Anticipation of a race at Daytona will quicken the pulse of most NASCAR fans. Whether it's the tradition or the speeds attained, racing at Daytona is an American tradition rivaling the Indianapolis 500 held on Memorial Day. The temperatures will be hot, as will the racing. Make no mistake about it; this is a race that the drivers focus on. Winning here validates their driving skills.
For the fans the intense competition, coupled with the always lurking chance of big wrecks, makes this race a season highlight. Daytona, one of only two restrictor plate tracks (the other is Talladega Superspeedway), puts incredible stress on the cars and drivers as they let it all out. Aggressive racing is rewarded, as are the fans. Just as road races have some drivers that tend to run well, the same applies to the restrictor plate tracks. Focusing on these drivers typically will reward fantasy teams.
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Length: 2.50 miles
Banking: Turns 1-4 31 degrees; front stretch 18 degrees; back stretch 3 degrees
Table: Do not bench
Leading the pack
Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Ford | Penske Racing
Busch has run 15 times at Daytona International Speedway. Having experience on a restrictor plate track is an advantage. Last week, in a rain-shortened race, Busch recorded his first victory of the season. The last race Busch ran here in the Daytona 500, he finished second. His average finish at Daytona is 19.3, having recorded seven top-fives, seven top-10 finishes and two DNFs. While his historical data is far from dominating, a second-place finish in his last race here, coupled with a win last week, makes Busch an inviting selection. Busch is a recommended pick based on his current momentum.
Mark Martin | No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Martin is one of the most respected drivers ever to race. This season he drives for DEI on a part-time basis. It would be a mistake to be deceived by his age (49) and his part-time driving status. Martin is a competitive force on the track, a true veteran in every sense of the word. He most certainly is a future Hall of Fame inductee. Martin has run an incredible 46 times at Daytona International Speedway, including 16 top-10s and nine top-five finishes. Given Daytona's track uniqueness, experience is a definite plus. His average finish at the track is 17.9 with no victories. Martin would like to add a victory to his career accomplishments, and he will be a sentimental favorite. Selecting Martin may not result in a victory, but it should produce a solid finish.
Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Best Buy Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports
Daytona International Speedway is not a track that the many fans expect Sadler has had success with, but he has run well here. He has raced at Daytona for a total of 19 times in his career with an average finish of 16.8. The last time Sadler raced at Daytona in the 500 he placed sixth. To date, Sadler has not run well this season. He sits in 25th position, well outside the Chase. However, last week he finished in fifth place. Sadler is in a similar situation to Kurt Busch: having a strong finish in both his last race and his last running at this track. He is a better pick than many give him credit for.
Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports
Daytona International Speedway is not a track that Kahne has won on. His average finish of 18.1 in nine starts compares with the other analyzed drivers. He has three top-10 finishes. In his last running at Daytona, he placed seventh in the 500 race. Kahne sits in 10th place in the standings. His last two finishes were less than competitive (30th and 33rd), but he had a recent string of three victories and five top-five finishes in his last eight races. Kahne has proven he can win this season. He can be streaky in his finishes; however, selecting Kahne is advised.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Truex has run a total of six times at Daytona International Speedway. In his six appearances, he has an average finish of 23.5 without any top-10 finishes. Since Truex became the new leader of DEI he has developed into a competitive driver. He currently is in 14th position with two top-fives and five top-10s. His last race displayed the driving abilities, in which he finished fourth. Restrictor plate tracks have been good for DEI in the past. Picking Truex would be a solid choice for this week. He is a serious contender, having run reasonably well at the track, and Truex is experienced at Daytona.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Dave Blaney | No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota | Bill Davis Racing
Blaney has not been able to break out of his also-ran status this season. He currently sits in 30th position with only two top-10 finishes this season. His record at Daytona International Speedway is not much better than his current standing average finish of 25.9. In his 17 starts at Daytona, he has not won or even recorded a top-10 finish. His record at the other restrictor plate track, Talladega Speedway, is marginally better with an average finish of 23.9. Selecting Blaney this week would be based on a hunch and not historical results. There are other drivers better suited to run well this week.
David Gilliland | No. 38 FreeCreditReport.com Ford | Yates Racing
Daytona International Speedway has been a track that Gilliland has had some success with. Even though he has run only three times at the track, his average finish is quite respectable at 15.7. Gilliland has had one DNF along with one top-10 finish. He currently resides in 22nd place in the standings and had a very strong second-place finish two weeks ago in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 race. Gilliland has very little experience at Daytona but has run well here. He may be a long shot but should be considered even though he has not many races to base it on.
Casey Mears | No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Mears has struggled this year, disappointing Hendrick Motorsports, and currently is looking for a new team to race for next year. He has 11 starts at Daytona International Speedway. He has two top-10 finishes without a win. In those 11 starts, Mears has an average finish of 20.8 along with two DNFs. Currently he sits 23rd in the standings. Mears is a talented racer who just hasn't been able to break into the elite tier of drivers. Mears will want to showcase his talent, so a good run this week is not out of the question. Mears looks poised to have a strong run this week.
David Ragan | No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Ragan's history at Daytona International Speedway has shown some decent results. He has run only three times at the track driving, but he has one top-five finish. His average finish for the three races is 19.7. He finished in 42nd position the last time he ran at Daytona due to a DNF. Running only three times does not give him a great deal amount of experience, but anyone who can finish with a top-five finish in his first start warrants consideration. Take into account that he sits in 17th place in standings. Ragan looks to be a good choice. He has four top-10 finishes this season, and there is some historical indication that he will be able to run a strong race this week at Daytona.
Robby Gordon | No. 7 Jim Beam Dodge | Robby Gordon Motorsports
Gordon, known for his road course prowess, also has run well at Daytona International Speedway. His last visit to Daytona netted him an eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500 race. His average finish in 17 starts is a respectable 20.2. He has never won at Daytona but is looking to parlay his strong finish in February with a quest for respectability. Gordon may be a long-shot, but this is a track he shown competiveness. He has promise this week, use him with the hope that momentum on this track will translate into an additional strong showing.