The 2012 Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola marks the traditional halfway point in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and this season is shaping up to be nothing less than exciting. Thirteen different drivers have visited Victory Lane in the first 17 points races (Tony Stewart, Brad Kesolowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin being the repeat winners thus far) making this season a complete craps shoot in picking winners. I’ve had a blast watching the drama each week, and am looking forward to what the second half of this 2012 season will bring. It will be a mad dash to The Chase, and an even bigger fiasco to claim the Champion’s trophy.
The site for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola needs no introduction. It’s the same 2.5 mile superspeedway we’ve grown so accustomed to, but it’s the racing style which has changed the face of Daytona International Speedway (or Juan Montoya if you remember February’s Daytona 500). Sorry but I had to throw a jet-dryer comment in here. The thing that shocks me still about the whole jet-dryer incident in February is Tide received 2-3 hours of free advertising from the jet fuel cleanup, and still they do not show up as a primary sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series. Come on Tide! Get back into NASCAR!
That’s my rant for this week, on to Kentucky’s Recap…
It was another so so weekend in the Bluegrass State last week, as has been the story of my season here with Matty’s Picks. I guess the only thing to do is keep on trucking towards the top, and eventually I will end up with the 1-2 punch I’ve been searching for all season.
My Winner Pick was the defending champion of the Quaker State 400, and Kyle Busch looked like he would make it back-to-back wins in Sparta early on. Rowdy wasted no time in showing he was the guy to beat in the No. 18 M&M’s Red, White & Blue Toyota by taking the point position on the opening lap. He was the alpha male for 116 laps in the first half of the race, but minor contact with the wall on lap 130 would cause the No. 18 to slip out of the top 5. The contact was the first of a slew of issues that fell upon the M&M’s camp throughout the remaining 80 laps. During the final third of the Quaker State 400, Kyle Busch would experience a broken rear shock, an empty fuel tank, and a flat tire, but still managed to climb from 18th on the final green flag run to finish 10th.
A tough night it was for my Dark Horse last week in Kentucky… From the start of the race, Kurt Bush fought a car that was at its worse for the entire weekend. Making the connection from practice to race conditions has been a struggle for the No. 51 Chevrolet all season and this disconnect was violently apparent last week in Kentucky. Busch’s car was so bad in the early stages of the Quaker State 400, he slipped from his 14th-place starting spot to 22nd in just the first 15 laps. The crew continued to throw adjustments to the Phoenix Racing Chevy all night, until the straw that broke the camel’s back fell on lap 206 when Ryan Newman lost an engine and covered the racing surface in oil. Busch fell victim to the oil and slapped the outside wall, successfully ending my hopes of a 1-2 punch by the Busch Brothers. Kurt Busch managed to limp his damaged chariot home in 19th.
As I glance over practice speeds for the 54th Annual Coke Zero 400, I see one thing… I HAVE NO IDEA WHO TO PICK THIS WEEK! The cars look to be so evenly matched this week, it’s tough to pinpoint two guys who appear to be on the road to victory.
It’s Jamie McMurray that I am rolling the dice with this week. He’s got some history behind him this week in the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Museum Chevrolet, and some solid practice speeds to boot. In the first of two practice sessions at Daytona yesterday, McMurray had the best 10 Consecutive Lap Average at a speed of 196.909mph. He’s also claimed victory 4-times in his career at Daytona or Talladega, but has had a rather ‘lumpy’ start to his 2012 campaign.
McMurray hasn’t finished better than 7th this year, and you’ve got to look all the way back to March’s Food City 500 to pick up that stat. McMurray sits just inside the top 20 in points and desperately needs a win to have an shot at one of the two ‘Wild Card’ bids for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Being fastest in final practice will certainly turn some heads around the garage area this weekend.
Dark Horse Pick
There aren’t too many dark horses when it comes to racing on Superspeedways because quite honestly, anything can happen. I like the way Chevy’s engines have performed thus far this year, and with temperatures expected to hover around 90 degrees around race time Saturday night, performing well under the heat is pivotal to claiming victory. Having help from teammates is also an important part of taking the checkered at Daytona.
A guy that has both of these this weekend in Florida is Paul Menard. Looking at his last 3 races at Daytona, he’s finished 6th, 9th, and 8th respectively. Last year’s racing at Daytona and Talladega gave fans the two-car tango, and Menard rode the coat tails of teammate Kevin Harvick to his solid top-10 finishes. This February’s Daytona 500 was a hybrid of the two-car tango and pack racing, and Menard managed to work his way from 37th to finish in the top-10 following ‘the fire heard round the world’. Keep an eye on Menard on Saturday night as he might just have a shot at taking home is second career victory.
That’s all for this week, so until we hit New England… You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!