a long streak of starts — and part-timer Brendan Gaughan.
According to NASCAR's latest COVID-19 protocol, Dillon may return to racing activities after he receives two negative test results taken at least 24 hours apart. He also may return 10 days after his first positive test if he does not have a fever for at least 24 hours without the use of medication.
WELCOME, N.C. — Bubba Wallace keeps adding to his portfolio.
The only Black driver currently competing in the Cup Series announced a multiyear partnership with technology company DoorDash on Friday. It will sponsor Wallace's Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet this weekend, and the deal includes six more races this year: at Dover International Speedway on Aug. 22, Richmond Raceway on Sept. 12, Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 27, Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 25, Martinsville Speedway on Nov. 1 and Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 8 to close the season.
"One of the things I've been praying for for a really long time," Wallace told the "Today" show.
Columbia Sportswear Co. signed Wallace as a brand ambassador earlier in the week; the company will be on the No. 43 car for the Dover race and one or two others not yet announced. Wallace also signed a personal sponsorship agreement with Beats by Dre in July, and one week later, Cash App signed on to sponsor Wallace for five races.