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Driver Reports: Looking ahead to Daytona

July 01, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

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Bowyer has eyes on second place; Logano enters top 10

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 610 points.
Last week: Johnson was frustrated by his finish in the postponed-by-rain Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts, yet he gained 13 points on second-place Carl Edwards and increased his points lead to 38. It’s tough to feel sorry for Johnson when things like that happen, but then again, Johnson did lead 182 of 267 laps Sunday afternoon at Kentucky. His No. 48 was incredible, but his big slip-up was spinning out on a Lap 247 restart. Even then, Johnson managed to save his car from hitting any barrier and drove it to a ninth-place finish after restarting 24th.
What he said: “We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there. And then we were like three- and four-wide going in the corner, then something happened with the air and just kind of turned me around. Unfortunate, but at least we rallied back for a good finish. The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) broke the pace car speed, which you aren't supposed to, but, they aren't calling guys on that so I need to start trying that in the future.”
This week: In 23 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson has two wins, seven top-fives, 10 top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Daytona, Johnson ranks third out of 54 drivers with an average place of 14.4. He won the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Johnson had a couple of miserable showings at Daytona last year, leaving both races at the track early due to wrecks. In the summer race, it happened on Lap 124. A seven-car incident sent Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet spinning out of control through the grass where it punched the inside wall hard enough to send his crunched hood up over the windshield, where it remained as it was towed to the garage. Johnson finished 36th.

2. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is second in the standings with 572 points.
Last week: A different pit strategy worked at first for Edwards on Sunday. His No. 99 Ford had lost a lot of ground after starting second, so when a caution sent teams to pit road, Edwards was one of the only cars to take two tires. Everyone else took four, which allowed Edwards to exit pit road first. It caught up to him late when, on the final pit stop, everyone took two tires at a time when Edwards had old rubber. He slipped down the track over the final five laps and finished 21st.
What he said: “Man, I don’t understand what happened there. We just got back in traffic and we were terrible at the end. I thought we were really good out front when we had track position. We were really good when we were out front. There at the end I just couldn’t make anything happen. It was definitely a frustrating situation there.”
This week: In 17 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Edwards has four top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Edwards ranks fifth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 9.7. He finished 33rd in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Edwards was among a number of drivers penalized for going into pit road when it was closed late in the race -- in Edwards’ defense, he had committed to pitting when a wreck broke out, bringing out the caution. He couldn’t help but pit. Still, Edwards dropped from fourth on Lap 120 to 23rd on Lap 130. He drove his way back through the field and avoided the massive wrecks on Lap 154 and 160, the final lap, to finish sixth.

3. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is third in the standings with 569 points.
Last week: Is it time to start mentioning Bowyer’s name when discussing legitimate championship contenders? The No. 15’s performance on the track has been so consistent this year. Bowyer’s third-place finish at Kentucky matched his third-place position in the standings. Bowyer has 10 top-10s in 17 races -- and three 11th-place finishes. He doesn’t have a win, but you get the sense that’s coming at any time.
What he said: “Well, to be honest, I was blocking, hoping I was running out of laps. It was just too many to be blocking like that. I knew (Jamie McMurray) was a lot faster. I was either going to get myself wrecked or let it go, and I chose to let it go. I’m proud of the way our team is working together and keeps clicking off solid finishes. This is what we have to do this time of year and hopefully those wins will come when the time is right.”
This week: In 15 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Bowyer has two top-fives and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Daytona, Bowyer ranks seventh out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.9. He finished 11th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Bowyer’s bad luck at Daytona continued last year. He was one of 14 cars involved in a mega-wreck on Lap 154 that started when Denny Hamlin changed lanes and was drilled from behind. Running near the top 10 at the time, Bowyer finished 29th, his sixth consecutive race at the track where he finished outside the top 10.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 544 points.
Last week: Harvick was another driver to try an unconventional strategy, and it paid off for the No. 29 team more than it did for Carl Edwards. Harvick’s strategy was actually the exact opposite of Edwards … take more tires, not less. During the competition caution on Lap 30, when everybody was taking two tires, Harvick took four. He started in the back of the field, but long stretches of green-flag racing had his machine in position to pick off drivers one by one. Harvick avoided the late wrecks and finished 10th, his seventh consecutive top-10 finish.
What he said: "We were loose in and fairly free through the corners for most of the day. Kentucky Speedway is a great place to race, but gave us all we could handle on getting our Budweiser Chevrolet to grip the turns."
This week: In 24 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Harvick has two wins, five top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Harvick ranks 21st out of 54 drivers with an average place of 19.2. He finished 42nd in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: The bad: Harvick got caught up in the 15-car wreck in Turn 4 on the last lap and finished 23rd. The good: He was not injured. The great: The very next day, Harvick’s wife, DeLana, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Keelan. Harvick had Austin Dillon available as a backup driver in case his wife went into labor during or before the June 7 race. Turns out, the timing was perfect.

5. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is fifth in the standings with 528 points.
Last week: Kenseth broke a tie with points leader Jimmie Johnson for most wins on the series. His victory at Kentucky was the fourth of 2013 for the No. 20 team, and although it didn’t net Kenseth a move up the standings, it gives him control of the top seed in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- for now. On the last pit stop following a caution on Lap 242, Kenseth took fuel only. He easily beat the field off pit road and survived two restarts on old rubber. His lead maintained and in clean air, there was no catching Kenseth.
What he said: “I didn’t roll the dice, Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) did. I thought he was slightly crazy when (he called for no tires). Jason did a great job -- I didn’t think there was any way that we were going to hold on for that win. He made the right call at the right time and those guys got it done.”
This week: In 27 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, six top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Kenseth ranks second out of 54 drivers with an average place of 14.0. He finished 37th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: The 2012 Daytona 500 winner, Kenseth almost made it a sweep at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. He led 89 of 160 laps with an outstanding car, and a lot of help from then-teammate Greg Biffle in the drafting car. Kenseth was first on the green-white-checkered restart, but the combination of Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne freight-trained past the Kenseth-Biffle duo on the final lap. Kenseth finished third, wrapping up a great year at the race track.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is sixth in the standings with 512 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. won the Coors Light Pole and led three times for 11 laps Sunday. But this race was about perseverance for the No. 88 team. With a good car and a good shot at his first win in more than a year, plenty of setbacks arose. The biggest happened after Denny Hamlin blew a tire, the casing of which bounced into Earnhardt Jr.’s grille as he was leading. A massive (and quick) tape job kept Junior on the lead lap, but he had no shot at winning. Earnhardt made progress in the final 20 laps and finished 12th to move up a spot in the standings.
What he said: “You just fix it and keep going. The guys did a good job on pit road all day long working on it and trying to fix everything. I'm not sure we got everything back where it is supposed to be, but we did well enough to get a decent finish out it. Just proud of how hard the team worked. Did a good job for qualifying, and put a good car out there for the race. Can't do anything about what happened out there on the race track with that casing.”
This week: In 27 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt has two wins, 10 top-fives, 15 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Earnhardt ranks fourth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 14.5. He finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Junior was part of a Hendrick Motorsports fleet that had powerful engines, but somewhat disappointing finishes. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were caught up in various wrecks, and Earnhardt looked like he would avoid that distinction … until the very end when Junior, running in the top five, was collected. All that work, and a 15th-place finish to show for it.

7. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is seventh in the standings with 500 points.
Last week: Busch never seemed to have control of his car, yet when the race ended, there was the No. 18 Toyota chugging its way to another top-five finish. Making it more impressive is that Busch brought out the caution on Lap 43 after spinning out, but kept his car in drivable condition. Busch likely enjoyed being back on an oval after finishing 35th at Sonoma, a road course, last week. In the past five races, Busch has two fourth-place showings, a fifth and one sixth-place effort.
What he said: “We had a decent race car -- it wasn’t great. I knew unloading here that it was going to be a tough weekend and a tough race. This is the most ill-handling you’re going to have, but whoever is the least ill-handling car is going to win. We had our work cut out for us -- that’s for sure, getting spun out early and then coming back through and working hard.”
This week: In 17 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Busch has one win, five top-fives and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Daytona, Busch ranks first out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.3. He finished 34th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Busch avoided the major last-lap crash, which was good. But he was able to do so because he was a lap down after being in the crash on Lap 154, which was bad. The driver couldn’t catch a break, going from second with 10 laps to go to finishing 24th and one lap down. He’s finished outside the top 15 in three consecutive Daytona races.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is eighth in the standings with 490 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. has a reputation of being an exceptional driver on 1.5-mile tracks, and that proved to be well-earned at Kentucky. Following his first win of the season (and second of his career), Truex finished seventh on Sunday in his No. 56 Toyota. The key was taking four tires on the final pit stop when everyone else took two. He has three consecutive top-10s, with Sunday’s seventh the worst showing out of the bunch. In fives races on 1.5-mile tracks this year, Truex has two top-fives and five top-10s.
What he said: “We dodged a lot of bullets today. We didn’t have a very good car all day long. Track position was important and we got it a few times and we lost it a few times. The last stop everybody took two (tires) and our car wasn’t very good on two so we elected to take four. We were pretty far back on that restart and luckily we had two really good restarts and we were able to get some spots and then hang onto them at the end.”
This week: In 16 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Truex Jr. has one top-10 and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Truex Jr. ranks ninth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 16.1. He finished 24th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Truex has strong results on 1.5-mile tracks and road courses. On superspeedways? Not so much. Truex finished 24th last year, and his average finish at the track throughout his career is 21.4. His lone top-10 was in the 2010 Daytona 500 (sixth).

9. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is ninth in the standings with 489 points.
Last week: It wasn’t Biffle’s best day, but it also wasn’t Biffle’s fault. Brad Keselowski took a spin on Lap 48 after a healthy nudge from Kurt Busch, which sent the No. 2 down onto the apron, and then careening back onto the track. The No. 2 bounced off the high wall and slid back down the track, when Biffle absolutely blasted it in his No. 16. Not Biffle’s fault, but still, finishing 34th stings after consecutive finishes of second, first and eighth entering the weekend. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: “I have been here before. We can’t point fingers until we go back and watch the replay and analyze exactly what happened. Reality is we should have been up further, but they were wrecking up there too.”
This week: In 21 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Biffle has one win, three top-fives, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Biffle ranks 16th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 17.8. He finished sixth in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Biffle’s No. 16 Ford was among a stable of exceptional Roush Fenway Racing machines. The driver led 35 laps and was in the top five from Lap 1 to Lap 120 (of 160). Biffle was among the cars sent to the rear of the field, though, on Lap 124 when he pitted just as it was announced pit road was closed. Although the Biff worked his way back through the field and was in the top five on the green-white-checkered restart, he was caught in the last-lap wreck and finished 21st.

10. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 10th in the standings with 439 points.
Last week: Logano’s enormous natural talent shone through amid the rain clouds at Kentucky. He drove the No. 22 Ford to a fourth-place showing, giving him six consecutive races in the top 11. Logano drove through the field multiple times and, on a late restart, somehow stayed off Jimmie Johnson’s spinning No. 48 despite being within inches of him, then swerved around it at the last second to keep his spot in the top 10.| Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
Quotable: “No, I don’t think I ever touched (Jimmie). I went down there three-wide and am 95 percent sure I never touched him. It was an unfortunate deal. Once he started spinning I started checking up to not finish him off and give him a shot to save it. It happens. That is racing.”

This week:
In nine career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Logano has two top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Daytona, Logano ranks 15th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 17.6. He finished 19th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Logano avoided the massive last-lap wreck, squeezing through a tiny hole in the middle of spinning-out cars to finish fourth place. In the 2011 summer race, Logano finished third.

11. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 11th in the standings with 478 points.
Last week: Kahne had a super fast No. 5 Chevrolet, and he managed a difficult final few laps with aplomb to finish 11th. Kahne radioed to his team that something in the car “broke” late in the race; while whatever happened wasn’t enough to send the No. 5 off the track, it caused him to lose a few spots. Then again, Kahne was caught speeding on pit road earlier and managed to get back into the top 10, so it probably evens out.
This week: In 19 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Kahne has two top-fives and seven top-10s. In the past eight years at Daytona, Kahne ranks 13th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 17.4. He finished 36th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: Kahne was instrumental in pushing Tony Stewart on the restarts late in the Coke Zero 400. While Stewart went on to win, Kahne finished seventh. Kahne typically performs better in the summer race than in the Daytona 500, too. In the past seven summer races at the track, Kahne has six top-10s.

16. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 16th in the standings with 457 points.
Last week: Stewart didn’t have the best day at Kentucky, although he provided one of the best moments by diving down onto the apron and aggressively passing multiple cars during a restart. He didn’t cause a wreck in doing so, either. Stewart ended up 20th for the day, but he still holds onto the second of two Wild Card entries into the Chase. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said:
“We made a bunch of changes to the car throughout the race. When we started out, it felt like it was up on top of the race track. We needed it to get planted better. We made gains, but we eventually got it to where it was too tight into Turns 1 and 2.”
This week: In 29 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart has four wins, eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole. He is the defending race champion. In the past eight years at Daytona, Stewart ranks sixth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.3. He finished 41st in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Last year: The very nature of restrictor-plate racing makes lauding a driver as a favorite seem laughable. But, if there were to be a favorite heading into the Coke Zero 400, it’s Stewart. Stewart has won four of the past eight summer races at Daytona, including last year’s event. In 2012, Stewart started 42nd -- 42nd! -- but found himself second on the green-white-checkered restart. With a push from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, Stewart passed leader Matt Kenseth on the final lap to cross the start/finish line first as wrecked cars piled up behind him.

Five in the rearview mirror …

Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is 12th in the standings with 477 points.
Last week: Gordon’s car sure was fast at Kentucky, and after teammate Jimmie Johnson spun out on Lap 247, Gordon was fourth on the restart. The restart was chaotic with cars going four wide, and the No. 24 was in bad position and slipped to ninth. He gained one more spot and finished eighth on the day. Gordon is 12th in the standings, and is in really good shape. The veteran has no wins, but he’s two points behind 10th-place Joey Logano. Had the last restart gone a little differently, Gordon will likely be in the Chase field as it stands right now.
This week: In 41 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Gordon has six wins, 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Daytona, Gordon ranks fifth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 14.5. He finished 20th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is 13th in the standings with 465 points.
Last week: Keselowski loves Kentucky. He was the defending race winner and was running in the tripleheader this year, finishing second in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race. That’s what makes Sunday’s finish so hard to swallow. Not only did Keselowski finish 33rd, but he finished that poorly because Kurt Busch lost his handle on the apron and started a big wreck by bumping Keselowski. The defending champion has no wins, and nine races to get some -- or, at least, to get back in the top 10.
This week: In eight career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Keselowski has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Daytona, Keselowski ranks 23rd out of 54 drivers with an average place of 20.3. He finished fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 14th in the standings with 463 points.
Last week: Busch caused the defending champ to have a rotten day, but the No. 78 team had a pretty good one. Busch finished sixth at Kentucky to gain three spots in the points standings for the second consecutive week. Coincidentally, he’s closing in on points with Brad Keselowski, the man he knocked out of Sunday’s race.
This week: In 25 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Busch has 10 top-fives and 12 top-10. In the past eight years at Daytona, Busch ranks 11th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 16.7. He finished 28th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 15th in the standings with 459 points.
Last week: Menard was caught up in the Keselowski wreck, and his Chase chances might have taken a hard shot, too. Entering the race, Menard was 11th in the standings and a strong showing or two away from sliding into the top 10. Now he’s 15th and needs a bunch of excellent showings -- if not outright wins -- to get back into contention following his 30th-place finish at Kentucky.
This week: In 12 career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Menard has three top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Menard ranks 22nd out of 54 drivers with an average place of 20.1. He finished 21st in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Danica Patrick (No. 10)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Where she stands: Patrick is 27th in the standings with 197 points.
Last week: Patrick was making headlines long before her 23rd-place effort Sunday. Earlier in the week, Kyle Petty said on TV that he didn’t think Patrick was a race car driver. Danica will be in the headlines again this week, but it’s because she’s returning to Daytona, where she won the Coors Light Pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 and then finished eighth in the race. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
This week: In two career starts at Daytona International Speedway, Patrick has one top-10 and one pole. In the past eight years at Daytona, Patrick ranks 28th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 21.3. She finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500.