Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Daytona NASCAR Cup Series Notes: 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400

Brad Keselowski is the 13/2 favorite to win Saturday night at Daytona.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Coke Zero Sugar 400
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, July 7
The Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (160 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 40),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 80), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 160)

Anything Can Happen at Daytona

This past weekend at Chicagoland saw the most thrilling last-lap battle for a win of the season. And now we head back to Daytona, where the history of the July Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is worthy of its own highlight reel (Saturday, July 7 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Don’t blink or you’ll miss an exciting dash to the checkered flag. The last six races overall at Daytona have been determined by a margin of victory of less than a half second:

· 2018 Daytona 500: 0.26 (Austin Dillon over Bubba Wallace)
· 2017 July: 0.213 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. over Clint Bowyer)
· 2017 Daytona 500: 0.228 (Kurt Busch over Ryan Blaney)
· 2016 July: 0.159 (Brad Keselowski over Kyle Busch)
· 2016 Daytona 500: 0.01 (Denny Hamlin over Martin Truex Jr.)
· 2015 July: 0.122 (Dale Earnhardt Jr. over Jimmie Johnson)

And, in fact, the track holds three of the top 10 closest MOV in the Monster Energy Series since the inception of electronic timing and scoring:

· Third closest MOV – 2007 Daytona July race: 0.005 (Jamie McMurray over Kyle Busch)
· Sixth closest MOV – 1994 Daytona July race: 0.008 (Jimmy Spencer over Ernie Irvan)
· Tied for seventh closest MOV (and closest MOV in Daytona 500 history)– 2016 Daytona 500: 0.01 (Denny Hamlin over Martin Truex Jr.)

Nine Would be Fine

The past eight July races at Daytona International Speedway have seen eight different winners.

2017 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
2016 – Brad Keselowski
2015 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2014 – Aric Almirola
2013 – Jimmie Johnson
2012 – Tony Stewart
2011 – David Ragan
2010 – Kevin Harvick

All but two of those drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart) are entered in this Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

If you toss in Daytona 500 winners, the last eight visitors overall to Victory Lane at Daytona are also unique winners.

2018 Daytona 500 – Austin Dillon
2017 July Race – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
2017 Daytona 500 – Kurt Busch
2016 July Race – Brad Keselowski
2016 Daytona 500 – Denny Hamlin
2015 July Race – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2015 Daytona 500 – Joey Logano
2014 July Race – Aric Almirola

Stenhouse Jr. a Rising Star at Restrictor Plate Tracks

Some of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s best racing performances have come out of the two restrictor plate tracks - Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway – during the four total visits the Monster Energy Series makes to the tracks each season. His two career series wins and six of his 13 career top-five finishes have been at these two circuits.

As the series heads to Daytona this weekend for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), could Stenhouse Jr. be a repeat winner? After winning this race last year, he’s set to hit the stage in his No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford on Saturday.

Stenhouse Jr. has visited Daytona 12 times in his Cup career and has posted one win, two top fives, and three top 10s. He claimed his second career win at the superspeedway after starting in sixth, leading 17 laps.

Stenhouse Jr. has raced at Talladega 10 times in his career and it was there that he won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2017, where he started from the pole for the second time in his career. He also has four top fives, six top 10s and one pole at the track.

Just One Spot

The most emotional driver at the end of the Daytona 500 in February may not have been race winner Austin Dillon but rather the driver who finished second – Bubba Wallace.

Richard Petty Motorsport’s young driver started off his Sunoco Rookie campaign in dramatic fashion. After giving eventual race winner Austin Dillon a push on the backstretch during the final lap of the season opener, he finished second by a margin of victory of only 0.26.

Now, with 17 races down in the 2018 season, Wallace is looking to move up that one spot in the running order to capture his first Monster Energy Series checkered flag.

Since Daytona he has posted one other top-10 finish, crossing the line eighth at Texas Motor Speedway in April. But he led laps at Bristol, Talladega and Pocono – and has completed over 98 percent of the laps run this season.

Wallace does have a summer start at Daytona. In 2017, he filled in for an injured Aric Almirola in the car he would eventually inherit – finishing 15th in his first trip to the track.

The last time the famed No. 43 visited Victory Lane was in this race in 2014, with Almirola behind the wheel. Wallace is hoping the magic at Daytona carries over to get him his first win and a slot in the 2018 Playoffs.

Penske Drivers Look to Make Moves at Daytona

Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have also seen success at the two restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega.

Heading into the race this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Keselowski has only one win at the track (2016 July race) but has also accumulated three top fives and four top 10s. But, he has had much more success at Talladega Superspeedway, having won there five times and posting seven top fives and 11 top 10s in 19 starts.

Joey Logano and the No. 22 team also have one win at Daytona (2015 Daytona 500), along with five top fives, and eight top 10s. Logano has three wins under his belt at Talladega, as well as six top fives and eight top 10s. Earlier this season, Logano won at Talladega after leading 70 laps.

As Ryan Blaney continues to prove himself as a young driver in the Monster Energy Series, his results at the two tracks have improved. He has visited Daytona International Speedway six times, posting one top five and two top 10s – but one of those top-10 finishes was a seventh-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500. In eight races at Talladega, he’s tallied a top five and two top 10s.

Season of Excellence

When Kyle Busch captured the checkered flag in the Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway this past Sunday, he upped his win total for the season to five to match Kevin Harvick for the series-best in 2018.

This marks just the fourth season in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history to have two drivers with five or more wins in the first 17 races:

2010: Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson
1977: Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough
1974: Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough

Looking to Repeat

David Pearson is the all-time winningest driver at Daytona in July, posting five visits to Victory Lane in the Florida heat. And there’s not an active driver who’s close to touching that mark.

In fact, of the seven Monster Energy Series drivers with July wins at Daytona entered this weekend – none of them have managed to record a second win in the mid-summer race.

Jimmie Johnson has a total of three wins at Daytona (Daytona 500 – 2006, 2013; July race – 2013) while Kevin Harvick (Daytona 500 – 2007; July race – 2010) and Jamie McMurray (Daytona 500 – 2010; July race – 2007) each have two wins at the superspeedway.

Aric Almirola (2014), Brad Keselowski (2016), David Ragan (2011) and Kyle Busch (2008) are the other active drivers with a win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

There also isn’t an active driver who has multiple Busch Pole Awards in the July Daytona race. (Cale Yarborough has the most all-time July poles with eight.)

Kevin Harvick (2002), Paul Menard (2008) and Kyle Busch (2013) are the only active drivers who have won Busch Pole Awards for this race.

The First First

Daytona International Speedway has been a dream maker for several active drivers who either scored their first win or their first Busch Pole Award at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Aric Almirola (2014) and David Ragan (2011) both tallied their first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories in the July race. Trevor Bayne, then driving for Wood Brothers Racing, scored his first career win at the Daytona 500 in 2011.

Kevin Harvick (2002) and Paul Menard (2008) are the only two active drivers to win their first Busch Pole Award in the July Daytona race. For Menard, it was his only career Monster Energy Series pole win until he led the field to green last weekend at Chicagoland.

Jimmie Johnson (2002), Austin Dillon (2014) and Chase Elliott (2016) all recorded their first Busch Pole Award for the Daytona 500.

Monster Energy Series Etc.

Florida Grown: 2014 July Daytona winner Aric Almirola is one of 11 drivers who have their home state recorded as Florida and have won at least one race in NASCAR national series competition – eight of those in the Monster Energy Series. And of those eight, only Almirola, Fireball Roberts and LeeRoy Yarbrough have won the July race at Daytona.

Florida Built: Daytona International Speedway has hosted 280 NASCAR National Series races, including 142 Monster Energy Series contests. Nine other tracks have combined to host the other 102 races, for a total of 382, national series events held in the Sunshine State.

Sunoco Rookie Update: William Byron leads Bubba Wallace 306 to 269 in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. Byron has just one Monster Energy Series start at the superspeedway – this year’s Daytona 500, where he finished 23rd. Wallace has a pair of Monster Energy Series starts at Daytona, as he filled in for and injured Aric Almirola in the July race in 2017. He finished 15th in that race before his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500.

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