More than four months after the NASCAR season kicked off at Daytona, the Sprint Cup Series returns to the storied track for the Coke Zero 400. The traditional Independence Day weekend race is one of the marquee stops on the schedule every year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 to kick off the campaign in fine fashion. It marked his third win in 29 starts at the speedway, and he figures to find himself in contention again this week. He'll have no shortage of competition, though.
There are now fewer than 10 races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup gets underway. That means you are going to see teams starting to take more chances with hopes of getting one of those coveted victories, which should lead to an exciting stretch of racing.
Let's check out all of the key details for the second stop at Daytona in 2014.
Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida
When: Saturday, July 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: TNT Drama
Radio: Motor Racing Network
Qualifying will take place Friday, July 4, at 5 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
|Coke Zero 400 - Order of Qualifying Runs|
|2||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|15||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|24||78||Martin Truex Jr.|
Drivers to Watch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After a strong start to the season, highlighted by the win in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt went through a bit of a lull. The mediocre stretch included a last-place finish in the Duck Commander 500, in which he was only able to complete 12 laps.
The fan favorite has turned things around lately. He's scored five straight top-10 finishes—the most notable one being his win in the Pocono 400. The No. 88 car has a great chance to keep the streak alive in the second Daytona race of the year.
There are always questions about how drivers who fared well in February during the day will handle the night race on the same track. Jeff Hammond of Fox Sports explained why he thinks Junior has a good chance to become the sixth driver to win both Daytona races:
My answer is pretty simple. There really is absolutely no reason why Dale Jr. couldn't make the 2014 Daytona sweep. He has been so focused and competitive this year. Crew chief Steve Letarte has been on top of his game this season. Obviously, the No. 88 bunch comes into this weekend with a full head of steam.
Earnhardt was able to avoid trouble in the 500. The luck factor always comes into play given the amount of close-quarters racing at Daytona. If he's able to stay out of the wrecks, he should once again be in contention heading into the final laps.
The points leader will be making his 44th start at Daytona on Saturday night. He's racked up five wins and finished in the top 10 nearly half the time. That includes a fourth-place result to open the season back in February.
Gordon hasn't finished in the top five for a season since 2009. It led to questions about whether the No. 24 team had what it took to make another serious championship bid after winning four titles in a seven-year span starting in 1995.
He's well on his way to proving the doubters wrong. The veteran has also been on quite a roll as of late, having finished eighth or better in four straight starts. The key is continuing to build momentum toward the Chase, preferably with another win or two for the bonus.
A victory from Gordon this week certainly wouldn't come as a surprise. He has 11 top-10 finishes and three wins in this race over the years, making it one of his most productive. Expect another strong showing from him this time around.
Johnson showed last week in Kentucky what makes him so great. He started 25th in the field, didn't have the best car on the track and spent most of the night fighting through traffic. But he still managed to scrape together a 10th-place result.
That's what it takes to win championships, which Johnson has done six times. Anybody can contend when they have a great car and the breaks fall their way. But getting a positive finish when things aren't going exactly right is crucial.
Johnson is another driver who's enjoyed his fair share of success at Daytona over the years, with three wins in 25 starts. He knows there's work to do starting this week in order to begin gearing up for the Chase, as noted in comments passed along by David Scott of the Charlotte Observer:
We still have some ground to make up. (Kevin Harvick) is really the most consistent car with speed off the truck. The Penske guys (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) seem to be able to create some really big speed at times; maybe not as consistent as (Harvick). We've been able to get there by (race day). A lot of weekends it hasn't been a fun journey; unloading and searching and finding our way come race time.
Qualifying should shed light on exactly how good the No. 48 car is heading into the race. Even if some tweaks are needed throughout the 400-mile journey, Johnson is a good bet to make sure he's in the mix when it matters most.