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Racing Daytona On The Fourth Is Still First Rate

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 4 2014

Jimmie Johnson says he still gets a bang out of racing at Daytona on the Fourth of July weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In the world of stock car racing, Daytona International Speedway is considered the sport’s grand stage.

However, where does the prestigious Daytona 500, contested here each February, rank against Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at the facility known as the World Center of Racing as well as other events on the NASCAR circuit?

“Yeah, well it’s so hard to rank them,” said six-time Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson, when asked about the pecking order of races. “Tracks have different meanings for different drivers and team members. All of us have tracks that are fond to us for whatever reason.

“Winning in Daytona is always a special thing. If it’s an IROC race or, I’ve tried many times here in a Grand-Am car here to win; whether it’s the six-hour even in the summer or the Rolex 24. I wouldn’t mind winning a big wheel race in the infield. It wouldn’t bother me a bit to win in Daytona (laughs). For me, it’s up there on the list for sure.

“We go through our majors and can argue what tracks kind of fit into that category. I don’t feel that this July race is really in that category, but I think it’s a fun race because of the weekend it falls on. We’re able to run patriotic paint schemes and say thank you to the men and women who defend and serve for us and celebrate Independence Day. So, that definitely jazzes things up and pushes it up the list.”

Fresh off his popular win in this year’s Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can join two of the sport’s elite drivers if he drives his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to victory lane here Saturday night.

“Jimmie (Johnson) did it last year and before that it was Bobby Allison who did it in 1982. So it’s tough to do,

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would love to sweep up at Daytona this year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

especially the way the package is now. It’s real hard to get by the leader and we know that pretty well now from the way we ran in Daytona earlier this year.

“I really haven’t gotten a chance to see how this car is going to respond to the track. I am certain it’s going to be competitive, but knowing it’s not the same car though; we are going to have to see if it has any different characteristics in the balance. It’s a lot different surface temperature than we had in February so we have to figure out how that is going to affect the way a car drives and if the balance of the car is going to be different. I would welcome the car to be more challenging as far as the balance at this place and to where we use a little bit more of the race track. Getting handling to come into play would be a bit more fun.

“Hopefully the surface is starting to age a little bit and we will see when we get out there, but I don’t anticipate it being a whole lot different in the change over time.”

Brian Vickers and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Clint Bowyer, will have a special drafting partner at their disposal during Saturday evening’s 160 lap event in Daytona.

Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip will be teammates this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip will make a rare start in the No. 66 Toyota fielded by Jay Robinson Racing.

“I think it’s great having an owner that’s still that active in the sport and even occasionally drives,” Vickers said. “As far as this weekend is concerned, it’s Daytona, it’s drafting. All of the help you can get is great, but ultimately I know Michael wants to win this race as bad as I do so we’re going to probably help each other as much as we can throughout the race up until we don’t and then we’re racing for a win.”

*****

When Elliott Sadler drove his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to victory in this spring’s Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, much of the credit was due to the work of his spotter, Brett Griffin.

Sadler said Thursday in Daytona that he learned a value lesson several years ago when he put away his helmet for a day and climbed atop the spotters’ stand.

“The biggest lesson I learned at spotting for restrictor-plate races is I spotted for my brother (Hermie Sadler) one time at Talladega in a Nationwide race about seven or eight years ago and those guys can’t see anything like they said they could,” Sadler said. “So, that’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.

“Those guys do a good job with binoculars and they really work well together, but I learned a lot being on top of the roof about what these guys can see or not see. These guys are the best in the business as far as seeing what’s going on and what Brett (Griffin, spotter) is really good at with me and with Clint (Bowyer), he understands racing so much. He understands tendencies of other drivers. When certain drivers get behind you what moves they like to make like, ‘Well this guy’s not real patient. As soon as the restart is going to happen he’s going to make it three-wide.’ Or, ‘The guy behind you now is going to stay inline and likes to push and things like that.’

“It’s good to have a guy on top of the roof that understands the race and has a lot of commonsense about what’s going on. For them to call two- and three-wide down the backstretch and who’s making moves, and sometimes it might be a little sketchy. Man, that’s a long ways across there. But, those guys do a good job spotting I feel like and I think sometimes they don’t get the full credit they deserve. It’s a lot going on up there.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 4 2014
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