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2017 Coke Zero 400 Predictions

Race: Coke Zero 400
Date: Saturday July 1, 2017
Track: Daytona International Raceway
Time: 7:30 pm ET
TV: NBC

by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com

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Kevin Harvick took the win this weekend at the first road course of the season. Believe it or not, this was Harvickís first win this year, finally securing his position in the Chase. Heís had his fair share of struggles, but this win brings the team some much needed momentum. The fact of the matter is that this is the first road course win for Harvick since 2006. Not many wouldíve put him to the front of the pack for this one, but I guess we never can count out the #4 team. Clint Bowyer came in second with Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five positions.

Sonoma was a good race with a lot of misfortune for some drivers but better luck for others. Danica Patrick was wrapped up in a few incidents, including a few bumps with Dale Jr. and also an interaction with boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This messed up her day, but she came home with one of her better finishes, staying inside the top twenty when it was all said and done. Other drivers who have been on fire this year seemed to really struggle. Kyle Larson never could get his car right and finished a very disappointing 26th place. This is one of his worst this year, really showing how difficult this type of racing can be. His teammate, Jamie McMurray, showed that a little experience can help, even just a little bit. He finished in 10th place. One of the drivers who had a not so great finish was Jimmie Johnson. He came home 13th, but he did manage to win his first stage race of the year. Thatís hard to believe that he hasnít won one yet, even after racking up three wins so far this season. Even crazier is that crew chief Chad Knaus had his laptops with all of his race notes stolen on Friday night! Finally, Dale Jr. finished his final Sonoma race in a respectable 6th place.

This weekend, Jr. is headed back to Daytona with the rest of the drivers for his final Coke Zero race. This is an awesome race full of patriotism on this 4th of July weekend. Itís a night race, which always seems to bring out the worst behavior in some drivers. That definitely makes for some interesting racing. Daytona in and of itself is just an unpredictable track. Between the drafting and aero combinations that we see here along with the massive gaggle of cars that have the whole field racing within a half second of each other, thereís bound to be some sort of catastrophe. The ďbig oneĒ will happen, swiping drivers from the track and leaving a third of the field or better incapacitated. This 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval swallows up the best of Ďem. The banking is impressive with 31 degrees through the turns, 18 in the tri-oval, and a mild 2 degrees on the straights. Itís quite a sight to behold. Daytona is one of those tracks where track position doesnít necessarily mean much (unless you fall away from the draft) but tires mean a ton. Tires can carry a driver to the front and keep him out there. Then we see other teams try to play strategy and run fuel only stops without taking any tires to start at the front of the pack. Let it be known, that position doesnít last long. Those guys get pushed out of the way very quickly.

With that in mind, Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again. Picking a winner at Daytona is more of a crapshoot that any game you can play in Vegas. There are so many variables here that a rookie may have the ability to luck into a win at any given second. Thereís also the point that the veterans know how to use aero to their advantage and can get themselves up front and stay there. The other issue is blocking the lines. Thereís inevitably two to three drafting lines at any given time. All it takes is one single solid push to get a line ahead of another. Now, while everyone is saying that Keselowski is better at Talladega than Daytona, letís not forget he is the defending champ of this race. At restrictor plate tracks, horsepower is enormously important, and those Penske boys have got it. I think that Keselowski is going to defend his title in this one. He will have plenty of competition, but Keselowski is the series leader in laps led on plate tracks since 2016, and thatís saying something. Letís take a look at your potential winners this weekend heading into Daytona:

My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Prediction: Elliott Sadler

Yep! Elliott SadlerÖbringing back the veterans. He ran the Daytona 500 this year and finished 20th. While that may not be the greatest finish, the other drivers in that C class arenít looking too hot. If nothing else, Sadler most certainly has more seat time than any of the other drivers in that class. Clint Bowyer is actually one of the best plate racers out there. If youíve been following NASCAR for a minute and watched him through the years, youíll know that he is very underrated in his restrictor plate career. In fact, heís got 4 top 10s in his last 6 races at Daytona. Coming off a second place finish at Sonoma certainly doesnít hurt in the momentum department for this team either. Look for Bowyer to be ultra competitive this Saturday night. Hes got a lot riding on the line. He needs to gain as many points as possible, and heís still looking for that first win to clinch his position in the Chase this year.

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Here are your current top 16 after last week's race:

1. Kyle Larson
2. Martin Truex Jr.
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Kyle Busch
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Chase Elliott
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Joey Logano
11. Clint Bowyer
12. Matt Kenseth
13. Ryan Blaney
14. Kurt Busch
15. Ryan Newman
16. Erik Jones

Now, Iím going against the grain on this one. I know everyone wants me to predict Jr. to win in his last start of this race, but heís been so inconsistent as of late. Sonoma was a solid finish and, honestly, one of his best of the year. Still, though, I donít know if they can pull it off. I do think that the team will give a very strong effort. Jr. is one of the best plate drivers out there, so donít count him out. His biggest contenders are going to be those with the horsepower like Keselowski. There are a lot of variables to this race. Itís a great one to watch but a very difficult one to predict. Stay tuned to see these guys battle it out under the lights at Daytona this Satuday night!

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Virginia Vroom's Picks - Most people think Danica Patrick is auto racing's most popular female. We have something to say about that! She can flat out pick'em!

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