Expect more of what happened in the Daytona 500 on Saturday night. (Getty Images Photo)
It's back to the beach this weekend for the Sprint Cup Series with a return to Daytona International Speedway.
But except for the month on the calendar and distance of the race, Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 should look a lot like February's Daytona 500.
NASCAR has mandated some slight adjustments to the rule package that was in place during Speedweeks, but nothing that will dramatically impact the on track product.
That means pack racing will be in vogue with the two-car draft still in the arsenal, but most likely not until it's needed in the closing laps of the race.
“I think the racing will be the same as it was at the 500 and at Talladega,” said Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth. “They haven't really made any rules changes, so I don't see the racing being any different. I think you'll see a pretty big pack, and I think you'll see people being pretty aggressive trying to get to the front to keep their cars cool and to do some of that.”
Overheating issues were feared at Speedweeks in the aftermath of NASCAR's decision to fiddle with the cooling systems as a means of ending the tandem draft. Those never materialized to the epidemic proportions predicted by some and, despite even warmer temperatures expected this weekend, shouldn't be an issue Saturday night.
However that doesn't mean drivers won't have to keep an eye on their temperature gauges just to be on the safe side.
"Unfortunately, it has been a focus,” said Jeff Gordon after Thursday's practice session. "We are trying to turn it into not being a focus. Our team has worked really hard all of Hendrick Motorsports has worked really hard to get, as a driver, our attention off the gauges and start looking at what is happening out there.
“How we can maneuver, watch our mirrors, race the way you need to race at Daytona in a draft in groups. The last couple of restrictor plate tracks have not been fun for me, because I'm so focused on the gauge and wondering when we are going to pop off, the PRV (pressure release valve) and when we are going to overheat and all this stuff. It's just ridiculous.”
Some drivers believe making alliances and deals with others to help in the draft is equally ridiculous. Dale Earnhardt Jr. says the best laid plans between drivers working together go completely out the window once the checkered flag is in sight.
“Between the two of you one of you is going to find Victory Lane and that is the best scenario but at the end of the race if that doesn't look like that is going to happen or that is not an option or not going to materialize for you, you need really be as selfish as you can be,” said Earnhardt. “Just be the biggest jerk you can be out there and that is the way it's got to be if you want to get to victory lane. You ain't going to do it by expecting favors you just have to go out there and take it from people and if you can get to victory lane you don't have to worry about having somebody tell you that was stupid.
“It is tough. That is not my mentality. I don't think of myself as a jerk, but you kind of have to be one if you want to win at the end of these races more times than not."
Daytona Int'l Speedway
Race #: 18 of 36 (07-07-12)
Track Size: 2.5 miles
Race Length: 160 laps / 400 miles
· Banking/Turns: 31 degrees
· Banking/Tri-Oval: 18 degrees
· Banking/Straights: 3 degrees
· Frontstretch: 3,800 feet
· Backstretch: 3,000 feet
2011 pole winner:
Mark Martin, Chevrolet (182.065 mph, 49.433 seconds)
2011 race winner:
David Ragan, Ford (159.491 mph, 2:39:53, 07-02-11)
Track qualifying record:
Bill Elliott, Ford (210.364 mph, 42.783 seconds)
Track race record:
Bobby Allison, Mercury (173.473 mph, 2:48:55, 02-17-80)
Coke Zero 400 Race Facts
Most victories: David Pearson (5)
Most consecutive victories: David Pearson (3; 1972-74)
Most career starts: Richard Petty (32)
Most consecutive starts: Ricky Rudd (30)
Most poles: Cale Yarborough (8)
Most consecutive poles: 2 -- Cale Yarborough; Sterling Marlin; Dale Earnhardt
Most times starting on front row: Cale Yarborough (13)
Most consecutive times starting on front row: Cale Yarborough (4)
Most starts before winning: Buddy Baker (21)
Most races led: Buddy Baker (18)
Most times completing 400 miles: Buddy Baker (15)
Most laps led, career: Cale Yarborough (645)
Most times led, race: Bobby Allison (16)
Most consecutive laps led, race: Cale Yarborough (142)
Most consecutive races led: Richard Petty (8; 1971-79)
Driver leading the fewest laps and winning: Jimmy Spencer (1 lap; 1994)
Driver leading the most laps and not winning: Kevin Harvick (54; 2003)
Who's Hot at Daytona
Matt Kenseth – Shooting to become the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep Daytona after Kenseth's Daytona 500 victory back in February. So far he's shown no signs of losing focus amid the distractions of leaving Roush Fenway Racing at season's end.
Greg Biffle – Helped push RFR teammate Kenseth in the 500 and caught criticism from some for the perception he wasn't trying to win, which Biffle vehemently denied. Might be some unfinished business in his mind this time around at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – His Michigan win has given Earnhardt a renewed sense of urgency in trying to find another trip to victory lane. Finished second in the Daytona 500 and has always excelled on plate tracks throughout his career including coming close to winning with Hendrick Motorsports.
Brad Keselowski – The man who leads the series in victories may be hard pressed to find win number four Saturday night given his past record at Daytona. Six starts have added up to a 27.7 average finish including a 32nd in this year's Daytona 500.
Michael Waltrip – Waltrip returns behind the wheel of his MWR No. 55 Toyota this weekend on the heels of a disappointing night in Kentucky a week ago. While he's enjoyed Daytona success earlier in his career recent starts have been a struggle with a 26.3 average over his last six outings.
Jimmie Johnson – Got knocked out of the Daytona 500 on lap two this year to add to his recent misery at “The World Center of Racing.” While Johnson does have a second place in his last ten starts his average finish is a pretty poor 24.8.
There have been 129 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 53 have been 500 miles, 49 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point 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 inaugural 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 at Daytona.
Cale Yarborough leads all drivers with 12 poles at Daytona.
Bill Elliott leads all active drivers with five poles at Daytona.
54 drivers have won at Daytona.
Richard Petty leads all drivers in victories at Daytona with 10.
Jeff Gordon has six victories at Daytona, 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; the last to do it was Kevin Harvick in last year's Coke Zero 400.
A driver has swept both races at Daytona only four times, most recently by Bobby Allison in 1982.
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 July race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under the lights ever since