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Race Day: It’s Date Night In Daytona Beach

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 2 2011

Drivers will be in pushy moods when the Coke Zero 400 gets under way at Daytona. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Saturday night on the Fourth of July weekend. A good time to sit down for some racing with your best friend. Talk a little, enjoy the thrills of what’s going on at the track. Probably watch some fireworks.

If this is your plan, you will be joined by those driving in the Coke Zero 400 Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway. See, tandem racing, NASCAR’s version of date night, is back.

Some love the two-car pack form of racing that has evolved at restrictor-plate tracks. Some don’t consider it racing.

But come tonight, it will be front and center.

Here is what a select group of drivers had to say about it this week:

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, on whether it is here to stay: “I don’t think they’re going to address that to be honest with you. I think its goes against what they’re trying to do and we’re not turning each other around, the interface works really well and so well we can push. I think in a few years once the track gives up the grip level that it has now, we will naturally separate on the tracks and it will be more just in the turns, I’m sorry just on the straights and you won’t be able to do it in the turns. I don’t see anything changing until there is reason to lift and I don’t think they want to send us out in cars that don’t meet well and create accidents. So I think we are going to see this for a while.”

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, on whether or not it is racing:

Carl Edwards kind of likes tandem racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

“That’s what’s interesting about this whole thing is if we come here and run these restrictor plate tracks the way we used to, I think that what we’re doing now is more racing than what we used to do just running around in a big pack.

At least now two guys can get together and with their skill level and ability to work together, they can gain an advantage over other people.  The whole underlying thing that people forget is that in these races when you don’t have to lift the throttle, it’s not auto racing in the classic sense.  There’s no sliding the car around.  There’s no talent in balancing the race car and managing the tire grip and things like that, so these races, for the last however many years they’ve had restrictor plates, they’re just races of placement of your car throughout the race and luck.  At least now when two cars are together, you can kind of navigate around some of the stuff you don’t want to be around.

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, on whether or not he likes it: “It doesn’t matter.  There’s pros and cons to it, but there were pros and cons to three-wide and 11 rows deep too.  The good thing is paired up we actually have a chance to race other cars and you’re not boxed in and stuck in a line trying to figure out if you’re in the right line or not.  It kind of is what it is.  It’s just different.  It’s not better or worse, it’s just different than what we’ve been doing in the past here.”

Fast facts

What: Coke Zero 400

Where: Daytona International Speedway; Daytona Beach, Fla.

Mark Martin will start from the pole. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

When: Today, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: TNT, 6:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius/XM Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 2.5-mile oval

Banking: 31 degrees in corners, 18 degrees in tri-oval, 3 degrees back stretch

Grandstand seating: 146,000

Race distance: 160 laps/400 miles

2010 winner: Kevin Harvick

2010 polesitter: Kevin Harvick (qualifying rained out)

Tonight’s polesitter: Mark Martin

First race: The Daytona 500, 1959

First polesitter: Bob Welborn

First race winner: Lee Petty

Sign here

A couple of drivers were asked over the weekend about the weirdest things they have been asked to autograph.

“They usually come in pairs. I said, ‘Hey, I probably shouldn’t do that right now.’  Shoes.  I don’t get those offers anymore. I’m married and if I did I probably wouldn’t even know what’ s going on.  Now, I’ve never signed a duck. We do those photo shoots.  My hero cards and stuff, that’s a real duck and that can be interesting.”

Trivia time

Trevor Bayne, winner of the Daytona 500 in February, is not the only driver in today’s

Trevor Bayne won at DIS in February. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

field who got his first Cup victory at DIS. Who is the other?

Toss me the keys

Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports Engineering, laid out the keys to success in tonight’s race:

2-by-2:  “It looks like two-by-two racing is back.  Yesterday in practice, teams got out there and immediately felt that the two-by-two format still works.  If you remember back to February, the only reason two-by-two racing seemed to work is because the track was so smooth that cars could hooked-up all the way through the corners.  The track is still absolutely tabletop smooth.  I have every expectation that we’re going to see two-by-two racing all weekend.”

Stay Cool:  “If the cars are going to run two-by-two all race, a big key will be cooling.  Will you be able to keep the car cool enough, long enough, when you’re the second car in the two-car draft?  Teams got a lot of experience when we were here in February and they took that experience home and started working on parts for the cars to be able to “push” longer before they overheat and have to switch.  If you can get just one more lap before the switch, it will be huge.  If you can go four laps without switching and it’s a 200-lap race, that’s 50 changes.  If you can go five laps without switching, then it’s 40 changes.  We saw in February how the lap times slow down on the lap that the cars made the switch – three second slower.  If you can do fewer switches, you’ll be way ahead of the game.”

Earncon alert

The earncon stands at 4 (out of five) for the Coke Zero. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won at

Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be a contender. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

DIS and has, over the years, been very tough at plate tracks. Most importantly, he has two top-five finishes at DIS in his last three races.

In the last race, February’s 500, he appeared very capable of winning as he led nine laps before getting involved in a wreck and finishing 24th.

Conditions are very good for Earnhardt to end his winless streak tonight.

Track tidbits

Races: 128

Most victories: 10, by Richard Petty

Most poles: 12, by Cale Yarborough

Most top-fives: 28, by Richard Petty

Youngest winner: Trevor Bayne, 20 years, 1 day

Oldest winner: Bobby Allison, 50 years, 2 months, 11 days

Races won from pole: 25

Last race won from pole: July race, 2010 by Kevin Harvick

Most lead changes: 74 (February of 2011)

Most leaders: 22 (February of 2011)

Narrowest margin of victory: .005 seconds

Best average finish by active driver: 9.47 by Jimmie Johnson

Trivia answer

Greg Biffle got his first Cup career victory at Daytona. It came in the July race in 2003.

Up next

The Sprint Cup Series makes its debut at Kentucky Speedway.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 2 2011
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