Coke Zero 400 Picks – Race Analysis

Race: Coke Zero 400
Date: Saturday July 2nd, 2011
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 7:30 pm ET
Channel: TNT
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper,

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Sonoma turned out to be one heck of a good race and a race where payback was the name of the game. Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart were only two of the many culprits. The beauty behind all of this is that these guys came off the track and acted like real men. They basically said, that’s the way it goes. Rubbin’ is racin’ after all, right? Kurt Busch ended up taking his first road course win on Sunday in shear dominating force. Jeff Gordon came in second, but he certainly was closing on Busch in the final laps. Lucky for Kurt, the race ended just when it needed to.

This weekend, we are going to have a star-spangled party out at Daytona for the 4th of July celebration. What better track to celebrate our wonderful nation than at Daytona? This speedway is everything it should be for this kind of event. Expect the food to be awesome, the parties to be top-notch, and the fireworks to blow your mind.

Daytona is a 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway. It has 31 degree banking in the turns, 3 degrees on the straights, and 18 degrees in the tri-oval. The frontstretch is 3800 feet and the backstretch is 3000 feet. That certainly means that there is plenty of room to gain some major speed and rpms around this track. This track is all about having a best friend. Because speed is so important, we see the draft come back. With the new cars, 2 work better than the long line that we saw in the previous years. The coupling of the cars gives ultimately downforce and ultimate speed throughout the entire track.

One of the biggest mistakes that we see the drivers make with that speed and drafting is tapping drivers in the tri-oval. That is the absolute worst place you can tap someone on this track. That is also where you will most likely see the most accidents. These guys need to take their time, understand their partners, and take care of their cars.

While fuel mileage plays quite the role here as it does on all of the other tracks, we also see that tires can win or lose this race. Fresh tires on this track can significantly increase a driver’s speed, especially if we are dealing with a lot of caution laps or a green-white-checker finish, which is usually the case here. Look for pit strategy with 2 or 4 tires stops to be the name of the game this weekend.

In terms of winners and strong contenders, we always have our superspeedway regulars. We expect guys like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and even Jamie McMurray to dominate this weekend. This is the track where the veterans usually lead the way. But then again, we saw Trevor Bayne pull his first win this year at Daytona. That explains a lot of the unpredictability of these types of tracks. While it is possible for the rookies to take a win, it is more common for them to cause the big one. I am sure that we will see something of that sort of some point on Saturday night. Despite the rookies, I really think that we are going to have one heck of a race. Kurt Busch has been dominating everything he touches between poles and wins. Then you have Jeff Gordon, who’s getting consistently better as the weeks pass. Then you have Dale Jr. What is there to say? Jr. is one who could win this race. I’m going to throw it on the line and say that Jr. is going to take it this weekend. He has a way of winning when it counts. Being 4th of July weekend, a track that his dad was fantastic at, and a streak of consistency that he hasn’t seen in quite some time, I really think (and hope!) that Jr. will pull this off. I have to say that I am not necessarily a fan, but who wouldn’t like to see him win? It’s hard to root against him, and these tracks are ones that he can succeed at. Despite his bad luck at Sonoma, which was truly out of his control, Jr. has done a fantastic job with a new team. It’s a breath of fresh air that we haven’t seen in a while.

Here’s a look at your current top 10 in the points after Sonoma:

1. Carl Edwards
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kurt Busch
5. Kyle Busch
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Ryan Newman

It’s good to see Gordon move into the top 10. You have Hamlin and Stewart holding out in 11th and 12th. This weekend will certainly shake up the points some if its a typical Daytona race. Be prepared for a night full of action, excitement, and absolutely partying as we ring in July 4th weekend Saturday night at Daytona!

Virginia’s Prediction to Win the Coke Zero 400: Dale Earnhardt Jr.