NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: Will Bruton Smith get what he wants at Daytona?

Here we are with the second race at Daytona upon us, but more importantly, it’s getting closer to crunch time in the series’ regular 26-race season. The top 10 in points and the next two drivers with the most wins in the top 20 in points will make NASCAR’s playoffs, the Chase for the Championship. Among the names who would not be in the Chase if it started this week are Carl Edwards, last year’s runnerup and Jeff Gordon. Edwards is 11th in points and Gordon is 18th in points and neither have a win this season. But a win by each of them would either put them in, or on the cusp of making the Chase. So they may be thinking more about winning now, then just a good finish.

It’s always tricky at these plate tracks because of the close racing and large packs or cars. A driver can run well for say, 150 of the scheduled 160 laps of this race, and get caught in “The Big One” or maybe a jet dryer fire, and still end up finishing 30-something.

Top 5 Picks

Tony Stewart – For reasons beyond even his explanation, he does well in the July Daytona race, but has yet to win the 500. Stewart has three victories in this race and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make it four.

Matt Kenseth – He won the Daytona 500 and will try to become the fifth driver to win both Daytona races in the same year. The most underrated champion and current points leader.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Ke’s always a big threat to win on a plate track and he has two wins in the Daytona July race and he will have a special patriotic paint scheme. All that may be too much for the rest of the field to overcome.

Kevin Harvick – He’s been under the radar lately, but he’s got two wins in the July Daytona race and usually about the time you forget about him is when he strikes for the victory.

Jimmie Johnson – Don’t look now all you five-timer haters, but he’s just 23 points out of the lead. His season started with a disaster in Daytona and, he’d like nothing more than a little redemption for his team and maybe even his C-posts.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda – Jeff Gordon has been running much better lately. He piled up a long list of bad luck finishes early in the season and that’s all that’s keeping me from picking him this week. This really is a case of a guy who could win it (he’s done it six times) or finish well back in the pack.

Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared at Kentucky

Kyle Busch: 10th. Led a race high 118 laps, only to be derailed by a broken shock mount.

Jimmie Johnson: 6th Also was contending for win until he thought a tire was going down late in race, but rallied late.

Tony Stewart: 32nd. Early fuel injection issue cost him a lot of laps early in race.

Brad Keselowski:: 1st. Was strong all night, and then led last 56 laps.

Matt Kenseth: 7th. Another solid run for the points leader.

Season Stats
85 Predictions
9 wins
31 top 5s
42 top 10s

Grade for the week: B+ I gave you the winner in Keselowski and then three others in the top 10. Both Busch and Johnson would have been in the top five if not for their issues and Kenseth is consistent as always. Stewart still has not won at Kentucky and Darlington, the last two tracks he needs to cross off of his list.

One Last Thing: Matt Kenseth will be trying to do something that only four drivers have accomplished, win the July Daytona race the same year as winning the Daytona 500. Those who have accomplished the feat are Cale Yarborough, LeeRoy Yarborough, Fireball Roberts and most recently Bobby Allison who swept both events at the 2.5-mile tri-oval in 1982.

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