News & Media


Driver Reports: Previewing the Daytona race

July 04, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Earnhardt Jr. eyes sweep; can winless driver jumble Chase field?

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Editor's note: Driver Reports includes the 16 drivers currently in the Chase field, ranked in order of the current points standings.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 618 points.
Current Chase seed: 7
Past five races: 6th at Kentucky, 2nd at Sonoma, 6th at Michigan, 8th at Pocono, 15th at Dover.
Season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 13 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Gordon's average finish is 19.6 and his average running position is 14.5 over the past nine years. In 43 career starts at Daytona, he has six wins, 13 top-five, 20 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Gordon's fourth-place run in the Daytona 500 earlier this season snapped a four-race skid of finishing outside the top 10 at the track, a stretch that also included two results outside the top 30. A Chevrolet has won four consecutive races at the 2.5-mile track and Hendrick engines are awfully reliable. It's a combination that could result in another strong effort for the No. 24 team.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is second in the standings with 594 points.
Current Chase seed: 1
Past five races: 10th at Kentucky, 6th at Sonoma, 1st at Michigan, 6th at Pocono, 1st at Dover.
Season stats: 3 wins, 6 top-fives, 12 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Johnson's average finish is 19.7 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past nine years. In 25 career starts at Daytona, he has three wins, nine top-five, 12 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: One year after sweeping the Daytona races, Johnson can't accomplish that heralded feat again. But he can complete the season with two top-fives at the track, and that's the goal as he looks to continue his three-race streak of success after a three-year stretch of futility on the high banks.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is third in the standings with 594 points.
Current Chase seed: 2
Past five races: 5th at Kentucky, 3rd at Sonoma, 7th at Michigan, 1st at Pocono, 9th at Dover.
Season stats: 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 12 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 13.4 and his average running position is 14.0 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Daytona, he has three wins, 11 top-fives, 17 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Junior is attempting to become the second driver in consecutive seasons -- and sixth in NASCAR history -- to sweep the two Daytona races. Jimmie Johnson accomplished the feat last year, possibly setting up his Hendrick Motorsports teammate to keep the trend going in-house. It's a realistic expectation. The No. 88 was sparkling in the Daytona 500, and it was among the best cars at Talladega before being foiled by pit strategy. The team won't make that mistake again.

4. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is fourth in the standings with 560 points.
Current Chase seed: 3
Past five races: 1st at Kentucky, 22nd at Sonoma, 3rd at Michigan, 2nd at Pocono, 2nd at Dover.
Season stats: 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Keselowski's average finish is 20.2 and his average running position is 18.5 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Daytona, he has two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Keselowski's Daytona success has all come in the past four races, a span in which his average finish is 9.0. He's finished every lap during that span after crashing out of three of the previous four events at the track. Expect Keselowski to again stay out of trouble -- and again be toward the front when the white flag drops.

5. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is fifth in the standings with 555 points.
Current Chase seed: 11
Past five races: 4th at Kentucky, 42nd at Sonoma, 14th at Michigan, 25th at Pocono, 3rd at Dover.
Season stats: 6 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Kenseth's average finish is 15.4 and his average running position is 13.8 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Daytona, he has two wins, six top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Kenseth's best days at Daytona came while driving a Ford for Jack Roush. He showed plenty of power in this year's 500, though, coming across the line sixth after finishing outside the top 30 in both 2013 races. A Toyota hasn't been to Victory Lane at Daytona since 2008, a span of 11 races, a streak Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have a shot at ending.

6. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is sixth in the standings with 536 points.
Current Chase seed: 4
Past five races: 17th at Kentucky, 1st at Sonoma, 23rd at Michigan, 41st at Pocono, 14th at Dover.
Season stats: 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Edwards' average finish is 18.1 and his average running position is 17.6 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Daytona, he has four top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Edwards' once lengthy stretch of outstanding Daytona performances is a thing of the past. His average finish since 2013 is 26.3, with a best showing of 17th earlier this year. One reason for hope: Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned top-10s in the 2014 Daytona 500, so perhaps Saturday night will be Edwards' time to rise.

7. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is seventh in the standings with 519 points.
Current Chase seed: 5
Past five races: 9th at Kentucky, 16th at Sonoma, 9th at Michigan, 40th at Pocono, 8th at Dover.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Logano's average finish is 20.0 and his average running position is 18.0 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at Daytona, he has two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Logano hasn't experienced the same success at Daytona with Team Penske as he did with Joe Gibbs Racing, but he's starting to come around. An 11th-place finish in February marked his best performance at this track in the No. 22 Ford, and he had an exceptional car at restrictor-plate track Talladega before getting caught up in a wreck.

8. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is eighth in the standings with 514 points.
Current Chase seed: 12
Past five races: 3rd at Kentucky, 11th at Sonoma, 15th at Michigan, 7th at Pocono, 31st at Dover.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Newman's average finish is 19.0 and his average running position is 18.3 over the past nine years. In 25 career starts at Daytona, he has one win, four top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Newman leads a Richard Childress Racing operation into Daytona, a track at which the organization underperformed in February. Despite having powerful engines and seeing two of its three drivers lead laps -- and one, Austin Dillon, start on the pole -- no driver was in contention for the win late. Does that change Saturday? Going 400 miles instead of 500 won't hurt, and Newman's record over the past four races here (two top-fives, three top-10s) is reason for optimism.

9. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is ninth in the standings with 509 points.
Current Chase seed: 6
Past five races: 7th at Kentucky, 20th at Sonoma, 2nd at Michigan, 14th at Pocono, 17th at Dover.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Harvick's average finish is 16.3 and his average running position is 19.4 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Daytona, he has two wins, six top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Given his 13th-place run at the Daytona 500 in February and a top-10 at Talladega earlier this year, the No. 4 car will be among the best come Saturday night. The speed will be there, and it's up to the crew to make sure the setup is, too, considering how much the surface at Daytona changes from February to the heat of July.

10. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is 10th in the standings with 508 points.
Current Chase seed: 8
Past five races: 2nd at Kentucky, 25th at Sonoma, 41st at Michigan, 12th at Pocono, 42nd at Dover.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Daytona, Busch's average finish is 18.6 and his average running position is 12.6 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Daytona, he has one win, five top-fives, six top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: No one needed a strong run at Kentucky more than Busch, who had finished 25th or worse in three of the previous four races. Now he needs to get back on track at Daytona. Busch won the summer race in 2008, and he's finished better at Daytona in July than in February in seven out of nine career chances.

11. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 11th in the standings with 488 points.
Current Chase seed: 13
Past five races: 15th at Kentucky, 5th at Sonoma, 4th at Michigan, 26th at Pocono, 10th at Dover.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 9 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Menard's average finish is 20.2 and his average running position is 21.0 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Among the winless drivers who can essentially punch their Chase ticket with a victory on Saturday, Menard may be the best equipped to do so. He qualified 10th for the 500 and finished sixth at Talladega, so you know his No. 27 Chevrolet is going to have speed. Some sort of pit-road gamble may be in store if the team is close at the end.

12. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 12th in the standings with 474 points.
Current Chase seed: 14
Past five races: 40th at Kentucky, 28th at Sonoma, 8th at Michigan, 5th at Pocono, 11th at Dover.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Larson's average finish is 38.0 and his average running position is 38.6. In one career start at Daytona, he finished 38th in the 2014 Daytona 500.
Quick hit: Keep an eye on Larson come Saturday night. This is the first track the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits for the second time this season. We'll see just how much Larson learned from the 500, although track conditions will be much different. Expect a better showing than his 38th-place run in the 500 -- much better.

13. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 13th in the standings with 474 points.
Current Chase seed: 15
Past five races: 14th at Kentucky, 9th at Sonoma, 20th at Michigan, 16th at Pocono, 38th at Dover.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Biffle's average finish is 19.8 and his average running position is 17.8 over the past nine years. In 23 career starts at Daytona, he has one win, three top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Biffle is in a snug spot. He's on the bubble of the Chase standings, and can't afford to see a first-time 2014 winner in Victory Lane on Saturday. Unless, of course, that 2014 first-time winner is Biffle himself. Considering the No. 16 was eighth in the 500 and second at Talladega, the possibility is there.

14. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota

Standing: Bowyer is 14th in the standings with 473 points.
Current Chase seed: 16
Past five races: 23rd at Kentucky, 10th at Sonoma, 10th at Michigan, 11th at Pocono, 4th at Dover.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Bowyer's average finish is 16.4 and his average running position is 17.3 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Bowyer remains in the Chase standings for now, despite a 23rd-place finish at Kentucky last week. It really can't get worse for the veteran at Daytona, where he finished 42nd in February after his engine blew up. Just finishing the race and getting points is crucial, and the No. 15 team can reassess its position in the standings before New Hampshire.

17. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 17th in the standings with 455 points.
Current Chase seed: 9
Past five races: 42nd at Kentucky, 26th at Sonoma, 29th at Michigan, 4th at Pocono, 5th at Dover.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Daytona, Hamlin's average finish is 20.4 and his average running position is 16.1 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Boy, that Talladega win takes on an added importance every week. Right now, it's the only thing keeping Hamlin in the postseason. But it's also something that points to the potential of a big weekend for the No. 11 team. A win at Talladega? A runner-up finish in the 500? Clearly Hamlin's crew has figured out the way to make a fantastic restrictor-plate car this year.

26. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 26th in the standings with 379 points.
Current Chase seed: 10
Past five races: 12th at Kentucky, 12th at Sonoma, 13th at Michigan, 3rd at Pocono, 18th at Dover.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Daytona, Busch's average finish is 17.0 and his average running position is 16.1 over the past nine years. In 27 career starts at Daytona, he has 10 top-fives, 13 top-10s.
Quick hit: A five-week stretch of consistency has rocketed Busch … exactly two places up the standings. It just illustrates how poor of a run this group had to start the season. Busch has never won at a restrictor-track plate, which is odd considering he ranks in the top 10 of both average finish and average running position over the past nine years at Daytona.