Once it became clear the series’ annual stop at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR elected to utilize the 3.57-mile course at Daytona International Speedway as a substitute.
There was one big caveat, however – no practice and qualifying and Cup drivers were not allowed to enter the ARCA, Xfinity or Truck races this weekend to gain additional track time.
Even the course is slightly changed for the 10 drivers who have run the Rolex 24 previously – a chicane has been added off Turn 4 to slow speeds down the frontstretch.
“I’ve never entered a race like that where you literally just have no idea what to expect,” said Elliott, who has won the two previous races at Watkins Glen. “Road racing, in my opinion, is a lot about brake-markers and a lot about visual aids and these nuances around the track that you can see with your eyes to help with your hands and your feet do the right things at the right times.
“Heck, I have no idea where I need to stop on Turn 1 on Sunday; or (Turn) 2 or (Turn) 3 and all the way back around to the start/finish line.
“So, I think that’s going to be super, super difficult for everybody. And it’s going to be one of those things where you have to creep up on it and it’s a hard guess.”
The only substitute available for drivers at this point has been time in a simulator or competing on iRacing, which recently added the course to its track lineup.
“We can run in the sims and iRacing and all those things 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,” Elliott said.
“The only way to get that is laps around the race track and 65 laps is not really a ton of time to figure those things out. So, learn and learn fast and try not to make any big time mistakes in doing it.”
Elliott, 24, is already locked in the playoffs thanks to a victory in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway and while he remains fifth in the series standings, he was as high as second at one point.
Elliott enters the race with three consecutive top-10 finishes but he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have appeared to be off a bit on race-winning speed of late.
Any road course event typically puts teams on a more equal footing and Sunday’s race has the possibility for unpredictable results.
“I think this weekend is going to be a big time challenge for everyone,” Elliott said. “I think the one guy that I look at that really has a leg up is Kyle (Busch), having come off (the Rolex 24) this year.
“In fact, I think if we all knew that we were going to be doing this road course, you probably would have seen all of us trying to get in that 24-Hour race this year to go and do it. But you never know with things like that.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge. I think it’s going to be a fun challenge for everyone.”