Mash The Gas: Daytona Preview

It’s the halfway mark for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the circuit returns to where it all kicked off back in February as the Daytona International Speedway hosts the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night under the lights. The restrictor plate races have been anything but predictable this year with Jimmie Johnson winning the Daytona 500 and David Ragan pulling off the surprise of the season at Talladega. Any of the 43 drivers in Saturday night’s race has a real chance to win as it’s all a matter of positioning oneself at the right moment to make a charge for the victory.

The Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola should see the green flag fly at 7:30pm ET on Saturday night. 160 laps make up the 400 mile distance at the Daytona International Speedway.

Here are the drivers we think you should be watching.

Matt Kenseth
DM: Matt Kenseth and the #20 team are quickly becoming the dominant team on the circuit having already visiting victory lane four times in the season’s first half. They have been strong wherever they have raced including the restrictor plate tracks where if you recall they were leading the Daytona 500 when the engine let go. The engine issues appear to have been put aside this time around and Kenseth has replaced Jimmie Johnson as the driver to beat on the circuit. Win #5 could very easily come Saturday night.

Jimmie Johnson
JW: Finally, the kryptonite for Jimmie Johnson has been found, restarts. It is always fun to see how we take a couple moments and lump them together to make them into what we determine to be fact. While there have been obvious issues with restarts, it is more the interpretations of the rules as opposed to Johnson not being able to perform. Like everything else, Johnson and team #48 will get this figured out and continue to dominating on the track. With three wins and almost a race total of points lead in the standings, Johnson is doing just fine. As for this weekend, I’m picking Johnson to end up in victory lane for a 2013 Daytona sweep.

Kyle Busch
DM: Coming off a 5th place finish at Kentucky, Kyle Busch should be strong this week at Daytona. The Joe Gibbs Toyotas have been stout on the plate tracks and Kyle isn’t shy about taking his #18 to the front. Busch needs another victory to solidify his Chase position and not let Kenseth and Johnson get too far ahead. Also, if there is any internal competition among the Gibbs teams, the #18 bunch has got to growing tired of chasing the #20 car and their time for victory could come Saturday night at Daytona.

Clint Bowyer
JW: Clint Bowyer is solidly in the top three in the point standings but is still looking for his first win this season. Five out of his last six races have been top ten finishes and he has two runner-up finishes. But, none of those matter when it comes to Chase time, bonus points are paid for wins. With Kenseth currently at four wins and Johnson at three, Bowyer is finding himself behind. With owner Michael Waltrip out on the track with him this weekend, Bowyer has a great drafting partner and, most importantly, one who is willing to follow him to the checkers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DM: While continuing to occupy a Chase slot, Junior needs a win bad and the plate tracks are his bread and butter so to speak. He was 2nd here at Daytona earlier in February and has always raced well in the mud-summer event. He’ll be there at the end and could break through for that elusive first victory of the season.

David Ragan
JW: He is 137 points away from being Chase eligible but the Talladeaga winner, David Ragan, could again be in contention at the end of the race. The restrictor plate races allow the smaller teams to minimize the competition gap and Ragan is a driver who can take advantage of that. Ragan won his first Sprint Cup Series race at the Coke Zero 400 and he could well win his next race this weekend.

Kurt Busch
DM: Every year there is one driver who makes a charge to get in the Chase and this year’s late charger could be Kurt Busch and the #78 single car team. This team has strung together some solid finishes of late and needs a win to contend for a wildcard spot. Busch is probably the best plate track racer without a win and was gunning for the lead when he got turned upside down late at Talladega. It wouldn’t be as huge of an upset as David Ragan was at Talladega but the #78 team could sneak into victory lane Saturday night.

Danica Patrick
JW: After the fallout of Kyle Petty’s statement that Danica will never be a “racecar” driver, she returns to the track of her greatest success. Scoring a pole for the Daytona 500 and finishing eighth were the best results in her season so far. Patrick seems to be well suited to Daytona and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her run up front again. The TV cameras will be focused on her heavily this weekend so there will be no choice, Danica is one you will have to watch.

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