Fantasy Racing: Daytona
Coke Zero 400
Daytona International Speedway
Saturday, July 4, 2009, 7:30 ET, TNT
Race Facts: Believe it or not, over 91 percent of races at Daytona have been won from a top 15 starting position. I have to imagine that it is skewed due to the pre-restrictor plate era, but still, that’s pretty shocking for a track like Daytona… This race can be dominated, as evidenced by Tony Stewart’s 151 laps led (out of 160) in 2005, but don’t count on that happening Saturday night… The last time that this race ran caution free was 1971… Jeff Gordon has the most points-paying wins at Daytona of any active driver with six, and also has the most top fives of any active driver with 11… The last two races have basically been photo finishes, with Jamie McMurray edging out Kyle Busch in 2007, and Busch getting revenge in 2008, nudging Carl Edwards at the last scoring loop to take the lead before the final caution flag flew.
Drivers to Watch:
Kyle Busch: As mentioned in the race facts, Busch has been inches from being a two-time defending champion of this race. After finishing 31st in his first Coke Zero 400 after wrecking in 2005, Busch also finished second in 2006. Pretty impressive. Busch will have the horsepower and he equipment to run up front, and shouldn’t fall to the back at any point during the evening. Except, you know, if no one wants to draft with him or Martin Truex Jr. decides to pay him back for last week’s wreck at New Hampshire.
David Ragan: Ragan has to rebound from his horrible season at some point, doesn’t he? Daytona seems to be as good of a place as any, considering Ragan’s past history. Ragan has only raced at Daytona five times, but with the exception of a 42nd place finish due to an accident in the 2008 Daytona 500, Ragan has finished in the top 12. Like Busch, Ragan will have the horsepower to get to the front, and he showed just how good of a plate racer he can be with his late pass for the win at Talladega in the Nationwide race this spring.
Michael Waltrip: Yeah, this is based on history, but I expect a good run from Waltrip because of his plate racing prowess (heck, it may be the only thing he’s above average at). Darrell Waltrip is going to serve as an honorary pit crew member for Michael this weekend—he’ll be holding the pit sign—which has only added more fuel to the speculation surrounding Waltrip’s future in the series. This may be his last night race at Daytona, and as long as he doesn’t have any jet fuel in his intake manifold, he should be a threat to finish well.
Drivers to Watch Out For:
David Reutimann: The opposite of his teammate and owner, Reutimann’s lone weakness may be plate racing. Reutimann has an average finish of just 25th at all restrictor plate tracks, and while he only has five starts at Daytona, his highest finish is 12th. Reutimann may be just unlucky or a bad drafter, but whatever it is, the trend may continue Saturday night, which may knock him temporarily out of the top 12 in points.
Jeff Burton: The Childress cars never seem to qualify well at restrictor plate tracks, but they do always race well. However, Burton has only two top 10 finishes at Daytona since 2001, a span of 15 races. Stuck in 16th position in the points, Burton needs a great finish—and a great finish soon—to get back into the conversation for the Chase. It’s not going to happen at Daytona though.
AJ Allmendinger: The RPM cars were very good at the Daytona 500—as evidenced by Allmendinger’s 3rd place finish—but were very poor at Talladega. Only Kasey Kahne has the new Dodge engine, and the lack of horsepower in the old engine was the reason they struggled so much at Talladega. With the lack of funding that RPM is getting from Dodge, it’s not like they’ve had resources to drastically improve their plate program with an old engine since April. Allmendinger won’t be a factor.
Stone Cold Lock of the Week:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Yes, this is finally the day that Junior gets a win. Or a top five. Or a top 10. I know, I know, that’s a sore spot with Junior Nation, but I truly think that he’ll finally get to put all of the endless “When are you going to win?” questions to rest Saturday. Of course, since it’s a restrictor plate race, people are going to immediately question his ability on the tracks that make up the other 32 races on the schedule, or attribute it to the genius of Lance McGrew, a man that could do what Tony Eury Jr. couldn’t. Yeah, the Junior stories won’t go away if he wins Saturday, but they’ll at least be different.One Comment