Restrictor plate tracks can bring unrestricted results. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series makes its way to Daytona for the second and final time this season Saturday night on TNT, and if you think you have a good idea of how the third restrictor plate race of the season is going to go, then good for you, because you are in the minority. We do have a pretty good history with Daytona, so of course, that will be some help in these fantasy picks. But as David Ragan proved by winning at Talladega this spring, anything can happen and anybody can win one of these plate races.
So with that usual plate track unpredictability in mind, it’s time, of course, to roll out the weekly predictions:
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
While he’s yet to find success at winning the Daytona 500, Tony Stewart seems to pretty much have the July Daytona race figured. Maybe if it was the Daytona 400, that would help, but that has not the case for Stewart in the season-opener in February. It is the case, however, with the mid-season race, as Stewart has all four of his point-scoring victories at Daytona in the July race. And you know, he wants a second win this season badly to help ensure a spot in the Chase, so this is probably a good time to use Smoke if you are on a budget or on pick limits.
A driver who seems to have no limits on winning this season is Matt Kenseth. The biggest question here won’t be whether Kenseth is capable of winning, as he certainly is, as his four victories this year would indicate. It’s how the Toyota engine will hold up on the plate track where speeds are consistently in the 190-to-200 mph range. Kenseth has already made a statement that he is going to be a contender for the title, but the question here is could a win at Daytona put him ahead of Jimmie Johnson in the power rankings? It would be hard to deny him that if does win his second straight race.
And if you want some Kenseth numbers in recent Daytona races, he has led 239 laps in the last five races at Daytona, by far the most of any other driver, and has a victory and two other top five finishes. So, engine issues or not, you just can’t ignore the driver of the No. 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Like is the case about every week, you can’t go on here without mentioning Jimmie Johnson as a possible favorite. He won the Daytona 500 in February and could become the fifth driver to win both Daytona races in the same season. The last to do it was Bobby Allison in 1982.
And while he’s had his share of bad luck at Daytona in recent years, it’s hard to ignore the career numbers of Jeff Gordon at Daytona. And while we may think of an unlikely winner as being someone on a more low budget type of team, Gordon may fit into this category as well. While Gordon has only one top 10 finish, a sixth, in his last five races there, he does have six wins and 19 top 10s in 41 races at Daytona. So, if you’re looking for a sort of weird kind of underdog, Gordon may just be it.
And finally here, let’s also not forget Kevin Harvick. You know how he is in these types of races, nowhere to be seen, it seems like, then all of sudden with 20 laps to go, the man known as “The Closer” is in contention for the lead.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
The first choice in this category on a restrictor plate track, even though he has just one win in his last 182 races for those of you snoring at home, is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Even though he hasn’t won at Daytona recently, Junior still has two top five finishes in his last five races at Daytona and an average finish of 12.04, third best among active drivers. Also, Junior has the best average finish at Daytona among active drivers at 14.04. So this just may be his week to win again, and I’m making Junior my pick to drive to Victory Lane.
If you are looking for a couple of uncommon options in this category you might want to consider Joey Logano and Paul Menard. While they are generally not considered contenders in plate races, in the last five races at Daytona they are tied with the best average finish of 11.60. They each have three top-10 finishes in the last five trips to the famed 2.5-mile tri-oval, and that includes two top-5 finishes for Logano.
One guy coveting a win especially now that he’s inside the top 20 in points is Jamie McMurray. He finished second last week at Kentucky, and while it will likely take more than one win to capture one of the two wild-card spots for the Chase, McMurray does have two wins at Daytona, so he knows how to get the finish in these usually treacherous races where avoiding the so-called “Big One” can lead to big rewards.
A driver who has been close to big rewards the past two weeks has been Kurt Busch. If not for speeding on pit road twice, he very well may have won on the road course at Sonoma. Then he put together a solid sixth-place finish at Kentucky. That too has been his history at Daytona, with 10 top-5 finishes, but no victories. With his new-found self-responsibility in taking blame for the pit road speeding and going on the apron at Kentucky and then accidentally bumping Brad Keselowski into a spin—and I thought I would never say this—I actually wouldn’t mind seeing Kurt Busch in Victory Lane and that’s something quite possible for him at Daytona.
After the recent comments by Kyle Petty that Danica Patrick was not a racecar driver, but more a marketing machine, I can’t help but think that she has to be one of my picks this week. But it’s not just an emotional type of thing. Patrick showed she can run well at Daytona in February with an eighth-place finish. And that was after running in the top 5 for most of the day.
Also, in this category is 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. He is running a limited Sprint Cup schedule this year in the No. 21, so this is one of the weeks he is an option.
And while he has garnered less attention than his girlfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is also a good option here. In his two Sprint Cup races at Daytona, he does have a 12th on his record and he seems to have a knack for keeping out of trouble, too.
After what happened at Talladega, it would be a mistake not to mention teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland here, too. Ragan does have a win at Daytona; however, if Gilliland happens to be in front of him on the last lap Saturday night, you know he’ll be glad to return the favor and repeat the team’s 1-2 finish in Alabama.
THE REARVIEW MIRROR
As we hit the 18th of 36 races this season, for now at least, it looks like on occasion, I may have a small clue when it comes to picking these things. That’s because Bomb Squad, which is me, is leading the overall standings with 4,231 points. So I can brag for a week, but maybe that will be it. Not far behind are Underbird with 4,224, RWO Motoring at 4,190, KwaK Racing at 4,181, SiLo Sounds Racing at 4,179 and cdakost at 4,171.
The top point scorer from last week was JJs #14 with 323 points. The top combination was Kurt Busch in sixth, Jimmie Johnson in ninth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 17th.
Also, the leader in the summer segment of the standings is Mark Martin Motorsports with 958 points, followed by Bomb Squad at 938.
Connect with Jeff!
Contact Jeff Wolfe
©2000 - 2008 Jeff Wolfe and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!