NASCAR Sprint Cup: Kevin Harvick and 10 Top Contenders to Win the Coke Zero 400
Leaving a road course in Sonoma, California and heading cross-country to the high-banked super-speedway of Daytona, some drivers are on edge and ready to get back on the ovals.
What better place to return to than Daytona?
Considering that rookie driver Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in a sort of Cinderella Story back in February, drivers are surely ready to reclaim a win on the super-fast track.
Some drivers are on a roll, while some are just crawling from behind the bushes. Let's take a look at some of the big names to watch out for in this year's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
10. Kevin Harvick
Mister "where did he come from?" didn't get to show his stuff until after the Daytona 500, winning three races since engine problems ended his race in February after only 22 laps.
Aside from that mishap, his records have grown and placed him second in the points standings.
He won last years Coke Zero 400, so look for Harvick to be a big-time contender in this weekend's race.
9. Jamie McMurray
Jamie McMurray, yes, the quiet one.
He's had a rough time so far this season, sitting 27th in points with only two top-10 finishes. He entered this season having won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Bank of America 500 in 2010.
Could he pick it up with a win at Coke Zero 400 in 2011?
This could be just the race to give McMurray and the No. 1 team a much-needed turnaround.
8. Jeff Gordon
With two wins already this season, the No. 24 team is on a roll and ready to contend for another championship.
While Jeff is convinced that with two wins he still cannot guarantee himself a spot in the Chase, he and his team may be working extra hard to secure yet another win before the Chase contenders are decided.
Jeff is always a safe pick and with the consistency his team is showing, the No. 24 team could see Victory Lane again this season, if not multiple times. There's no reason to think they couldn't see it once more this weekend at Daytona.
7. Jeff Burton
Sitting at 24th in the points standings, Jeff Burton and the No. 31 team have had a rough first part of the 2011 season. With no points-paying top-ten finishes so far, they've struggled to keep up with the other Championship contenders.
Nonetheless, Burton is a driver to watch at Daytona. Back in February, he finished 8th in the Budweiser Shootout and won his Duel. He might have performed just as well in the Daytona 500, but he was taken out of the race due to engine problems and finished 36th.
Needless to say, if there was any track on which Jeff Burton could make a comeback this summer, it would be Daytona.
6. Kurt Busch
Winner of this year's Budweiser Shootout and one of the Duel races at Daytona, Kurt Busch leaves Sonoma as a winner of a road course. With that checked off the list, he now hopes to be cross off a points restrictor plate race as well.
Kurt Busch and the rest of the Penske Dodge team have a full-steam-ahead approach and seem to be picking up momentum each and every weekend.
5. Jimmie Johnson
Winner of this spring's Talladega race, Jimmie Johnson returns to Daytona—also a restrictor plate track—with one goal in mind: to win.
In 'Dega, he paired up with his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to draft throughout the race. They stuck together and eventually finished with Johnson out front, and Junior coming in behind him.
After the race, Johnson gave Junior his checkered flag and made sure the No. 88 team knew that he owed them one. He has already acknowledged that he would again be running with his teammate this weekend.
4. Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman may not prefer Daytona-type tracks, but after leading the most laps in this year's Daytona 500, he will be a close one to keep up at the front of the pack during the race.
Newman needs a win, and this could be the track for him to make a comeback.
3. Trevor Bayne
Couldn't help but include the winner from earlier this year at the same track.
2011 Daytona 500 Winner Trevor Bayne was only completing his second Sprint Cup race when he crossed the finish line first and took home the big win in February.
However, he's had a tough season since then, including several months he missed due to illness and multiple tough races on the track.
Could Daytona be his pick-up? Bayne could be a sneaky one in this weekend's race with the chance to come back and steal yet another win from the headliners.
2. Carl Edwards
Since finishing second in the 2011 Daytona 500, Carl Edwards has declared that he would not finish second again and would contend as much as possible to take home the win this time.
With that said, he's surely one to keep your eye on, and with the Ford power backing him, he'll surely be one that stays very close to the front.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As much as Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants to say that he isn't looking forward to going back to the restrictor plate track, he must admit that it provides one of his best shots to win.
Daytona International Speedway is a track dominated by the Earnhardt name, and one that Junior himself has won multiple times.
After being so close in previous weekends, this could be the one on which Dale Jr breaks his winless streak, giving the No. 88 team their first win in over 100 races.