Tonight’s race marks the halfway point of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season. It’s a long run but the playoffs start in just 8 weeks. A new Champ will be crowned, but first, an abbreviated version of racing at Daytona. The Daytona 500 was, of course, 500 miles. The Coke Zero Sugar 400 is 400 miles. Simple enough, right? While the prestige isn’t exactly the same, it’s still a race at Daytona, and some of the most memorable finishes have come at this race. My favorite driver Greg Biffle got his first career win here back in 2003 — as a rookie. A wonderful night. (Come back, Greg!)
While the Daytona 500 is a race that “anyone can win,” the 400 is even more so. The ‘big’ names seem to rise to the occasion in February, but it’s those lesser known guys who have slid in under the radar and made a name for themselves in the July race. If you’re not a NASCAR ran, this is a great introductory race – especially after you’ve come in from a night of campfire s’mores and there isn’t much else on TV…and that 2003 car was a beaut!
Here’s what to look for:
–Chase Elliott won the Pole for tonight’s race, his first of the season and third at the track. The dude knows his way around this place… at least when it comes to time trials. This is his worst venue by average finish (27.6) despite starting very close to the front, and carrying a 6.4 average start. He’s got the Hooters colors this week. And, as any red-blooded american male would say, it’s always great to see them at the track.
–Alex Bowman will start Outside, Row 1 tonight. He sat on the Pole for the 500 earlier this year, a clear view of the front each race. Unlike his teammate, this is Bowman’s best track by average (19.2), and hopes to be better than that number tonight.
–Austin Dillon saw his 2017 race here end while mid-air and into the catch fence. A grizzly crash left him on his roof, and his engine aflame, several yards away; he followed that up with a resounding 2018 Daytona 500 victory. We like to see those sort of things in sports, and bouncing back in NASCAR is something that everyone will root for.
–Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the 2017 Coke Zero 400 after leading the final two laps (17 total) to victory. He’s been darn good at restrictor plate races, including a 2017 win at Talladega (placed 5th there in 2018). Always one to watch.
–Michael McDowell is someone who gets little press, but he is always near the front — when it matters most — at Daytona. His last five attempts have seen him finish in the Top 15, including a 4th place finish here last July, and a 9th at the 500 earlier this year.
Coverage of the race starts on NBC at 7:00pm, green flag scheduled for 7:44pm.