By Pete Pistone
Coke Zero 400 Race Preview
NASCAR returns to the site of where the season began with Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
If the traditional mid-summer holiday weekend stop at “The World Center of Racing” is anything like February’s dramatic Daytona 500 it should be quite a show.
Trevor Bayne’s surprise win to kick off the Sprint Cup campaign set the tone for what has been one of the sport’s most competitive seasons in years.
Eleven different drivers have rolled into victory lane during the first 16 races of the schedule, the most since the 2003 campaign.
Kurt Busch was the latest to take the checkered flag at last Sunday’s road course round in Sonoma, California. But the way Busch ran at Daytona during Speedweeks the sight of the Penske Racing Dodge crossing the finish line first could repeat itself on Saturday.
Busch won the Budweiser Shootout and his Gatorade Duel qualifying race at Daytona last February only to come up short of the sweep with a fifth place finish in the 500.
“So, yeah, it really was like leaving Daytona back in February with an empty feeling because we weren’t able to close the deal and win the big one in the 500,” Busch said of his ultimate memory from Speedweeks. “We’re coming back in there hoping to get that elusive win on Saturday night.”
Busch will need some help to get his first points-paying restrictor plate track win. The two-car tandem drafting style of racing that has now become the only way to race to the front at the newly-paved Daytona track demands drivers find someone to work with throughout the course of the race.
In Busch’s case there’s teammate Brad Keselowski but as was learned in Speedweeks the new phenomenon could make for some odd pairings.
“You make a deal with someone but at the end of the day you have to find anyone to work with depending on the circumstances,” said Bayne, who found none other than Jeff Gordon as a drafting partner for most of the Daytona 500. “Basically you have to just kind of see how things play out before you make a final run to the checkered flag and just try to be in position as the race winds down.”
Not everyone is completely enamored with the latest style of plate racing including Dale Earnhardt Jr.
An accomplished restrictor plate track winner during his NASCAR career, Earnhardt is still having a hard time with having to pair up with just one driver rather than working his way around the track in the huge packs that used to punctuate drafting.
“I don't really like the two-car stuff," Earnhardt said during last April’s plate race at Talladega. "It's uh … just silly.
"I'm hoping this kind of racing goes away fast, so we don't have to talk about this no more. This is a bunch of crap."
Daytona International Speedway
Track Size: 2.5-miles
Race Length: 400 miles/160 laps
Banking/Corners: 31 degrees
Banking/Straights: 3 degrees
Banking/Tri-Oval: 18 degrees
2010 pole winner: None (Inclement Weather)
2010 race winner: Kevin Harvick (135.719 mph, 7-3-2010)
Track qualifying record: Bill Elliott (210.364 mph, 2-9-1987)
Race record: Bobby Allison (173.473 mph, 7-4-1980)
There have been 128 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 53 have been 500 miles, 48 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifying races that were points races.
Fireball Roberts won the inaugural pole at Daytona.
Bob Welborn won the first race at Daytona, the 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500.
Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959.
Fireball Roberts won the first 400-mile race at Daytona, the 1963 Firecracker 400.
53 drivers have posted poles; 20 have more than one.
Cale Yarborough leads all drivers with 12 poles.
Bill Elliott leads all active drivers with five poles; followed by Jeff Gordon and Ken Schrader, with three.
55 drivers have won a race; 26 have won more than once.
Richard Petty leads all drivers in victories, with 10.
Jeff Gordon has six victories, more than any other active driver.
The Wood Brothers have won 15 races at Daytona, more than any other car owner.
17 full-length races at Daytona have been won from the pole, including last year’s Coke Zero 400, won by polesitter Kevin Harvick.
A driver has swept both races at Daytona only four times, most recently by Bobby Allison, in 1982.
The last 11 Daytona races that finished under green have had a margin of victory under a half second.
Who’s Hot at Daytona
Kurt Busch – Comes to Daytona after scoring his first win of the season last Sunday at Infineon and with a ton of momentum. The resurgent Penske Racing stable has been one of the best team’s in the garage area over the last month. Busch was very strong during Speedweeks and won everything but the Daytona 500. He will be someone to watch closely this weekend.
Carl Edwards – Came up one position short of winning the Daytona 500 and has been on an impressive run at the track in recent years. Edwards has four straight Top 10 finishes coming into Saturday night’s race and the potent Ford FR-9 engine should also be a benefit in his quest for a first-ever Daytona victory.
Kevin Harvick – The defending race winner has shown a knack for both pulling out victories in the closing moments as well as running well in restrictor plate races. Harvick is a two-time Daytona winner and his strong performance also at Talladega makes the RCR driver a favorite on Saturday.
Brad Keselowski – Daytona has not been a place where Keselowski has fared well during his Sprint Cup career. The Penske Racing driver has made four career starts at the track and has a disappointing 29.8 average finish to show for the effort.
Joey Logano – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has struggled at Daytona on the Sprint Cup side of the house nearly from the moment he took his first green flag in 2009 when he finished last in the 500. Logano has a 26.8 average finish in five starts.
Marcos Ambrose – Daytona should be much more of a struggle for Ambrose than last week’s road course event at Infineon. Despite having a sixth place finish to his credit, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver carries a 26.8 average with him into Saturday night’s race.
Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, 1959.
Richard Petty won his 200th career race on July 4, 1984 at Daytona.
Lights were installed in the spring of 1998. However, the race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under lights ever since.
For only the second time in its history, Daytona International Speedway was repaved in 2010. The project began on Monday, July 5, 2010.
There have been 166 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Florida.
161 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Florida.
There have been nine race winners from Florida in NASCAR’s three national series.
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