NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) favorites, sleepers, fades, etc

TRACK: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile oval). DISTANCE: 160 Laps — STAGE 1: 35 Laps, STAGE 2: 60 Laps, FINAL STAGE: 65 Laps, MILES (400 Miles)

  • The youngest Daytona summer race winner is Justin Haley (07/07/2019 – 20 years, 2 months, 9 days); all-time track record – Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 – 20 years, 0 months, 1 day). The oldest Daytona summer race winner is Bobby Allison (07/04/1987 – 49 years, 7 months, 1 day); all-time track record – Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 – 50 years, 5 months, 23 days).
  • Five drivers have posted consecutive summer race wins at Daytona International Speedway: Fireball Roberts (1962-1963), A.J. Foyt (1964-1965), Cale Yarborough (1967-1968) David Pearson (1972 – 1974) and Tony Stewart (2005-2006). Ryan Blaney is looking to become the 6th.
  • NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in summer race victories at Daytona with five wins (1961, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978).
  • Winning at one of NASCAR’s most prestigious tracks, Daytona International Speedway, is a major accomplishment too. So, it is not all that surprising that the top 10 series winningest drivers at Daytona are all also in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
  • Since the ‘Win and Your In’ format to the Playoffs was initiated in 2016, Erik Jones’ 2018 summer race win and William Byron in 2020 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).
  • For the Coke Zero Sugar 400, 3 of the last 5 winners have earned their first career Cup victories. 1 of the other 2 was just his second. For the Daytona 500, Denny Hamlin has won three of the last 7 years but the other four winners were Austin Dillon (2nd career win), Kurt Busch (1st career restrictor plate win), Michael McDowell (1st career Cup win) and Austin Cindric (1st career Cup win).
  • A total of 22 drivers have posted their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona; 11 of the 22 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 2020 with William Byron. Does that bode well for Saturday night for someone on the outside looking in?
  • In the 9th 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.
    • In 2019, 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.
    • In 2020, Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron occupied the final 3 wildcard spots. All made it in with Byron winning the race.
    • In 2021, Tyler Reddick led Austin Dillon by 25 points. He advanced too.
  • Ford dominated this past February in taking the top 3 spots in every practice, qualifying race and the race itself.
  • 3 of the last 4 Daytona winners came from Row 3.
  • Each of the last 13 Daytona winners started 5th on back.
  • Only 1 Daytona pole winner has won here since 2011 (Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2016).
  • None of the last 11 points paying Daytona races were won by a series champion.
  • In both Stage 1s of Daytona/Talladega this year, the race winner didn’t score stage points in either of them.
  • In both Stage 2’s of Daytona/Talladega this year, the race winner was 6th (500), 9th (Talladega).
  • The race winner didn’t lead a lap at Daytona/Talladega until the final lap.
  • 3 of the last 4 Coke Zero Sugar 400’s the winner led 7 or fewer laps including 2 of the 3 leading just the final lap.
  • 5 of the last 7 years have seen a final pass for the win on the final lap in the Daytona 500.
  • There’s been 12 different winners in the last 12 Coke Zero Sugar 400’s.

Track Comparison

While it’s a superspeedway, it differs from Talladega. It’s .16 miles shorter and not as wide either. The most you can get is 3 wide on this track but even that gets hairy. The race looks like Talladega though in terms of a pack race with similar strategy. It’s more about handling and drafting help rather than outright speed.


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Blue DEF/PEAK Ford, and Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #1 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Favorites

Denny Hamlin

Pretty low odds for a superspeedway race, but Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 in 3 of the last 7 years including two of the last 4. While he’s never won the annual summer race, he’s one of the best superspeedway racers in the game right now, so take him for these odds.

Chase Elliott

He was runner-up in the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400, runner-up in the 2020 Daytona 500, 8th in last year’s ‘400, 10th in this past year’s Daytona 500 to go along with 6th in Atlanta 1, 7th in Talladega and a win in Atlanta 2. Now that he’s clinched the regular season championship, he has nothing to lose.

Ryan Blaney

He won the summer Daytona race last year and had two wins prior to that at Talladega. 6 of his last 7 Daytona results have been inside of the top 6. However, only five drivers have posted consecutive summer race wins at Daytona International Speedway: Fireball Roberts (1962-1963), A.J. Foyt (1964-1965), Cale Yarborough (1967-1968) David Pearson (1972 – 1974) and Tony Stewart (2005-2006). Can Blaney be the 6th?

Ross Chastain

The Watermelon Man is good on superspeedways. He’s won an Xfinity Series race here and while he was 40th in this past year’s Daytona 500, he was also 2nd in both Atlanta races and won at Talladega.

Bubba Wallace

He was runner-up in each of his last 2 Daytona starts. He won the Fall Talladega race last year. Worth a look.


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Sleepers

Brad Keselowski

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 2021 Daytona 500. Keselowski also led lot of laps in this February’s Daytona 500 (finished 9th) including a Duel win 3 days prior. He won this race in July 2016.

Aric Almirola

Definitely the strongest of the sleepers. Almirola has 2 top 8 finishes in 4 superspeedway starts in 2022 including a 5th place run this past February. 2 of his 3 Cup wins were on superspeedway’s.

William Byron

He has two top two finishes in his last 4 Coke Zero Sugar 400 starts. His Daytona 500 starts? 23rd, 21st, 40th, 26th and 38th respectively. He’s better here in the summer.

Austin Dillon

He won a Duel in 2021 and was third in the Great American race that year as well. He’s also a past Daytona 500 champion (2018) and was runner-up this past April in Talladega.

Chris Buescher

He has five top 10 finishes in his last 10 Daytona starts. He was third in the 2020 Daytona 500 and ninth in the ‘400 that year. He crossed the finish line 2nd in last year’s 400 before a penalty negated that. He won a Duel this past February too. Plus, Stenhouse Jr. was great in this car at Daytona before him.

Chase Briscoe

He was 3rd in this past February’s Daytona 500.

Tyler Reddick

He was 5th in this race last year and was running towards the front of the 2020 edition too. Reddick this season however as 35th, 28th, 39th and 29th in 4 superspeedway starts.

Justin Haley

Among the top superspeedway racers in the sport today. His only Cup win came here in Daytona a couple of years ago in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. He also just won the Xfinity race at Daytona last August. He’s had eight career NASCAR national series victories and five of them have been at either Talladega or Daytona. That’s saying something.

Erik Jones

He won this race in 2018 and won the Clash in 2020. He also had a top 5 going in February before being caught up in that late race crash.

Corey LaJoie

He was eighth and ninth the last two years in the Daytona 500, sixth in the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400, had a fast car in last year’s race and was a lap away from an Atlanta win last month.

Michael McDowell

He won the 2021 Daytona 500, was 5th in the 2019 Daytona 500 and 9th in the 2018 Daytona 500. Furthermore, since July 2014, the Arizona native has 7 top 10 finishes in his last 15 Daytona starts and with teams like Leavine Family Racing and Front Row Motorsports at that. He was 7th in February as well as 8th in Talladega this spring too.

Harrison Burton

Another Wood Brothers rookie won the ‘500 back in 2011. Trevor Bayne was 20 years old in his triumph. Now, Burton who’s just now 21, in in the famed No. 21 Ford. In four Daytona starts in the Xfinity Series, his worst finish is ninth (Aug. 2021). His other three finishes were second and third respectively during Speedweeks and fifth in Aug. 2020. This past February, he looked great and led some laps before being knocked on his lid during a midrace crash.

Ty Dillon

The younger brother of Austin has three top six finishes in his last 5 starts in Daytona including a sixth place run in the 2020 Daytona 500 and a top 10 going in this past year’s Daytona 500 to where he finished 11th.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, race to the finish of the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Fades

Joey Logano

These have been arguably one of his worst tracks this season. Logano was 21st in the Daytona 500, 9th in Atlanta 1, 32nd in Talladega 1 and 26th in Atlanta 2. He was also 26th and 27th respectively in the pair of Daytona races in 2020 and 12th and 23rd in 2021. In this race in general, Logano has finished 35th, 39th, 25th, 27th and 23rd respectively in his last 5 tries.

Austin Cindric

The last 2 times for a Daytona sweep? 1982 and 2013. Buddy Baker and Jimmie Johnson accomplished those feats. I don’t see Austin Cindric adding his name to that list on Saturday night. He’s a better fantasy play with being 1st in the Daytona 500 and 3rd in Atlanta 2.

Kyle Busch

He has finished 20th or worse in seven of his last 10 Daytona starts. He was 34th and 33rd in 2020, 14th and 34th last year and 6th in February. He is 0-for-17 in the Great American Race.

Kevin Harvick

He’s struggled in this race lately. Since 2016, his finishes in the ‘400 are 39th, 33rd, 19th, 29th, 20th and 15th respectively. He has no top 10’s in 4 superspeedway finishes this season including being 30th here in the Daytona 500 back in February.

Kyle Larson

Larson has never won a superspeedway race and has just 1 top 5 in 33 starts on them at that. He was 32nd in this year’s Daytona 500.

Martin Truex Jr.

Yes he swept both stages back in February but he still finished 13th. He’s 0-for-71 in drafting races if you include both Atlanta events this season and has scored just 6 top 5’s in those 71 starts too. He has 3 top 5’s in 34 Daytona tries at that.

Alex Bowman

He’s always quick on superspeedways but Bowman though doesn’t have a top five finish yet in his career at Daytona. Can this be the year?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

He won the pole for the 2020 race but didn’t even finish in the top 10. He was 20th in the ‘500 and 32nd in the ‘400. He has led at least one lap in all but one start at Daytona since 2017 though including a win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (2017). That’s his last top 10 at DIS too, so tread lightly with him as well.

Christopher Bell

He’s not known yet as a great speedway race and was only 21st and 13th in his two Daytona starts as a rookie and 16th and 32nd last year. He finished 34th in this year’s Daytona 500, 23rd and 19th in Atlanta and 22nd in Talladega.

Cole Custer

He was only 37th and 30th respectively in the two Daytona races as a rookie and 11th and 24th last year as well as 20th in February.

Daniel Suarez

He’s not had any Daytona success in the past with a best result of 17th. His other finishes with the exception of 2 have all been outside the top 20.

Todd Gilliland

Not very likely this rookie wins. He’s never raced in the Xfinity Series before with him going from Truck to Cup. In three Truck Series Daytona starts, he’s finished 19th, 16th and 31st respectively. In the Daytona 500 he was 33rd in February.

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