After the craziness of the Daytona 500 led to Michael McDowell’s upset win, it wasn’t outrageous to think that the Daytona Road Course might tone down a little bit. Early on, it appeared as if that was exactly what would happen, with pole-sitter Chase Elliott driving away from the field and winning stage one with ease.
Denny Hamlin responded by winning the second stage, and Elliott took back over in the final stage, but the race hit a shake-up when a caution came out for rain on the track. Elliott lost track position and then had multiple issues down the stretch, allowing Christopher Bell to grab his first career win, passing Joey Logano on the last lap. With two straight first-time winners to start the season for the first time since 1950, the rankings see a large shift for the second straight week.
Note: Analytics such as driver rating, pass differential, and quality passes are found on RacingReference.com.
1. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
Last Week: 1
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 6th
It’s been a very Harvick-y start to the season for Kevin Harvick. Two clean races, ending in a pair of top-ten finishes to get the 2021 campaign underway. Harvick ran inside the top-ten for the majority of Sunday’s race and took advantage of the late chaos to pick up a few more positions. Another solid week for the No. 4 team as Harvick’s quest for his second championship continues.
2. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
Last Week: 3
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 3rd
Hamlin may not have won at the road course, but he had about as good of a day as you’ll see from a non-winner. The Joe Gibbs driver picked up his second consecutive top-five finish to start the season and was the only driver in the field to run every single lap inside the top-15. Hamlin also picked up a stage win and has a stranglehold on the series points lead through two races.
3. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Last Week: 2
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 21st
Through one stage, Elliott was performing exactly as expected. He drove away from the field on essentially every restart, taking the first stage with relative ease. After leading 44 out of 70 laps, however, Elliott’s race unwound following a late caution. Following a pit stop that caused a loss of track position, Elliott was forced off the track. He eventually spun in the closing laps while trying to pass Brad Keselowski. Still a good race points-wise, but Elliott’s chance to knock off Jeff Gordon’s road course win streak is gone for now.
4. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
Last Week: 5
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 2nd
For the second straight week, Logano found himself in the lead coming to the white flag. For the second straight week, he was unable to hang on, this time at the hands of Christopher Bell. That being said, Logano led ten laps and finished second after having one of the fastest cars on the track all day. It wasn’t a win, but the No. 22 team put together a great points day and put themselves in a position to take the checkered yet again.
5. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2)
Last Week: 4
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 5th
Keselowski finishing top-five doesn’t seem all that odd on the surface, but with the way the race developed, he was lucky to even have been running at the end. Keselowski’s pass differential (cars passed versus cars passing you) was -48, second-worst in the entire field, and less than 30 percent of his passes were quality passes. It was an eventful day for the near Daytona winner, but he put himself in position when it mattered and grabbed a top-five finish.
6. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Last Week: 16
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 1st
Bell was far from the favorite in Sunday’s race, but with the way he drove his No. 20 car, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be returning to victory lane soon. Bell gave Chase Elliott all he could handle early in the final stage, drove back through the top-ten following a pit stop, and finally passed Joey Logano in the chicane coming back to the white flag. Terrific drive for the youngster to pick up his first career win.
7. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34)
Last Week: 7
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 8th
After starting on the front row following his Daytona 500 win, McDowell took damage on the first lap, and a good finish appeared to be out of the question. Not so fast. Everyone’s favorite 2021 underdog drove his way through the field from dead last all the way back into the top ten. In fact, McDowell’s 111 green flag passes led the entire field. Two straight top-ten finishes to start the season is nothing to scoff at for a guy who had just four in all of last season.
8. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Last Week: 8
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 10th
Bowman quietly put together a nice recovery race after his early exit from the Daytona 500. It wasn’t flashy, but Bowman’s +16 pass differential was more than good enough to keep him competitive. When moving to a new car, even within the same team, it’s always crucial to get yourself rolling with a good finish early. This was that finish for Bowman.
9. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19)
Last Week: 9
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 12th
It wasn’t an easy race for Truex, who ran near the front for most of it but was spun into the first turn on a crazy restart. However, Truex’s 100 green flag passes were third-most in the field, and that allowed him to at least drive back into the top-15 and contend for a top-ten finish by the end of the race. Truex definitely had a top-five car, but the result won’t quite reflect that after a topsy-turvy day.
10. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Last Week: 6
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 35th
Sunday was a rough one for Rowdy Busch. He picked up damage on the opening lap, drove back into the top-ten, and then had a late-race issue that dropped him all the way outside the top-30. It’s obviously still early in the season, but it appears that Busch’s poor luck from the 2020 season has begun to carry over into 2021. However, Busch won the championship race at Homestead in 2019, and he’ll get a chance to repeat that victory next week.
11. Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1)
Last Week: 14
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 4th
Like fellow top-five finisher Brad Keselowski, Sunday didn’t bring a smooth race for Busch. That being said, a top-five finish is a top-five finish, and he’ll certainly take the points. Busch led a couple of laps in the middle portion of the race before going off track and losing a lot of ground, and his drive back through the field was impressive. If Busch was able to keep track position for a little while longer, he may have found himself in victory lane.
12. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Last Week: 11
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 30th
After a pretty successful day, it was a rough result for Larson following his late spin. Larson sent his car into the tire barriers while trying to move into second place, and unfortunately, he didn’t get the benefit of a caution. There are definitely some positives that can be taken out of the race for Larson, however. His 36 quality passes were tied for second-most in the race, which shows that he consistently had one of the best cars on track.
13. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
Last Week: 12
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 17th
Almirola has never been known as a road course ringer, so his finish was about what was expected from him. Even though a 17th-place result isn’t tremendous, there were some good signs from the race. Almirola drove a few laps inside the top-ten before a spin and was able to make up a few positions after briefly dropping outside of the top-30. In a race where some drivers imploded, Almirola was at least able to stay afloat.
14. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Last Week: 13
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 15th
Following his near-victory at the Clash, Blaney came into the race as one of the favorites to win, but he put together a pretty quiet effort in finishing 15th. Especially concerning was Blaney’s inability to pass good cars; with just five quality passes, only one out of every 18 cars that Blaney passed was inside the top-15. It’s been a so-so start to the year for the No. 12 team, so he’ll hope to take advantage of next week’s race at Homestead to get going.
15. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Last Week: 10
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 26th
Wallace’s road course racing skills aren’t his strong suit, but even by his standards, Sunday was a tough one. Wallace’s -49 pass differential was the worst in the entire field, with only Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski being passed more in total under green flag conditions. A speeding penalty set Wallace back in the field even further, solidifying a poor race.
16. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Last Week: 15
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 34th
Following a third-place finish in the 500, Dillon had himself a disappointing day at the road course, finishing off of the lead lap. After starting near the front and running in the top ten for a significant portion of the race, the result has to hurt for the driver who came into the race leading in points. If there is a bright side, it would be Dillon’s 26 quality passes during the race.
17. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41)
Last Week: 19
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 13th
Solid job by Custer on Sunday, as he raced within the top-ten for most of the race and finished inside the top-15. Even with a decent finish, the underlying statistics show that Custer had an even better day than the result may suggest. With 36 quality passes, Custer was behind only Martin Truex Jr. in the category and tied with Chase Elliott. That’s some quality company for a second-year driver.
18. Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37)
Last Week: 25
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 9th
It would be tough to find a driver who had worse luck in 2020 than Preece. It seemed like he was involved in an incident in nearly every race, and he came into 2021 without a charter. Though the future of his No. 37 team isn’t quite clear due to issues with funding and sponsorship, Preece is doing everything he can early in the season to prove himself. A second straight top-ten finish to start the season was impressive.
19. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Last Week: 17
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 33rd
Byron had a second straight rough race to begin the season after finishing outside of the top-30 and off of the lead lap on the road course. Not the greatest start to the year for a guy who barely snuck into the playoffs in 2020, but it’s obviously still very early. Byron has plenty of time to get things back on the right track.
20. Chris Buescher (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17)
Last Week: 26
O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 Result: 11th
Buescher quietly ran a nice race at the road course, nearly grabbing himself a top ten result. Buescher made 31 quality passes over the race, fourth-most in the field. Roush-Fenway has obviously taken more than a step back since their 2000s and early 2010s dominance, but Buescher is finding some speed in the No. 17 this year.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8) LW: 18
22. Daniel Suarez (TrackHouse Racing No. 99) LW: 24
23. Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21) LW: 20
24. Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42) LW: 21
25. Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43) LW: 27
26. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14) LW: 22
27. Corey LaJoie (Spire Motorsports No. 7) LW: 23
28. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47) LW: 29
29. Ryan Newman (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6) LW: 30
30. Anthony Alfredo (Front Row Motorsports No. 38) LW: NR