Saturday, July 4, 2015

Final 2015 Coke Zero 400 Practice Notes & Driver Ratings: Guess Who is Driver to Beat?

Dale Jr. leads a wave a Hendrick cars that should fare very well Sunday.
LAS VEGAS -- With Saturday’s qualifying cancelled due to rain, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start from the pole in Sunday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on the basis of topping the speed charts in Friday’s first practice session.

Regardless of what happened in Friday’s practices or where they started from, Earnhardt Jr. was going to be our top rated driver this week just because of what he’s done in restrictor-plate races this season where he finished third in the Daytona 500 and won his only race of the season at Talladega in May.

Between the four races at Daytona and Talladega each season, practices and start position mean the least to each drivers rating equation just because it doesn’t translate to race day like it does on 1.5-mile tracks or places like Martinsville or Phoenix.

The speed charts in plate races show who was fast, but times are aided by who they were running with in packs, and sometimes drivers aren't even putting in full efforts for fear of having their car damaged. And we already know that up to 35 drivers have a chance to win where cars are more equal than at any type of track. Bottom line is that these plate races are crap shoots.

Within 10 minutes of Friday’s first practice session there was a giant wreck that forced 10 cars into back-ups, and I won’t even mention who they were because it’s irrelevant. If the same type of thing happened at Richmond, it would absolutely be huge information and all 10 of the drivers would be downgraded.

In Friday’s second practice session, Danica Patrick laid down the fastest lap followed by all three of her teammates. If this happened at Kansas, Danica’s rating would be dramatically increased and considered one of the drivers to beat. But her rating was already increased for this race prior to practices just because we expect her to run well as plate racing presents her best opportunity to win a race.

So when you look our chart below, just know that the practice times listed account for very little to the rating and the most relevant piece of data comes from the Daytona 500 and Talladega Geico 500 already run this season mixed in with overall skills shown in past years plate races.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Coke Zero 400 
Daytona International Speedway
Sunday, July 5, 2015 -  5:06 pm (PT)

 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8/1)   1st        7th          3rd               1st 
Three-time winner, active leader with 13th-place average; led 99 laps between Daytona and ’Dega. 
 2. Denny Hamlin (12/1)      36th      12th          4th               9th 
Runner-up in 2014 Daytona 500; averaged fourth-place finish in past three Daytona starts.
 3. Jimmie Johnson (10/1)   12th       8th          5th               2nd  
Three-time winner, including sweep of 2013 season; led 89 laps between Daytona and ‘Dega.
 4. Jeff Gordon (10/1)          24th       6th         33rd             31st 
Active leader with six wins; poor ‘15 restrictor-plate results, but led series-high 134 laps between two.
 5. Kevin Harvick (12/1)       35th       3rd          2nd               8th 
Two-time winner, the last in ‘10; maneuvers through traffic better than most with plates on.
 6. Joey Logano (12/1)         34th     20th          1st              33rd 
First career plate win in February -- that car is on display at Daytona USA; understands draft well.  
 7. Martin Truex Jr. (12/1)    20th     26th          8th                5th 
Career-best sixth-place in ‘10; all this guy does is finish in top-10 this year (14 in 16 starts)
 8. Jamie McMurray (30/1)    9th      28th         27th             11th 
Two-time winner, the last in 2010; four of his seven career wins have come in plate races. 
 9. Kurt Busch (12/1)           29th       2nd         DNP            12th  
He’s the best driver to never win a plate race with 11 top-five finishes in 28 Daytona starts.
10. Matt Kenseth (12/1)       19th     DNP        35th             25th 
Two-time winner -- all while driving for Roush, but he’s had dominant cars with Gibbs as well.

Note: Saturday’s qualifying session was rained out so the starting order will be set by order of finish from Friday’s first practice session.

* Results from the two previous restrictor-plate races run this season at Daytona (Feb. 22) and Talladega (May 3). The two tracks run different from each other, but are relevant for comparing plate performances.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director who has been setting NASCAR odds since 1994.

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