Coke Zero 400: Beating Heat, Humidity, ‘Smoke’
The Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca Cola (7:30 p.m. ET TNT, MRN RADIO, SIRIUSXM RADIO) is run under the lights instead of in the afternoon’s early hours.
“Usually it’s about 95 degrees with 90% humidity in July so a slick track condition is biggest change we deal with when racing at Daytona International Speedway in July compared to February,” said Kevin Harvick, the race’s 2010 winner.
Active drivers who have won both races – but not in the same season – are Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray and Michael Waltrip. The last competitor to sweep both Daytona events was NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison in 1982.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart continues to pursue a Daytona 500 victory. But Smoke, defending winner of the Coke Zero 400, counts four July victories in the past eight seasons. He’s the last driver to win Daytona’s July race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup title in the same season (2005).
Jimmie Johnson – February’s Daytona 500 winner and a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – has yet to record a victory at Daytona in July.
Also winless in July is 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who recorded a season-high fourth victory on Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. Kenseth, third in last year’s Coke Zero 400, posted a phenomenal 2.0 average finish in last year’s four restrictor-plate races.
Saturday night’s race will be the second at Daytona for the Gen-6 race car that made its NASCAR Sprint Cup debut during February’s Speedweeks. The Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry cars outwardly may appear the same but teams since have made dramatic strides in development.
“It was practically a blank sheet of paper,” said Busch of the Gen-6 in February. “I think we’ll see these cars handling better as these teams have learned so much more and are a lot smarter than we were back then.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson and Earnhardt finished one-two in February’s Gen-6 debut. Last July, Stewart passed Kenseth on the final lap with Jeff Burton taking second. The race ended under caution, the result of a 15-car accident in Turn 4.
Four different organizations have won the most recent eight Daytona July races. Joe Gibbs Racing has the best record with three victories. Active teams yet to win the Coke Zero 400 include Penske Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.
Chase Wild Card Contenders Boast Daytona Success
Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 figures to be a wild affair. And it could become wilder yet for drivers in pursuit of a Chase Wild Card. Four drivers ranked 11th through 20th – those currently eligible to claim a Wild Card entry into this fall’s NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason – have won races at Daytona International Speedway. Tony Stewart, a provisional Wild Card holder along with Kasey Kahne, is the reigning Coke Zero 400 winner with four victories overall in the track’s July race.
Stewart, who reached a top-10 ranking two races ago before sliding back into the pack, could regain an “automatic qualifier” with a victory. He is 16th in the standings but just 22 points behind 10th-place Joey Logano.
Jeff Gordon has a golden opportunity to jump both Stewart and Kahne. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has won the Coke Zero 400 three times – most recently in 2004. Gordon stands 12th, one and two points respectively, behind Kahne and Logano.
Former Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman ranks 18th, nine points behind Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Stewart.
Jamie McMurray is the final Daytona winner ranked among the top 20 but heads to Florida with momentum. He finished a close second to Matt Kenseth at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday and won the Coors Light Pole at Sonoma Raceway a week earlier.
McMurray has won both the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400. His Kentucky finish was worth two positions in the points – 21st to 19th – making McMurray Wild Card eligible. He trails Stewart by 20 points and is 42 points outside the top 10.
Talladega winner David Ragan, who won the Coke Zero 400 in 2011, is a Chase long shot. Ragan is 29th and trails 20th-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 139 points.
Plate Proficiency Eludes Earnhardt In Recent Seasons
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a top pick to win whenever the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes restrictor-plate racing. Seven victories at Daytona and Talladega – including a win in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 – have earned Junior a contender’s mantle.
Statistics, however, can be deceiving.
All of Earnhardt’s plate wins took place nearly a decade ago, during a time in which Dale Earnhardt Inc. and its Chevrolets was virtually unbeatable at NASCAR’s most formidable layouts. The organization, which paired Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip, won 11 of 16 races held at the two tracks from 2001 through 2004.
Both drivers are winless at both tracks in subsequent seasons.
Earnhardt’s Coke Zero 400 record has been relatively ordinary since taking the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in 2004. Earnhardt, 15th a year ago, averages a finish of 14.0 as an HMS team member – his best a fourth in 2010. His No. 88 Chevy has led just a single lap in Daytona’s July race since 2009.
The drought, however, could be coming to an end. Junior looked like the plate driver of yesteryear in February as he chased Daytona 500 winner and HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson to the checkered flag. The runner-up finish was Earnhardt’s best at Daytona since the 2010 Daytona 500.
A Reversal Of Fortune At Penske Racing
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski began 2013 as a favorite to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead in November. Joey Logano came over to Penske Racing from Joe Gibbs Racing during the most recent offseason with expectations of running decently and working closely with his new teammate, Keselowski.
However, with nine races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is set not many people expected Logano to be in better position to make the Chase than his champion teammate. An early wreck in Sunday’s Kentucky race that took him off the track temporarily relegated him to a 33rd-place finish and dropped him from ninth to 13th in the standings. A solid fourth-place finish at Kentucky jumped Logano from 14th to 10th in the points standings, the last guaranteed spot in the Chase.
Keselowski, with zero wins this season, sits outside the two Wild Card spots reserved for the two drivers between 11th and 20th in the standings with the most victories. Currently, those spots belong to Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart.
In eight starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Keselowski has one top five and two top 10s. His best finish came in the 2013 Daytona 500 where he finished fourth. Logano has two top fives and three tops 10s in nine starts at Daytona. He finished third in the July 2011 race. In this year’s Daytona 500, his first race with Penske, he placed 19th.
Penske Racing drivers have found Victory Lane at Daytona only once in the NSCS, but it was a big one: the 2008 Daytona 500 with Ryan Newman.
Danica Returns To Make More History
Danica Patrick has big shoes to fill – her own.
During the season-opening Daytona 500, she unfurled a long list of superlatives: first female pole winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; best finish by a female (eighth) in the Daytona 500; first NSCS top-10 finish by a female since Janet Guthrie in 1978; became the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick already holds the record for best finish by a female in NASCAR national series competition (a fourth at Las Vegas in 2011 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series). Now she looks to break the record for best finish by a female in NASCAR premier series competition, currently held by Sara Christian (fifth).
She returns to Daytona 500 with a good bit more experience, running her first full season and competing for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Her races since the season opener, however, haven’t exactly been as successful. Since the Daytona 500, she has notched two top-15 finishes – a 12th at Martinsville and a 13th at Michigan. She has kept out of trouble, registering only two DNFs – accidents at Phoenix and Talladega.
Currently 27th in points, Daytona provides Patrick an opportunity to vault back into the top 25 (she’s currently 16 points behind Denny Hamlin).
In her last six races at Daytona, in both Cup and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Patrick has scored a Driver Rating over 100 three times.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
After missing last week’s race at Kentucky, Bobby Labonte ended the second-longest active start streak in the series. Jeff Burton, with 609 consecutive starts, is now second behind Jeff Gordon’s 706 straight starts. … Joey Logano, who scored his 49th top 10 last weekend, aims to become the 117th driver to reach 50 career top 10s. With his next top 10, he’ll tie Charlie Glotzbach on the all-time list.
Championship Points Race Continues To Get Close
Two weeks ago, Regan Smith was enjoying a 58-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. heading into the 14th race of the season at Road America. However, after a 32nd-place finish at the Wisconsin road course and a 30th-place finish in last Friday’s race at Kentucky, Smith’s comfortable advantage has all but evaporated.
Heading into Daytona for Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250, Smith’s lead now stands at only eight points. What’s more is that his past two performances have allowed other drivers to enter into the championship conversation. Currently, seven drivers are within 50 points of Smith. At this point last season, only three drivers were within 50 points of the leader, Austin Dillon.
What’s even more telling about Smith’s recent fade back into the pack are the performances of the seven drivers trailing him. Over the past two races only two of those drivers, Justin Allgaier, who is currently third in points (-11), and Parker Kligerman, who is seventh in points (-46), have had finishes outside of the top 10, finishing 13th and 16th, respectively.
Hornish finished fifth and ninth in the last two races, while Allgaier finished second at Road America to go along with his 13th at Kentucky. Elliott Sadler, who is fourth in the standings 19 points back, finished ninth and second at Road America and Kentucky, respectively. Dillon finished 10th and sixth in those races and sits fifth in the standings (-20). Kyle Larson has a pair of seventh-place finishes and is 44 markers off the lead in sixth place. Kligerman finished third at Road America before his 16th-place performance at Kentucky. Former series champion Brian Vickers is 48 points behind Smith in eighth and his two most recent finishes were sixth and fourth.
Smith and Hornish are the only drivers of the eight with victories thus far this season; Smith has two while Hornish has one. If Smith is to hold on to his lead, he’ll need to put the last two races in the past and start running again like he did earlier in the season when he had 11 consecutive top-10 finishes.
Game On: Dash4Cash Hits Full Throttle In Daytona
Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers will all be racing for more than the usual prize money, trophy and checkered flag Friday night in Daytona’s Subway Firecracker 250. They’ll also be chasing an additional $100,000 bonus.
Friday’s race marks the official first leg of Nationwide’s popular Dash 4 Cash program. Last Friday, Sadler, Vickers, Dillon and Larson all qualified to be participants in the first week of the bonus program by finishing second, fourth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky. They were the top-four points-eligible finishers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, thus making them eligible to compete in the first event of the 2013 Dash 4 Cash.
Of the four eligible drivers, the one who finishes highest in the Daytona race will win the bonus and automatically qualify for the next event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The three other highest finishing NASCAR Nationwide regulars at Daytona will also qualify to compete for the bonus at New Hampshire. The format will remain the same for the Chicagoland and Indianapolis races, the last two legs of the Dash 4 Cash program.
If one driver wins the bonuses for the first three races and then wins the Indianapolis race outright, Nationwide Insurance will award the driver an additional $600,000, totaling $1 million in winnings.
Dillon and Sadler earned Dash 4 Cash bonuses last year at New Hampshire and Chicagoland, respectively.
Larson Continues To Impress During His Rookie Season
Over the past seven races Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings leader Kyle Larson has been on a bit of a tear, finishing in the top 10 in all seven races. Last Friday at Kentucky he finished seventh for the second straight week.
Through the first 15 races of the season, he has four top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes, including a pair of runner-up performances at Bristol and Michigan. Larson will make his second national series Daytona start this Friday in the Subway Firecracker 250. In the 2013 season opener, he finished 13th.
In the rookie of the year race he has 200 points, 51 and 56 points in front of his two closest competitors, Alex Bowman and Nelson Piquet Jr. Bowman finished third in the 2013 DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona, while Piquet finished 11th.
Dexter Stacey (-112), Jeffrey Earnhardt (-120), Hal Martin (-128), Kevin Swindell (-146) and Juan Carlos Blum (-147) round out the rest of the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
The 2012 race winner Kurt Busch returns to defend his victory along with three other NSCS regulars: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. … 2012 NCWTS champion James Buescher and last week’s NCWTS race winner at Kentucky Ty Dillon are both slated to compete in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide race. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison will serve as the Grand Marshal during pre-race activities.
Dillon, Buescher Enjoy Solid Runs In Kentucky
After picking up his first win of the season last week at Kentucky Speedway and jumping three spots to third in the standings, Ty Dillon proved that he is a contender for the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
Dillon captured his first NCWTS win of the season and second in his career in the UNOH 225 and said the win couldn’t have come at a better time for him and his team.
“I don’t know what it is that fits our driving style, but we were just comfortable with it (Kentucky Speedway),” said Dillon. “Marcus (Richmond) and the guys did an awesome job of dialing the (truck) in throughout the night.”
Reigning champion James Buescher hopes his first top-five run of the season is a sign of things to come in his efforts to defend his title. For Buescher, picking up the solid finish is just what his team needed.
“It was a great night for our Fraternal Order of Eagles team,” said Buescher. “We have been having great runs all season long, but we just haven’t had the finishes we were looking for. I feel like we are finally starting to get the results we deserve, and I am confident that we’ll be in Victory Lane very soon.”
Last season, Buescher used four wins on 1.5-mile tracks to put him in championship contention that eventually led him and his team to celebrate their first championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
The defending champion has struggled throughout the first third of the season with only four top-10 finishes and one Keystone Light Pole Award (Kansas).
Crafton Represents Series In Style During Nationwide Race
Matt Crafton is enjoying a successful season having finished in the top 10 in all eight races and is leading Jeb Burton by 22 points in the championship standings.
On Friday night, Crafton added to his impressive resume by making his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series start at Kentucky Speedway, where he finished third in the rain-shortened event.
“(Crew Chief) Ernie (Cope) has a great, great group of guys,” said Crafton. “I was honestly just trying to get a feel of the race car early on and they told me we were two-tenths ahead on the sheet and I said ‘oh, OK.’ That tells you how good a group of guys they have back at the shop putting these cars together.”
Crafton credited Menard’s owner (John Menard) and Rheem for making this opportunity possible and the Tulare, Calif., native hopes this is just a glimpse into the future with his NNS opportunities.
“I can’t thank John and everyone enough. We have been talking about doing this for two or three years and everything just lined up. We’ve got two more (races) to go and hopefully get two more spots (in the finish),” Crafton said.
Two NCWTS points-eligible drivers posted NASCAR Nationwide Series wins in 2012: James Buescher at Daytona and Nelson Piquet Jr. at Road America.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
James Buescher will return to NNS action this weekend in Daytona. Buescher, who won the season-opening NNS race at Daytona in 2012, will pilot a Turner Scott Motorsports entry in a series in which he has 13 top-10 finishes in addition to his win. … Stand-alone events come up next at Iowa Speedway on July 13, and the first-ever race on dirt at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway for the Mudsummer Classic on July 24.
Whelen Entitlement Sponsorship Announced For NASCAR European Touring Series
NASCAR, Whelen Engineering and Team FJ have announced a long-term partnership represented by the launch of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, the new name of the NASCAR European touring series.
The entitlement sponsorship deal is effective immediately and is through 2019. The first event under the new NASCAR Whelen Euro Series name will be July 6-7 at France’s Tours Speedway. The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series organizes unique championship auto racing events in Europe with well-known circuits.
“This is a landmark day for the series,” said Jerome Galpin, general manager of Team FJ, which owns and operates the European-based series. “Whelen’s support of NASCAR at every level is exemplary and to have them on board with the Euro Series brings another level of prestige and support to the series.”
Ryan Preece extended his streak in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, scoring his third consecutive win with a victory in the Hoosier Tire 200 at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway on Saturday night. The 22-year-old Berlin, Conn., driver – a member of the 2013 NASCAR Next program – rebounded from a flat tire to charge through the field for the second time in three weeks and take the win.
Daniel Suárez took the NASCAR Mexico Series win in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, with a victory in the Regia 240 at Autódromo Monterrey on Sunday. It marked the second win this season and fourth career series victory for the 21-year-old driver, who won the 2011 Rookie of the Year Award and is a member of the 2013 NASCAR Next program.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- Next Race: Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola
- The Place: Daytona International Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, July 6
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: TNT, 6:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- Next Race: Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola
- The Place: Daytona International Speedway
- The Date: Friday, July 5
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- Next Race: American Ethanol 200 presented by Enogen
- The Place: Iowa Speedway
- The Date: Friday, July 13
- The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 8 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 175 miles (200 laps)