The sun even shines on a dog’s hiney; that’s the conventional racing wisdom on restrictor plate tracks. Wins by Michael Waltrip, Derrike Cope, David Ragan and others are often held up as evidence that Daytona and Talladega produce their share of Cinderella stories. No one will deny Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 presents an excellent opportunity for the likes of AJ Allmedinger, Aric Almirola and David Gilliland to get that elusive first Cup points win, but know that there are drivers who have a knack for strong performances at Daytona.
Kyle Busch– Nothing would take the edge off of Shrub’s up and down season like a win at one of NASCAR’s signature tracks. Coming off a runner-up finish at Kentucky, the younger Busch brother has a little momentum, and he’s won here before. Busch would have had one more victory, but you may remember Tony Stewart plowing into him and taking him out in 2009. What Busch has as much or more than any other driver is what one-time Team USA Coach Bruce Arena said of soccer star Clint Dempsey “He tries (stuff).” A win here pulls Kyle closer to a front pack that currently includes Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.
Tony Stewart– Smoke has four Cup points victories at Daytona, all in this race. He needs this win now as the new points system places the emphasis on wins for Chase qualification; so far, Stewart is 0-for-2014. Never short on a drive to win, the three-time champion has a little extra motivation this time and will do whatever it takes.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.– Conspiracy theorists will have a field day if NASCAR’s most popular driver pulls off the sweep, and sadly, that overshadows Earnhardt’s aptitude for plate racing. If you win one, you might be lucky, but EIGHT victories on plate tracks? It seems that the son of a seven-time champion who could “see air” passed on to his son a keen understanding of the draft. Not only is Junior motivated to pull even with Jimmie for the series lead in wins, he’s also eager to atone for a lackluster 26th place finish at Talladega, in part due to laying back and “playing it safe.”
Matt Kenseth– Here’s another top driver who could really benefit from a win. The 2003 champion and 2013 runner-up will want to leave nothing to chance with the door still open for several drivers to clinch Chase spots by virtue of a win. He’ll still likely get in, even without a victory; he’s Mr. Consistency, ad doggone it, he likes winning just as much as any other great driver. While Earnhardt is a student of the draft, Kenseth has a knack for survival. Three plate track wins doesn’t sound glamorous, but that’s true to the Kenseth style, but don’t you dare count him out.
Jamie McMurray– Do you know who Jamie Mac reminds me of? Those baseball sluggers who may have a low batting average but hits bucket loads of home runs. McMurray won a dramatic July, 2007 race over Kyle Busch, and he has this way of finding victory lane in high profile races. He has never made the Chase, though he had the 2010 trifecta of winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the fall race at Charlotte. Sitting in 21st place, McMurray needs a win to better his chances. Jamie, teammate Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing in general have had moments of brilliance- those are the kinds of moments he’s had a penchant for.
This just scratches the surface. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are threats to win at any track. Don’t count out Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer or one of the Front Row guys like Gilliland or Ragan. Don’t believe that just anyone can win at Daytona, you need the handling, some racy teammates and enough foresight to steer clear of mayhem. With all that’s at stake, there will be plenty of fireworks during the race, besides the fireworks afterwards.
Have a Happy Independence Day, and don’t forget to thank a veteran for defending your freedom.