NASCAR Returns To Daytona For Coke Zero 400

2012 NASCAR Coke Zero 400
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida
2.5 mile tri-oval (160 laps) – 31 degree banking turns, 18 tri-oval
Saturday, July 7, 2012, 7:45 pm Eastern, TV: TNT
Defending Champion: David Ragan
All odds courtesy of Bovada

Tony Stewart is one of the favorites to win the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Saturday night.

The 2012 NASCAR season started off with the Daytona 500 as it always does. Matt Kenseth won the race by holding off Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Those two drivers still sit first and second in that order in the Race for the Chase Standings with nine races to go before the chase starts.

The race was postponed to Monday night for the first time in history. The race was also delayed 2 hours by a spectacular fiery accident involving Juan Pablo Montoya, who lost control of his car and crashed into one of the track driers filled with jet fuel. He was uninjured in the crash as was the driver of the truck.  Hopefully, the summer race at Daytona will be dramatic, but not that dramatic.

Kenseth won the pole for this race, and Ryan Newman will complete the front row. Here is a complete look at the starting grid. Tony Stewart originally qualified 2nd but his car failed inspection due to an open cooling hose in the cockpit. He will start from the back of the field. Here is a look at the favorites and contenders with odds courtesy of Bovada.

Matt Kenseth (9/1)

No driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 has swept both races at Daytona in the same season. Kenseth has a chance to do just that. He leads the points by 11 over Dale Jr. Kenseth’s only win came at Daytona, but he does have 12 top tens in 17 races including 8 top 5’s. He hasn’t finished lower than 22nd in any race, and has 12 straight 13th or better finishes. Kenseth finished 7th at Kentucky last week. Kenseth has never won the July race at Daytona, but has won the Daytona 500 twice. He was the runner up in the summer race last year. Kenseth has 12 top tens in 25 starts at Daytona including 5 top 5’s. Kenseth should be a factor at the end barring an accident or engine problems.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (9/1)

Earnhardt trails Kenseth by 11 points in the chase standings. He has 13 top 10’s, including 7 top 5’s, and a win at Michigan. Outside of a 23rd place finish at the Sonoma road course, Earnhardt has top 10’s in 5 of his last 6 races, including a 4th place at Kentucky last week. He qualified 24th for the Coke Zero 400. In 25 career starts at Daytona, Earnhardt has 14 top tens, including 9 top 5’s and 2 wins. He hasn’t won at Daytona since 2004, but has runner-ups in 2 of last 5 at Daytona, including earlier this year. Earnhardt should get another top 10 as well as he is running this season.

Tony Stewart (10/1)

Stewart is 9th in points 88 behind Kenseth. Stewart has 8 top 10’s including 7 top 5’s and wins at Las Vegas and California. Smoke has 4 second or thirds in his last 7 starts, but the other three were 25th or worse, including a 32nd at Kentucky last week. In 27 Daytona starts, Stewart has 12 top 10’s, including 7 top 5’s and 3 wins. All of his wins came in the summer race, but he hasn’t won since 2009. He has 5 straight 11th or worse finishes at Daytona, including a 16th in February. Stewart obviously has a fast car based on his qualifying speed, but because of the errant cooling hose he will start 42nd. It isn’t impossible to come back from that far down, but it difficult. Stewart has been a little inconsistent recently. Either he is really good or he has struggled. I think the “good Tony” will show up.

Jimmie Johnson (12/1)

Johnson is 3rd in the chase standings 23 behind Kenseth. Johnson has 13 top 10’s in 17 starts, including 9 top 5’s and wins at Darlington and Dover. He finished 42nd in the Daytona 500, and 35th at Talladega, but otherwise hasn’t finished lower than 12th in any race. He has 7 straight 11th or better finishes including a 6th at Kentucky last week. In 21 starts at Daytona, Johnson has 9 top 10’s including 6 top 5’s and a win in the 2008 Daytona 500. He hasn’t finished higher than 20th in his last 6 Daytona starts. A second lap accident took him out of the February race here. Johnson qualified 16th for this race. Normally, Johnson would be a threat in any race he enters, but I can’t pick him with his struggles here recently.

Kyle Busch (12/1)

Kyle is 12th in points, 138 behind. He does hold one of the two wild card spots for the Chase. The younger Busch brother has  8 top tens this season, including 5 top 5’s and a win at Richmond. He finished 10th at Kentucky, to break a streak of 4 straight 17th or worse place finishes. Kyle qualified 22nd for this race, after finishing 17th in the Daytona 500 earlier this year. In 15 Daytona starts, Busch has 6 top 10’s including 5 top 5’s and a win in 2008 summer race. He had a top 5 and a top 10 in 2 races at Daytona last year, the only ones in his last 7 starts here. Busch should get a top 10 barring something unforeseen.

Jeff Gordon (12/1)

Gordon is 18th in points, 180 behind Kenseth. He needs to win a race or two if he wants to grab one of the two wild card spots for the Chase. He has 6 top tens including 2 top 5’s in 17 races so far. He has three straight top 6’s or better including a 5th at Kentucky last week. Gordon will start 5th for the Coke Zero 400, and finished 40th in the February race. In 39 Daytona starts, Gordon has 19 top 10 finishes, including 12 top 5’s, and 6 wins. His last Daytona win came in the 2005 Daytona 500 though. He only has 3 top 10’s in his last 10 Daytona starts. He might scratch out another top 10, but I don’t see Gordon competing for the win.

Kevin Harvick (12/1)

Harvick is 6th in  points, 68 behind the leader. He doesn’t have a win, but does have 8 top 10’s including 3 top 5’s. He hasn’t finished lower than 25th an any race this season. He is coming off an 11th place finish at Kentucky last week. Harvick qualified 11th for the Coke Zero, after a 7th place finish in the Daytona 500. In 22 Daytona starts, Harvick has 10 top 10’s, including 5 top 5’s, and 2 wins. He won the summer race here in 2010. I like Harvick to win his third Daytona race.

Brad Keselowski (13/1)

Despite being the only driver with 3 wins this season, Keselowski is only 10th in points, 96 behind Kenseth. Keselowski has wins at Bristol, Talladega, and Kentucky this season. He has 2 other top 5’s and 2 more top 10’s, but he also has 5 18th or worse finishes. Keselowski finished 32nd in the Daytona 500, and will start 9th in this race. Keselowski has never finished higher than 15th at Daytona in 6 starts at the track. I think he will grab his first top 10 at the track, but I think he will have to wait for his first Daytona win.

Greg Biffle (14/1)

Biffle is 4th in points, 25 behind teammate Kenseth. This season he has 10 top 10’s, including 8 top 5’s and a win at Texas. He hasn’t finished lower han 24th in any race and is coming off a 24th place at Kentucky. Biffle will start fourth in this race, and came in third at the Daytona 500. Biffle has 5 top 10’s, including 3 top 5’s and a win in 19 Daytona starts. He won the summer race here in 2003. He has 2 third places in his last 5 races here, but has only 2 other top 10’s in the last 15 races here. Every other finish in that span has been 18th or worse. He could be a factor at the end, but has been too inconsistent for me to pick him at this track.

Carl Edwards (15/1)

Edwards is 11th in points 130 behind. He currently holds the last automatic qualifying spot for the Chase. Edwards has no wins, but does have 8 top 10’s and 2 top 5’s this season. He finished 20th last week at Kentucky. Edwards will start 12th for this race, and finished 8th in the Daytona 500. Edwards has never won at Daytona, but does have 7 top 10’s including 4 top 5’s in 15 career starts at the track. All of his top 10’s have come in his last 10 races here. I think he gets another top 10 this week.

Clint Bowyer (16/1)

Bowyer is 7th in points, 76 behind. He has 9 top 10’s including 3 top 5’s and a win at Sonoma. He finished 16th at Kentucky last week, to break a streak of 8 straight 13th or better finishes. Bowyer will start 29th in this race, and finished 11th in the Daytona 500. He has never won at Daytona in 13 starts but does have 6 top 10’s and 2 top 5’s. His best ever finish at the track is fourth, and he did that twice in the Daytona 500. He has never finished higher than 7th in the Summer race. I don’t see Bowyer contending for the win.

Denny Hamlin (16/1)

Hamlin is 5th in points, 68 behind Kenseth. He has 9 top 10’s including 8 top 5’s and wins at Phoenix and Kansas. He finished third last week at Kentucky to end a slump of two races where he finished 34th at Michigan and 35th at Sonoma. Hamlin will start 23rd at Daytona this week, and came in fourth in February here. That broke a string of 5 straight 18th or worse finishes at the track. In 13 Daytona starts, Hamlin has 2 top 5’s and no wins. It could be another struggle this week for Hamlin.

Kasey Kahne (16/1)

Kahne is 14th in points, 170 behind Kenseth. However Kahne holds the last wild card spot for the Chase. He has 8 top 10’s including 4 top 5’s and a win at Charlotte. He was the runner up last week at Kentucky. Kahne will start 3rd in this race, and finished 29th in the Daytona 500 in February. In 17 Daytona starts, he has 6 top tens including 2 top 5’s with no wins. Both of his top 5’s happened in the summer races in 2010 and 2011. I think he gets a top 10 finish.

Here is a complete look at the betting odds courtesy of Bovada. It should be an exciting race, as most restrictor plate races are at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega. It isn’t a question of if their will be a big wreck, but when. It makes for an unpredictable race.

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