Dustin Off the Next Race: Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

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Dustin Off the Next Race:  Coke Zero 400 at Daytona
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

The 2010 NASCAR season started on the 2.5-mile track at Daytona in February. Saturday night, the season comes full circle as the first half comes to a close along the Florida coast.

Drama, excitement, controversy and emotion have made up the first part of this season. What could happen by the time the second half of the campaign comes calling?

That will have to wait until next Saturday night. This week, the restrictor plates return as full-throttle action is back at Daytona. Will we see a repeat of the finish in February, or will the topic of discussion continue to be the pothole that developed?

It's unclear what will happen when the lights get turned on. But, what is a guarantee is that no one will be unsatisfied when the checkered flag falls.

So, let's dust off Saturday's Coke Zero 400 and see which drivers to watch on the high banks.

FAVORITES

Tony Stewart

When it comes to the summer months, there is no one better than "Smoke." When the night race at Daytona is on the schedule, he turns up the heat. This race has been when his run for championship begins.

Look at this race in 2005. He came here, won the event, and then carried that momentum to his second title, his first in the Chase era.

Last year, Stewart never lost the lead on pit road, and ended up winning the race despite having to cause the wreck mere yards from the finish. He still hates how he won that race, but it was his third win during the summer Speedweeks at Daytona.

I picked him to once again lead the pack to victory. He's got the Burger King colors once again, so a victory would be a crowning achievement.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This really is not a surprise when it comes to Daytona. The thing about Junior this year is he's coming in after being extremely consistent the last three weeks. He has finished no worse than 11th since Michigan.

I also believe that him running the Nationwide race will be extremely beneficial this week. The emotion of being at the wheel of the No. 3 will be a driving force for victory.

Daytona made his father famous, and by him honoring him this weekend, I believe he's more motivated than ever to get a win.

Look out, the No. 88 National Guard "8 Soldiers 8 Missions" will be hot come Saturday.

Jamie McMurray

Oh yes, he's in the favorites category. He won the Daytona 500, and just barely missed on winning at Talladega in April.

It's been an up and down season for McMurray and crew, but this team cannot forget that it was they who took a win in February at this track. To do so, they had to hold off Earnhardt Jr. who made a late charge.

If McMurray can hold off one of the top restrictor-plate drivers once, who's to say he won't do it again.

Watch for the No. 1 team to be extremely strong.

SLEEPERS

Kyle Busch

I'll admit, I'm going to take a lot of flack for this one. But, I just can't put the No. 18 car in the favorite category because I don't know which Busch will come out.

In 2008, he ran a smart race and managed to get his first victory at Daytona. Yet, last year, he went for the big block and ended up in the catch fence and angry at the end result. Which driver will arrive this year?

Considering his attitude after his run-in with Jeff Burton last week at New Hampshire, it's a tough call. Hopefully he will mind his p's and q's and it will lead him to a big win.

Hopefully I'm right, otherwise I'll have a lot of explaining to do.

Jeff Gordon

So close, yet so far. That has been the motto for Gordon and the entire No. 24 team in 2010.

Heading into Daytona, the team is winless, but has been very consistent. He enters this race after finishing in the top-five at New Hampshire. He is also a former winner of this race. He took the inaugural night race at Daytona in 1998 and then won a second time in 2004.

How close can one man get? Maybe this weekend the checkered flag will finally fall on Gordon. It would be appropriate since this race is sponsored by Coca-Cola yet he is sponsored by Pepsi.

The No. 24 is hungry, and he could take a big bite come Saturday.

TigIt's going to be full-throttle, high octane and outrageous when the Coke Zero 400 goes green.  TNT for the third consecutive year will bring their "Wide Open Coverage" with limited commercial interruption.

Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green , with the race set to begin shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET.

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