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Race Day: Heat Is The Hot Topic For Daytona Summer Race

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 4 2009
Kyle Busch was buried by a blizzard of confetti after winning the Coke Zero in 2008. Confetti blizzards will be the only blizzards occurring at Daytona Beach tonight. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kyle Busch was buried by a blizzard of confetti after winning the Coke Zero in 2008. Confetti blizzards will be the only blizzards occurring at Daytona Beach tonight. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The forecast for green flag at tonight’s Coke Zero 400 is for temperatures in the low 80s. However, that goofy “feels like” thing indicates, well, it will feel like it is in the high 80s.

That stat is obviously the product of some weather geek somewhere who has way too much time between cat feedings. It seems kind of absurd to tell another person what they feel like, does it not? What if it feels to me like it is high 20s?

The basis of the stat is factoring in humidity, I do believe; the old dry-heat, damp-heat thing.

But, bottom line, it is going to be hot in Daytona Beach tonight and extremely hot for 43 people sitting in closed-cockpit race cars wearing itchy long underwear and heavy Nomex driving suits just inches away from engines that radiating 200-plus-degree temperatures.

What is that like? How will the Sprint Cup drivers cope?

Those and other questions about the weather were asked of drivers with frequency over the weekend. Here are some of their answers:

 Tony Stewart: “I just stay in the air conditioning as long as I can, honestly. Every time you go out, it’s a thousand-percent humidity here and 80 or 90 degrees, so it’s hot. It’s hot for everybody. The best way to stay hydrated is to stay cool to where you’re not sweating the fluids out and just keep pounding away at it all week. We’ve been drinking water and trying to stay hydrated since Monday. That’s about the only way you can combat it right now.”

 Ryan Newman: “I’ve had to get different shoes this year because I kept burning my left heel. So we basically just went through different brands of shoes and finally got some ones that I liked. When you have a hot spot it gets pretty inconvenient because you start thinking about it and you’re lifting your foot up and doing different things. It changes the way you drive the car. It doesn’t necessarily change your performance but it changes the way you drive the car and you don’t want that to happen at all. That in conjunction with just pure dehydration and overheating. The way the cars drive it’s a little bit different. It’s just typically less grip but everybody is fighting the same battle.”

 Also, rain is in the forecast for the evening. Some drivers were asked how much that will affect their strategy. Here are some of their answers:

Jimmie Johnson: “We all have the radar systems to know what is going on but at the same time you can kind of sense it and you don’t have to even hear from your team what is going on and you can kind of sense when you get to the halfway mark and everybody is racing around crazy then you know that rain is in the area and the word has been put out.”

Jeff Gordon: “We normally watch the radar pretty closely and while you can’t predict everything that pops up on the radar these days, especially here in Florida, I think you have to be prepared for anything and you have to race pretty hard throughout the race.  Once you get to the halfway point or as you’re closing in on the halfway point, if it looks like the potential for rain then you’re going to see guys racing a lot harder.  We saw it last week and we’ve seen it in the past.  I think we’ll see it again here.  It’s up to the team and the spotter on the roof to really be paying attention to what’s going on with the weather or what’s closing in.”

And finally, drivers were asked about racing the Daytona event at night instead of in the way it used to be, which was in the morning:

Jeff Burton:  “The cars are hotter then they were then, but we have more things to help the drivers than we did then as well so they kind of counteract each other.  I like the morning because I can remember leaving here race day and being home, back in Charlotte, in time to be on the lake.  It was kind of fun and coming down here was always kind of like a vacation.  The teams, we would practice in the morning, the garage would be closed down by one o’clock or 12 o’clock, the way I remember it.  Back then the teams weren’t so big that they’re families would come down and they would rent hotels on the beach and it was just a completely different environment, it was much more relaxed than it is now.  This was almost like a race and an off-weekend at the same time.  We don’t really have that atmosphere anymore.  The intensity has picked up so much and it’s so competitive that there’s never a relaxed moment.  It was fun to race at 10 o’clock, at the same time I think the fans like the night race a lot better.  Obviously, it gets cooler as the race goes on versus it used to get hotter as the race would go on.  But you would be done really so it wasn’t that bad.  It is hot here, but it’s just what we do.”

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Tonight’s Fast Facts

The Race: Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola

The Date: Saturday, July 4

The Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval)

The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Distance: 400 miles/160 laps

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

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Paul Menard

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

Daytona week odds and ends:

Though not even halfway through the season, 2009 has seen 11 different race winners.

That number is one short of the 12 different drivers who nabbed victory all of last season.

The list of drivers who have yet to win in 2009 is an impressive one: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer.

Almost all of the above have had success at the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. So, it’s certainly possible that there will be 12 different race winners at the exact halfway point of the season.

The most likely candidate, statistically, is Earnhardt.

A winner of two Daytona races, Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in 11 of his 19 races there. Since 2005, he has racked up some of the most impressive statistics in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Over the last nine Daytona races, Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 91.9 (fifth-best), an Average Running Position of 13.6 (fifth), 46 Fastest Laps Run (third) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 68.1% (sixth).

Harvick is also an intriguing choice at Daytona. Winner of the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick is suffering a career-worst season, and needs a strong Daytona finish for a return to prominence.

After winning the preseason Budweiser Shootout and finishing second in the Daytona 500, Harvick’s season went downhill fast. He is currently mired in a slump that has seen 13 consecutive finishes outside the top 10.

Harvick does have strong numbers at Daytona, though. Over the past nine Daytona races, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 83.5 (11th-best), 1,804 Green Flag Passes (second) and a series-high 53 Fastest Laps Run.

Also watch for a strong run from Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 champion. Also struggling through a slump (though his is much shorter than Harvick’s), Newman has failed to crack the top 10 in the last three races. All season long, though, Newman has seemed on the edge of victory, finishing in the top 10 in eight of the 17 races.

That win may come at Daytona, where Newman has a Driver Rating of 89.1 (eighth-best), an Average Running Position of 15.4 (eighth), 37 Fastest Laps Run (eighth) and an average Green Flag Speed of 185.212 mph (third).

Edwards’ absence from Victory Lane this season might be the biggest head-scratcher of them all. After winning a series-high nine races last season, Edwards has navigated an inconsistent season in 2009. Along with four top fives and eight top 10s, Edwards also has four finishes outside to top 20.

This weekend, he’ll look for the Daytona victory that eluded him by inches last season. In last season’s July race, Kyle Busch’s front bumper barely edged Edwards when the yellow flag came out during a green-white-checkered restart. So, Edwards should be considered a favorite at Daytona. He has a Driver Rating of 80.7, an Average Running Position of 17.1 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 56.5%.

Up next: Chicagoland

Chicagoland Speedway will host a night-time NASCAR Sprint Cup event for the second straight year next Saturday (July 11). Kyle Busch will be the defending champion for the LifeLock.com 400.

Here’s someone else to consider as a favorite — or at least a dark horse. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), in need of a boost to his disappointing season, could get it at Chicagoland.

Harvick won the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup races the track hosted in 2000 and ‘01.

He and Tony Stewart (a winner in 2004, ‘07) are the only drivers with multiple Chicagoland victories.

He is tied for the lead in top-10 finishes at the track; he, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Chevrolet) all have six.

Harvick has the best average finish at Chicagoland: 7.375.

Harvick is tied with Matt Kenseth for the most laps completed at Chicagoland, 2,138.

Harvick is one of five drivers who have run all eight Chicagoland races, and posted no DNFs.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 4 2009
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