Daytona International Speedway. A track and area full of tradition and history. In the old days, cars raced on Daytona Beach; you can read the history in paving stones set into the walkway on the Daytona Beach Boardwalk near Main Street. First wins, historic sweeps, and ongoing feuds all come out at Daytona. Which drivers going into this 2010 summer Saturday night race have an edge?
Kurt Busch has the best overall finishing average of all active drivers since the beginning of the 2008 season with an average 8.80 place finish at Daytona. Last year at the Coke Zero 400 Kurt finished 5th. The 2009 Coke Zero 400 was the year of Tony Stewart, hands down. Tony led the most laps, and won the race from the pole.Can Tony do it again? Jimmie Johnson is another to watch this weekend. He had a 2nd place finish last year at the summer race at Daytona, but a 31st place finish in February 2009 and a 35th place finish in February 2010 after a penalty and a bad axle. Jimmie has an average finish at Daytona of 30th. JJ tends to be plagued with penalties, mechanical trouble, and being caught up in wrecks at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a 2nd place finish in February of this year at Daytona and wants to improve on that finish in order to get that 12th place spot in the points standings. Right now Junior is on the outside looking in; 13th place doesn't get a consolation prize, even if you are only three points back. Kevin Harvick has an average finish of 12th place at Daytona since 2008, finished 7th at this year's Daytona 500 but 26th in the 2009 Coke Zero. Coming into this week with a solid 105 point lead over JJ in the Cup Series Points Standings, Kevin should be coming back to prove he can race at Daytona under the lights.
Speaking of the points standings, watch for Carl Edwards to fight to hold on to that 12th spot while Junior is trying to take it away. Carl has an average finish of 10.40, giving him the second place ranking among active drivers at Daytona He finished 9th at the Daytona 500 in February and 4th at last year's Coke Zero 400. Carl should be a player on Saturday night. Denny Hamlin is another driver with a cause to keep an eye on Saturday night. Denny is sitting in 4th place in the Series Points Standings, had a 17th place finish at the Daytona 500 and would like to duplicate, or better, his 2009 3rd place finish at the Coke Zero.
Mark Martin has more experience at this track than any other driver on the entry list for the 2010 Coke Zero 400. Mark goes into this weekend in 11th place in the points; he is looking to improve his standings and recover from the recent slide he has experienced. Mark finished 12th in February and 38th in last year's Coke Zero 400. He's got the experience at Daytona, I think he will find his way into the top ten by the end of the night. Rounding out my top ten are Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. Joey has fewer starts at Daytona than most but has proven he can figure a way to get to the top at most tracks. Joey finished 20th in the spring and 19th last July; he is a driver with something to prove to this track. Kyle Busch isn't one to be kept down for long. After a less-than-stellar finish last week 11th place finish last week, and 39th at Sonoma, Kyle is going to come out ready to go. He's 3rd in the Cup Series Points Standings, and finished 14th in last year's Coke Zero 400. Watch for Kyle to make his way into a top ten finish Saturday night.
By the numbers, the top ten that I am watching this weekend are Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch. I'm looking for a top five to include Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Tune in Saturday night on TNT to watch the drama unfold over the 2.5 mile tri-oval that is Daytona International Speedway