NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Top 5 favorites/ race preview for Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN)

TRACK: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile trioval). DISTANCE: 160 Laps — STAGE 1: 50 Laps, STAGE 2: 50 Laps, FINAL STAGE: 60 Laps, MILES (400-Miles)


Favorites – Penske the favorites?

Denny Hamlin (+750)

Pretty low odds for a superspeedway race, but Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 in three of the last six years including two of the last three. While he’s never won the annual summer race, he’s the best superspeedway racer in the game right now, so take him for these odds.

Chase Elliott (+1200)

He was runner-up in last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 as well as runner-up in this past February’s Daytona 500 too.

Joey Logano (+1200)

Crazy you can get him here for these odds. Logano, has four points paying superspeedway wins. He won his Duel at Daytona back in February of 2020. He also has six top four finishes since 2013.

Ryan Blaney (+1300)

He won the Talladega Fall race in 2019 and spring race in 2020. He was runner-up in the 2020 Daytona 500 and sixth in the 2020 Coke Zero Sugar 400. I like this chances.

Brad Keselowski (+1600)

You can never count him out on superspeedway’s. He was a last lap crash away from a the very least a top two finish in the Daytona 500 then ended up winning the spring Talladega race. He won here in 2016 and eying a second win of 2021 on Saturday night.

Race Preview

The time is here. The regular season of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule will wrap up for Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN). To have a cut off race at the Daytona International Speedway is going to cause a lot of fireworks even with the race moving off the Fourth of July race weekend for just the third time ever. The other came in the wildfires in 1998 and the move to this weekend last year.

Still, we have 15 drivers that have clinched a spot to the postseason with one more available for the taking.

The main question for this weekend is, will anyone outside the top 16 in the playoff standings bump their ways back in?

Since the ‘Win and Your In’ format to the Playoffs was initiated in 2016, Erik Jones’ 2018 summer race win and William Byron’s last year are the only summer race at Daytona to catapult a driver into the postseason – the other three winners were either not eligible for the Playoffs due to not competing for a championship in the series (Haley in 2019) or the drivers had already previously won in the same season (Keselowski in 2016 and Stenhouse in 2017).

In the third iteration of the Playoff championship format from 2014-Present – Only one driver outside the Playoff cutoff has raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale through points or last-minute wins.

  • From 2014 to 2018 – the drivers that won or were inside the top 16 that were expected to make the Playoffs did, no drivers raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale on points or wins.
  • Last season, heading into the regular season finale at Indianapolis, Ryan Newman was tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final transfer position to the Playoffs. Newman finished eighth in the regular season finale to Suarez’s 11th, earning the final transfer spot into the postseason.

But, for the Coke Zero Sugar 400, three of the last four winners have earned their first career Cup victories. The other was just his second. A total of 21 drivers have posted their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona; 11 of the 21 drivers posted their first win in the summer race – the most recent was the 2019 July race with winner Justin Haley and Spire Motorsports and last year with William Byron. Does that bode well for Saturday night for someone on the outside looking in?

Eight drivers below the cutline have never won a Cup race before.

Matt DiBenedetto is winless and was 12th in this race last year but just 33rd in the Daytona 500. He did lead the most laps in the 2019 Daytona 500 though and was seventh and eighth respectively with Go Fas Racing in this very race in 2017 and 2018.

Ross Chastain is winless in Cup but the Florida native did win an Xfinity Series race here in 2019 and was seventh back in February.

Bubba Wallace was fifth in this very race a year ago and had a really fast race car in February.

Ryan Preece had a top six in his Duel in February to race his way in, was second in the first stage and sixth in the Daytona 500.

Corey LaJoie has three top 10 finishes in his last four Daytona starts including a ninth place run in February.

I’d watch out for them. But, they’re not the only ones.

Chris Buescher, has one career Cup win but does have five top 10 finishes in his last eight Daytona tries including three of those being in the top five.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Erik Jones are each past winners of this event and do some their best work on superspeedway’s.

Ryan Newman is a past Daytona 500 champion and has five top 10 finishes in his last eight Daytona starts.

That’s 10 drivers below the cutline that could make Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick each very uneasy on Saturday night.

Also, what about Michael McDowell. Just twice since 1982 has someone swept both Daytona races in the same year. But, he was also runner-up at Talladega back in April too.

Then there’s Denny Hamlin who’s won three Daytona 500’s, including two of the last three years and the one he didn’t win (February) he led the most laps (97). He’s winless in the ‘400.

Team Penske could have went 1-2 in February but crashed out while fighting for the win on the final lap in Turn 3. Brad Keselowski made up for it via a win in Talladega this spring.

The “Big 3” teams have won the last seven Busch Clashes on the oval. They’ve won 16 of the last 18 Duels, six of the last nine Daytona 500’s and five of the last eight Coke Zero Sugar 400’s.

But, they went winless in February. SHR and RCR won the Duels with Front Row Motorsports winning the ‘500. But, factor in SHR and RCR into this and you still get 9-for-9 in the Clash, 18-for-18 in Duels, 8-for-9 in the ‘500 and 5-for-8 in the ‘400 since 2013.

That’s 37-for-40.

Top Stat

Just once over the last nine Daytona points paying races has the winner come from a top five starting spot.

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