The first half of the 2010 Sprint Cup Series season is complete and when the green flag falls on the Coke Zero 400 this weekend.
The second half has the possibility to begin with a bang.
Anything can happen on Saturday night, and there will be plenty of storylines to follow. First and foremost will be the two men that finished first and second the last time there was action on the high banks in Daytona—Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
McMurray will be looking for history Saturday, trying to become the first driver, and fifth overall, to win both Daytona races in the same season since 1982.
Earnhardt Jr. on the other hand, comes to Daytona with the three following him. He’s three points out of a Chase position heading into Saturday night, sitting 13th in points. If he was able to win the Coke Zero 400, it would be his third points paying victory at the track in the Sprint Cup Series.
And don’t forget, he’ll drive the No.3 on Friday night in the Nationwide Series.
Other drivers to watch will be Tony Stewart, as the question still remains, “will this be the weekend he wins?” Stewart is a master at Daytona under the lights, with three wins in the Coke Zero 400. He desperately needs a win this weekend. He’ll have the Burger King paint scheme, which was on the car when he won last year. But this time, it’ll have a few thousand of his closest friends' names on the hood.
After that, there really is no trying to predict who can win this race or what will happen. What we do know is that Jimmie Johnson will be looking for his third straight victory, while Denny Hamlin will be looking to regain his oval momentum. His teammate Kyle Busch wants revenge for the win that was taken from him in this race last year.
For track officials, their eyes will be on the surface in between turns one and two. During the Daytona 500 a pothole formed there. It has since been patched, and drivers say you can’t notice it. However, after Saturday night’s race, the entire track will be repaved before the start of the 2011 season.
Will the 2010 Coke Zero 400 end this era with a spectacular race and finish?
Our Creatures also have the opportunity to do something spectacular—pick the winner of a restrictor plate race. Coming into Daytona, they’ve been on roll this season snatching up victories, but only one of them can say they correctly picked the winner at Daytona in February.
Can any of them do it Saturday? Here’s who they believe will accomplish the feat for them. And don’t forget to welcome another new Creature.
Misan Akuya: Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart has been one of the hottest drivers the last six races with three top fives, and five top 10s, with his lowest finish being 15th.
In his last four races, he has three top fives, four top 10s, and an average finish of fifth.
In 23 starts, he has three wins, seven top fives, 12 top tens, and an average finish of 16.74 with 633 laps led.
It is just a matter of time before he wins, and Daytona could very well be the place he does so. Stewart keeps on heating up and a win will help fuel that fire.
Kyle Brandt: Tony Stewart
Summer is here and Stewart is coming on hot, riding a string of four consecutive top-ten finishes. He’s also the defending champ of this race.
James Broomhead: Tony Stewart
Stewart hasn't had the best season so far this year, but his second place finish at Loudon is a high water mark.
If you, as a Tony Stewart fan, want momentum heading anywhere, it's Daytona. It’s a track where Smoke is normally, if you'll pardon the awful pun, on fire.
Kelly Crandall: Jamie McMurray
Well, why not? There were only four drivers that I considered this weekend—McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch. Earnhardt normally wrecks in this race, and whenever I pick him on a plate track he doesn’t win.
Stewart will have this name on my car this weekend, but he’s had some bad luck.
Busch, on the other hand, will definitely be at the front, but will it get stolen like last year?
For McMurray to win, it’ll be a long shot. No one has done the sweep since 1982, but this kid is quite the plate racer. He won the Daytona 500, then finished second at Talladega.
So, let’s see what he has up his sleeve this weekend.
Billy Fellin: Tony Stewart
I honestly think that picking at Daytona and Talladega are two of the hardest tracks, just because of the unpredictability of both races. I'm going with Stewart though, who won this race last year.
Coming off a second place finish last week at Loudon, I think Stewart will continue to ride this wave of momentum.
Adam Heasley: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I'm going with probably the best restrictor plate racer since he came into the NASCAR big leagues, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I think there's no explanation needed, however, I will give one.
Earnhardt is coming off three weeks of good racing, and good finishes to boot! And, what better a way to start the second half of the season with a win?
Christopher Leone: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Jr. has the best average finish of any winning driver at Daytona, a 14.9, and of course the two victories that everyone remembers.
He finished second in this year’s 500, and he’s been slowly creeping up the standings. He's currently in 13th and only three points out of the Chase. Daytona could be the game changer he needs to get him back in the playoffs.
Kara Martin: Tony Stewart
He has proven that he can do what it takes to win here, and heck, he needs a win.
Hoping that the typical Stewart will come on strong during the second half.
Now is the time, Mr. Stewart. Show us what you got!
Dustin Parks: Tony Stewart
When it comes to the summer portion of the NASCAR season, there is no one better than Smoke.
Go back to 2005, when he came to this track and waited until the wee hours of the morning to get the win. He couldn't wait to get the checkered flag and he climbed the fence to do it.
One year later, he did it again. Last year, he took the win from the pole despite controversy at the end. He never lost the lead on pit road, and was in the right position when it mattered most.
If Stewart wants to end his sub-par season, now is the time. I have to go with the Burger King Chevrolet.
Patti Rodisch : NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Tony Stewart
Smoke already has three Coke Zero 400 wins, including last year when he and his former teammate, Kyle Busch, gave the fans an exciting finish.
The weather is beginning to heat up, and this is usually the time of the season when Stewart is at his best.
Rob Tiongson: Jamie McMurray
Call me a fool because I'm picking someone who is streaky, but then again, some of his supporters heard the same thing about their driver back in February.
However, when it comes to restrictor plate racing, there's been nobody who has been as consistent and strong as Jamie McMurray, at least in recent times.
I look for the No. 1 Chevrolet to be in victory lane, completing the improbable Daytona sweep.
Alan Wade: Kevin Harvick
Harvick has been a force at restrictor plate tracks in 2010.
With a stellar last second move to beat Jamie McMurray at Talladega, Harvick is in championship form. These plate races are always unpredictable, but out of 18 points races Harvick has ran at Daytona, he only has one DNF.
Billy Fellin (2,451 ) Kurt Busch finished third (3 )
Kara Martin (2,394 ) Denny Hamlin finished 14th (2 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (2,372 ) Jimmie Johnson won (2 )
James Broomhead (2,285 ) Denny Hamlin finished 14th (2 )
Christopher Leone (2,282 ) Jeff Gordon finished fourth (3 )
Dustin Parks (2,253 ) Jeff Burton finished 12th (2 )
Kelly Crandall (2,250 ) Denny Hamlin finished 14th (2 )
Rob Tiongson (2,232 ) Jeff Gordon finished fourth (0 )
Patti Rodisch (2,166 ) Kurt Busch finished third (0 )
Misan Akuya (2,066 ) Jeff Burton finished 12th (1 )
Adam Heasley (962 ) NO PICK SENT (0 )
Alan Wade (556 ) Denny Hamlin finished 14th (0 )
Hang on, because if Talladega was any indication, this could be a good one this Saturday.
There were 88 lead changes at ‘Dega, and a photo finish. The good news is that with the way things ended in this race last year, we could be in for the same thing this year.
It doesn’t matter how fast you are in practice or where you qualify, just keep your eyes glued on the pack and hope your driver isn’t collected in the ‘Big One.’
Summary of Picks
Tony Stewart – 7
Jamie McMurray – 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 2
Kevin Harvick – 1