Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Daytona Storylines: 2012 Coke Zero 400

Junior has one Firecracker 400 win, a big one (Getty)
Daytona International Speedway’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola is the traditional halfway point of the season, the 18th of 36 scheduled points races. Following Saturday night’s race (TNT, live 7:30 p.m. EDT) just eight events remain in the Race to the Chase – leading up to the 2012 edition of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.

Victories are very much on every driver’s mind – whether it’s to gain Chase seeding or to qualify for the post season via the "wild card" route. Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski may be 10th in the standings but his three victories would give the 28-year-old the No. 1 seed were the Chase to start this week.

Kyle Busch (12th) continues to hold the first "wild card" but three drivers – Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano – are deadlocked in the battle for the second "card" with identical points counts. Each has a win but Kahne currently prevails thanks to a second-place finish in Kentucky. It’s all explained below.

Matt Kenseth has history as well as a second NASCAR Sprint Cup title on his mind. A Coke Zero 400 win would give the Daytona 500 winner the first Daytona season sweep in 30 years.

If it’s Daytona or Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a hot topic. The seven-time restrictor plate race winner could take over the championship lead this week, a position he hasn’t held in nearly eight years.

Austin Dillon stamped himself as a genuine NASCAR Nationwide Series championship contender with his first series victory last week at Kentucky Speedway. The win allowed the 22-year-old Dillon to pass Richard Childress Racing teammate Elliott Sadler for the standings lead. Dillon hopes to become the first to win NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck titles in back-to-back seasons.

Danica Patrick’s bid to become NASCAR’s first female to win a NASCAR national series event could come to fruition this week. Several reasons: She won the Coors Light Pole for Daytona’s February race, has more stock car experience at this track than any other and finished 10th in last July’s event after leading with four laps remaining.

For the second time this season and seventh time in his career Timothy Peters returns to the top in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship standings following a top-five run at Kentucky. The series’ next event is the July 14 American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway.


Wins, Not Points, Crucial For Top-10 Competitors
After digging himself out of an early-season hole, Kentucky Speedway winner Brad Keselowski has emphatically established himself as a favorite to capture this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Yes, he’s 10th in the points standings. But at this stage of the Race to the Chase, points only serve as a qualifier. Were the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ to begin today, Keselowski would be the No. 1 seed thanks to his three victories – each worth three bonus points. That’s a far cry from 2011 when the same number of wins earned the Michigan driver a "wild card" spot in the Chase but by rule no bonus points addition. Drivers ranked one through 10 following the Sept. 8 race at Richmond International Raceway begin the Chase with a base of 2,000 points to which three-point bonuses for victories during the season’s first 26 races are added. Two "wild card" qualifiers also receive 2,000 points but no bonuses for wins.

Three drivers among the current top 10 – Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson – have two wins apiece through the season’s first 17 races.

How important are wins? Consider that one more regular season victory would have made Carl Edwards rather than Tony Stewart the 2011 champion.

Tie-Breaker Adds Wild To ‘Wild Card’ Battle
Kyle Busch, 12th in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, holds the No. 1 "wild card" position but after that it couldn’t be closer among three contenders for the final entry into the post season. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano each have a victory and have scored an equal number of points – 463. Were the second "card" to be awarded today it would go to Kahne. Why? Because the NASCAR Rule Book breaks ties by comparing drivers’ best finishes: If wins are equal, then seconds, thirds etc. come into play. That’s how Tony Stewart edged Carl Edwards for last year’s title. Kahne’s second-place finish at Kentucky Speedway serves as the current tie-breaker to Newman’s (third) and Logano’s (eighth) next best performances.

Edwards, who won the Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole in February, could render the deadlock moot by winning Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola. Edwards currently is 11th in the standings working on a victory drought of 50 races.

Kenseth Bids For Sweep That Hasn’t Happened In 30 Years
This week’s Coke Zero 400 will be two-time and defending Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth’s last as a driver for Roush Fenway Racing. It has been 30 years since the same driver won both Daytona races in the same season – further proof that conditions make February and July events completely different propositions. Bobby Allison was the last of four drivers to accomplish the sweep in 1982 at the wheel of a DiGard Racing Buick.

Tony Stewart, whose 32nd-place finish at Kentucky (ignition issues) dropped the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion to ninth in current points standings, is the most successful recent winner of the Coke Zero 400. Stewart won the race in 2005, 2006 and 2009.

David Ragan won last year’s race in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford but will compete Saturday night for Front Row Motorsports.

Daytona Always Special For NASCAR Hall Of Famer Petty
Richard Petty celebrated his 75th birthday on July 2 – his age one year greater than his 74 starts at Daytona International Speedway. Petty, who leads all Daytona winners with 10 – three in July’s race, most recently in 1984 – made his first start at the track in 1959. His fabled No. 43 car has won 11 times second only to the 14 Daytona victories of Glen Wood’s No. 21. Both NASCAR Hall of Famers’ cars will compete in the Coke Zero 400 – Trevor Bayne for Wood and Aric Almirola for Petty.

Third Daytona Victory Could Vault Junior Into Points Lead
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fortunes continue to rise – along with his ranking in NASCAR Sprint Cup points. A fourth-place Kentucky finish, his seventh top five of the season, elevated Junior to second in the standings 11 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. He matched his combined top-five output for the 2010-11 seasons and with 13 top 10s eclipsed last year’s total (12).

This could be the week Earnhardt goes to the top of the points, a position he in which he last appeared on Oct. 3, 2004. The accomplished restrictor-plate racer has won twice at Daytona including the 2001 Coke Zero 400.He’s a five-time Talladega Superspeedway winner including four straight victories between 2001 and 2003.

Many Historic NASCAR Figures Were World War II Veterans
NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway will celebrate An American Salute this week honoring the country’s military heroes. NASCAR founder Bill France, who built sub chasers in Daytona’s boatyard during World War II, established a tradition of bringing Congressional Medal of Honor recipients to the July race in 1969 that continues today with four Vietnam War recipients attending Saturday’s race. Among historic NASCAR figures who served in World War II were NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore, 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Cotton Owens and NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees Red Byron, Raymond Parks, Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherly.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Turner Motorsports, which has won NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races this season, makes its NASCAR Sprint Cup debut this week with former champion and four-time Daytona winner Bill Elliott in its Chevrolet. … Jeff Gordon has won the Coke Zero 400 three times among his six Daytona victories, most by an active driver. A victory would move the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion into "wild card" territory. He trails the Kahne-Newman-Logano logjam by 10 points. … Daytona’s July race has been run just three times on July 7 or 7/7. Previous winners were Dale Earnhardt (1990), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2001) and Jamie McMurray (2007). Each win represented the drivers’ first Daytona NASCAR Sprint Cup points victories.

- NASCAR Media Services

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