This Saturday night the Nextel Cup Series invades the Daytona International Speedway for the Pepsi 400, the 2nd race of the year at this track. Home of the Great American Race, the Daytona International Speedway is located on a 480 acre complex that boasts the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe. For that reason, this complex is known as the "World Center of Racing".
The Daytona track is a 2.5 mile superspeedway that offers a great challenge to drivers. Because this is a restrictor place race, speeds are controlled, which causes alot of pack racing, 3 or 4 wide at a time. Because of this type of racing, there is always the chance of the big one, a crash that could wipe out half the field at a moments notice.
The number one key to racing at Daytona is horsepower. A driver must have a car that is sound aero dynamically with a good engine package to maintain speeds that will reach 200mph on the backstretch. Another key will be a good qualifying effort. Statistics show that in the past 30 races at Daytona, only 6 times has the winner come from outside the top 10. In those same number of races, 17 times has the winner come from the top 5. The 3rd and quite possibly the most important key to racing at this track is the drivers ability to draft. Drivers must have a 6th sense on who to follow and who to avoid when drafting to the front. Racing at Daytona seems to be two or three wide and after the first few laps, a group of cars will break away from the pack. Cars behind the break away must draft back to the lead in order to gain distance and time. Lose the draft at any point or go a lap down and you are more then likely finished for the day at Daytona.
A couple of guys from DEI onced owned this track but recently Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart have broken that dominance. Gordon has won 2 of the last 6 races at Daytona, while Tony Stewart has won the past two Pepsi 400's and Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have won the last two Daytona 500's. Dale Earnhardt Jr. owns the most Top 10s (9) and Top 5s (6) in the past 10 years at Daytona despite registering only 14 of the maximum 20 races. Earnhardt has fared better recently this season, registering two Top 5s in his last three races. The Hendrick, Gibbs and DEI organizations all have the best engine packages and they all know how to race at restrictor plate tracks. Look for a driver from those teams to walk away with a win at the Pepsi 400.
Others to Watch
Clint Bowyer - In just a few career starts at the Daytona International Speedway, Bowyer's finished in the Top 10 twice - sixth and 10th.
Martin Truex Jr - His last three trips to Daytona have ended in runs of 29th, 16th and 34th, but when you have four top three finishes in your last five races (including a win), that's officially called being on a roll.
Casey Mears - He only placed 20th at the Daytona 500 earlier this year, but in the two races at Daytona last season, he finished second and seventh. Now that he has Hendrick under the hood, he should reap some of the benefits from there great plate program
Matt Kenseth - Roush's best bet quietly goes about his business and continues to rake in top 10 performances. His stuff wont match the Hendrick or Gibbs teams but he'll still find a way to get into the top 10.
David Gilliand - C groups best bet took the pole for the Daytona 500 before finishing 8th. Rookies notoriously arent great picks for a restrictor plate race but Gilliand has a good career record on plate tracks.
What the experts think
My pick - Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior's record at Daytona is unmatched by anyone on the circuit today, with an average finish of 13.6, two wins and nine Top 10s and six Top 5s in 14 starts. He's been on a roll lately overall, so it makes taking a chance on him that much more easy.
Sleeper - Kyle Busch - Looked great in the Bud shootout and in the Daytona 500 until he got too aggressive on the last lap and caused the big one. He needs to work his way to the front over the course of the race and most of all, show patience and take what he gets without causing a wreck.