When Daytona International Speedway was being built by the France family prior to its opening in 1959, construction crews piled the sand as high as gravity would allow. That created 31 degree banking on the 2.5-mile racetrack that has humbled stock car drivers ever since.
In 2012, drivers will face a still smooth tri-oval track that was repaved in 2010. The certainty of any result is just as dubious as when the first layer of asphalt was applied to mounded sand.
The track is famous for the Daytona 500 in February, but DIS has another race in July, the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola. That night event will commence at 6:30 p.m. ET July 7 on TNT. Many thousands of fans will swarm the high-rise stands to get a great night race show that is augmented with a spectacular fireworks display.
NASCAR drivers know that Daytona, like Talladega, by virtue of size and banking is a wild card during the long 36-race season—almost any driver and team can win. Crashes can and will alter otherwise solid performances. Sparks from cars and fireworks are common air debris.
Going into the 400 tough miles at Daytona, the top five NASCAR drivers—Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biggle and Denny Hamlin—shared their thoughts.
Matt Kenseth has been the subject of much attention lately as he moved on from Roush-Fenway Racing to an undisclosed team. But Kenseth answered tons of relentless questions and then just got ready for the next race. His focus is on being the first driver in decades to win two Daytona races in the same year.
Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Ford)
“I looked forward to going to Talladega more so than any plate race I have ever looked forward to in my career, with as well as we ran at Daytona and how fast our cars were in February,” Kenseth said. “I feel the same way about Daytona this weekend and I am looking forward to getting down there.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke his victory lane drought in Michigan, but is hungry for another win. He is second in points only 11 back from leader Kenseth. Some of Earnhardt’s many fans might still be giddy, but he is seriously at work for another win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
“I want to go up and win the race,” Earnhardt said. “I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about riding in the back. I think you could do it, if that is something you wanted to do. However I don’t plan on doing it. I never really plan on doing it. It may sound like we make that decision prior to the race, but you make it during the race when something happens or you see something happen that you don’t like.
“I think it is poor judgment to think about it during the week, because you are not thinking about what you need to do to win the race. You are thinking about going backwards. That is not something I want to concentrate on.”
Jimmie Johnson seems like a machine at times, methodically overcoming hurdles and performing with precision throughout the season. Johnson often seems like he is just looking for more notes.
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
“We are so boxed in chassis wise due to the restrictor plate rules,” Johnson said. “Vehicle wise is very similar (to how we were in February) NASCAR has given up a higher pop off valve due to the higher temperatures we will have there. Really it’s kind of as is. It has been pretty easy from my stand point on restrictor plate tracks anymore because the rules have stayed the same.”
Greg Biffle continues to stay in the top-five with consistent finishes. He is analytical by nature and is eager to turn his curiosity into definition.
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
“We never know what to expect from Daytona until we get there,” Biffle said. “We’ll have to see how the temperature is, how much grip the track has, see what the ambient temp is, water temp, all plays a factor into how long we can push and what kind of speeds the car has under those conditions. You don’t know exactly what to expect until you get into practice and actually get into the race in the night time. Our focus is to win every weekend, we care where we finish, but we want to win.”
Denny Hamlin brings a sore back to this week’s race and admitted in the media center that he often has back problems after various physical activities. Racing at 200 mph in the July heat even at night is certainly a challenge, but Hamlin will be there.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota)
“I really think that NASCAR has honed in on our restrictor-plate program,” Hamlin said. “I think they’ve monitored the temperatures, the drafting and things like that to where the racing is as good as it’s been on superspeedways in a long time.”
Let the fireworks begin—on and above the track.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by NASCAR and team representatives.