New spoiler, more horsepower could set off early fireworks at Daytona

Normally, it’s wise to break down what happened during the final practice sessions to get the best read on who the best candidates are to do well for each NASCAR Sprint Cup race. This week at Daytona, the practice times should garner only a small glance. Throw the time sheets out the window — they’re irrelevant and have little bearing on what will happen in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.
In four of the 36 races a year, the practice times are of little use in handicapping and that’s because the two races each at Daytona and Talladega use restrictor plates. The plates change the handicapping equation because it takes away much of the advantage that some of the top teams have week to week due of the volatile nature of this track. 
The aerodynamics of the draft are everything on the 2.5-mile high banked track of Daytona and depending when, where and who a driver drafts with while they’re bunched up determines each cars individual speed. Just about anyone can have the fastest lap if they’re hooked up with the right group of cars and there was no better example than Thursday’s happy hour when Robby Gordon, who is 32nd in points, had the fastest lap of the day.
So where does that leave us and what formula should be used to sift through all the drivers to find the top candidates to win Saturday?
The best thing to do is go back and look at what happened in the Daytona 500 from February and then mix in a little Talladega from April. Even though Talladega and Daytona both use restrictor plates, they are vastly different from the standpoint that Daytona requires a car that handles very well while at Talladega, handling is of little concern and drivers can just mash the pedal and drive. However, Talladega’s reference of help this week is enhanced more than ever just because of the information gained by teams from the new spoiler.
This will be the first race run at Daytona with the new spoiler which looks to be giving the cars more grip in the turns with more drag on the straight-aways. It’s quite possible that we’ll see more of the sling shot moves coming off of turns like we used to see from the good old days of stock car racing, and similar to what we saw Kevin Harvick do to Jamie McMurray on the last turn at Talladega this year.
This week will also feature slightly larger holes in the restrictor plates which will drastically change the throttle response of what every driver on tour has been used to while driving in the Cup series. The driver will no longer feel like they’re driving a Yugo on an inclined highway. The larger holes in the plate is expected to give about 40 more horse power to each car.
There was no more evidence needed to show just how different the cars felt for the drivers than watching several of them wreck during Thursday‘s practices. At least seven drivers will be forced to use their back-ups with a few others having minor damages.
If looking at what happened at Daytona and Talladega already this season, you’ll see there are several drivers who did well in each. Of the top-15 finishers at Daytona, 10 of those finished in the top-15 at Talladega which is a very strong correlation. One of the drivers who dominated at Talladega didn‘t even make the list. Jeff Burton finished 11th at Daytona and led the most laps at Talladega but was involved in a late accident.
The two major surprises who didn’t make either top-15 list were Hendrick teammates, and rivals, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson which comes as a major shock just because of how dominating they were in restrictor plate races just three seasons ago. Gordon has six wins at Daytona while Johnson captured two plate wins in 2006, including the Daytona 500.
What is surprising about the Gordon and Johnson teams not faring well in these type of races this season is that their winless teammates, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr, have done just the opposite. Martin and Earnhardt Jr. both are drivers that finished in the top-15 for both plates races this year. Earnhardt Jr almost ended a horrendous winless slump by parting the seas of the draft to a runner-up finish at Daytona while Martin had a strong fifth-place run at Talladega. The two drivers share a garage at the Hendrick facility and it’s apparent that they are much better than the Gordon and Johnson teams in plate races, but would likely trade their success in these races for some of the good info in the 32 other races like their teammates have.
Earnhardt Jr is only three points out of the 12th and final position for the chase — with nine races to go — and he’s coming into this race with his best successions of runs this season having finished 11th or better in the last three. Look for Junior’s focus to be better than ever for this race as looks at the larger picture, while also trying to end his two year winless streak.
The two drivers who look to be the ones to beat are the ones that have dominated both plate races this year. Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 and finished runner-up at Talladega, while Kevin Harvick led the most laps at Daytona and won at Talladega. Harvick also won this years Bud Shootout and was nipped at the line at one of the Gatorade qualifying races at Daytona.
The teammates of Harvick and McMurray have also been pretty solid as well with Clint Bowyer and Juan Montoya also finishing in the top-15 of both. Montoya finished third at Talladega and has learned the difficult nuances of how the air works in the draft rather quickly.
Kyle Busch led at both plate races this season and also finished in the top-15 of both. He has arguably had the best plate car on the circuit since he’s been affiliated with Joe Gibbs beginning in 2008, the year he won at both Daytona and Talladega. Last season in this race, it looked like his race to lose and he did. He battled back to nearly catch Tony Stewart close to the finish line, created contact, and got sent spinning into the wall taking away what would have been a solid second-place finish and turned it into 14th-place.
Tony Stewart has always been known as one of the best plate drivers and has won the summer Daytona race three times, but hasn’t had any success this season with the plates on. The question with Stewart this week is if you want to doubt him, because he is currently on a tear. June has always his best month where he makes his real push for the Championship. In his last four races he has had three top-five finishes with the other being a ninth-place run at Sonoma.
Roush-Fenway Racing has won two of the last six Daytona races and have been more competitive than ever over the last four seasons of plate racing. Carl Edwards is one of the drivers to have top-15 finishes in both plate races this season, but the driver look at this week from the Roush stable is Greg Biffle who will be using the same chassis that led 27 laps and finished third in the Daytona 500. Also, Biffle won for the first time in his career at this race back in 2003.
All eight Ford’s from the Roush and Petty organizations will be running the new FR-9 engine as they did at Talladega. There has been some reluctance in using the engine, especially after watching Kasey Kahne’s engine blow up last week during a great run, but they should be fine with the restrictor-plates on.
Michael Waltrip Racing has two drivers that both finished within the top-15 in each plate race this season. David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr finished fifth and sixth respectively in the Daytona 500 and then 14th and 12th at Talladega in April. It should come as no surprise that Waltrip would look to have an emphasis put on his restrictor-plate program since those were the only tracks he ever won on during his own career.         
A lot a crazy and wild things can happen in plate races which is why match-ups bettors in Las Vegas shy away from wagering on the driver vs. driver two-way option and focus more on odds to win. When betting match-ups, players like to bet with consistent drivers, but that strategy is thrown out the window here because your driver with the best car can be wiped out more so than any other without his own doing which throws out the handicappers edge.
With all the changes in the cars and the drivers not being fully comfortable with those changes, there are bound to be more cautions than usual. It wouldn’t be a shock to see a long shot win this race just because there might be a shortage of cars on the lead lap. Expect a lot of wrecks followed by all kinds of fireworks after the race as there are sure to be a few drivers upset.
Have a great Independence Day and good luck in the race!
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of my top rated drivers on how well they will do in the race based on the following criteria:
• Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
• Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team, good or bad
• Driver tendencies at certain tracks
• Recent and overall histories for each driver at each track
• Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car — or bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.

Micah Roberts Top 10 Driver Ratings
Coke Zero 400
Daytona International Speedway
Saturday, July 3, 2010 – 4:49 pm (PDT)
Rating    Driver     Odds       Practice 1   Practice 2    Daytona 500*  Aaron’s 499*        
 1. Kevin Harvick 10/1              13th           22nd             7th                    1st
Using same from Daytona 500 that led the most laps. Won 2010 Bud Shootout at Daytona.
 2. Jamie McMurray 15/1         21st           N/A               1st                    2nd
Best combined plate race finishes in 2010 with a win and runner-up; three career plate wins. 
 3. Kyle Busch 10/1                  11th           25th             14th                   9th
Two career plate wins in career coming in 2008. Using back-up car after wreck in Thursday practice. 
 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr 12/1        30th           29th               2nd                  13th
Seven career plate wins; last coming in 2004. Using Talladega Chassis that finished 12th.
 5. Greg Biffle 30/1                    7th            2nd               3rd                   17th
Won first Cup race ever at Daytona in 2003. Using chassis that led 27 laps in Daytona 500.
 6. Juan Pablo Montoya 20/1    22nd          10th              10th                  3rd   
Two straight top-10 finishes at Daytona. Using 10th-place Chassis from Daytona 500.
 7. Kurt Busch 15/1                   9th            21st              14th                  8th 
Best Driver to have never won a plate race. Four straight top-five finishes in summer Daytona race.
 8. Jeff Burton 15/1                   8th           12th               11th                  32nd
Won this race in 2000; will be using new chassis this week. Led most laps at Talladega in April.
 9. Clint Bowyer 15/1                 2nd            6th               4th                    7th 
Active leader in career average finish of 12.3 at Daytona. Debuts new chassis this week.
10. Tony Stewart 10/1               5th            30th              22nd                16th
Three time winner of this race including last year. Coming in hot with four straight top-10’s.
Race Lineup will be set by drivers points due to qualifying rain out.
* Daytona 500 results from February and Talladega Results from April relevant because there are only four restrictor plate races a season.
Note: This is the first race at Daytona using the new spoiler; it was used at Talladega.
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.
Micah Roberts, a former race and sports Director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He currently writes for multiple publications covering all sports. He can be reached at
GREG BIFFLE FOLLOWING THURSDAY PRACTICE ON THE DIFFERENCES WITH THE NEW, BIGGER RESTRICTOR-PLATE: “Yeah, I think it’s tremendously faster. It’s a lot faster. I didn’t look at the lap time exactly, but Erwin told me it was about a second faster. You can kind of feel the sensation of speed inside the car that we’re running a little bit faster.”
JEFF GORDON ON WHO LOOKS TO BE THE DRIVER TO BEAT IN PLATE RACES:  “I mean right now Jaime McMurray looks like the best out here.  The guy is always at the front and he has won quite a few.  I don’t know if it’s just this style of racing fits his style but he certainly has a knack for being up there.  I really don’t see how anyone has a huge advantage and this weekend it’s going to be who is handling the best because it’s going to be slick and your car driving good is going to mean a lot.”
KURT BUSCH ON HIS APPROACH TO PLATE RACING AFTER HAVING COME SO CLOSE TO WINNING: “The approach that I’ve taken over the years is more of a defensive approach as far as gathering a good finish.  Whether somebody jumps out of line and I try to fill that hole and stay with the lead draft, that’s more of what I’ve done in the past and it’s produced comfortable results.  The times that I’ve jumped out of line and gone for the win, I end up finishing 18th or 20th or even like at Talladega when I was running sixth with a lap and a half to go, I saw my teammate behind me on the outside lane, I jump out in-front of him, boom, I got hit so hard that I couldn’t hold on to the wheel and wrecked the car and finished 35th."
Compliled by NASCAR Media Services
·         Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd.
·         The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, 1959.
·         Richard Petty won his 200th career race on July 4, 1984 at Daytona.
·         Lights were installed in the spring of 1998. However, the race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under lights ever since.
·         There have been 126 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 52 have been 500 miles, 47 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were points races.
·         Fireball Roberts won the inaugural pole at Daytona.
·         Bob Welborn won the first race at Daytona, the 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500.
·         Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959.
·         Fireball Roberts won the first 400-mile race at Daytona, the 1963 Firecracker 400.
·         52 drivers have posted poles; 20 have more than one.
·         Cale Yarborough leads all drivers with 12 poles.
·         Bill Elliott leads all active drivers with five poles.
·         54 drivers have won a race; 25 have won more than once.
·         Richard Petty leads all drivers in victories with 10.
·         Jeff Gordon has six victories, more than any other active driver.
·         The Wood Brothers have won 14 races at Daytona, more than any other car owner.
·         16 full-length races at Daytona have been won from the pole, including last year’s Coke Zero 400, won by polesitter Tony Stewart.
·         A driver has swept both races at Daytona only four times, most recently by Bobby Allison in 1982.
·         The last nine Daytona races that finished under green have had a margin of victory under a half second.
NASCAR in Florida
·         There have been 163 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Florida.
·         157 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Florida.
·         There have been nine race winners from Florida in NASCAR’s three national series:
Driver    NSCS    NNS    NCTS
Fireball Roberts    33    0    0
LeeRoy Yarbrough    14    0    0
Marshall Teague    7    0    0
Joe Nemechek    4    16    0
Bobby Johns    2    0    0
David Reutimann    1    1    1
Shorty Rollins    1    0    0
Rick Wilson    0    2    0
Aric Almirola    0    1    2
Race #: 18 of 36 (7-3-10)
Track Size: 2.5 miles
Race Length: 500 miles (200 laps)
Banking/Corners: 31 degrees
Banking/Straights: 3 degrees
Banking/Tri-Oval: 18 degrees
Driver Rating at Daytona
Tony Stewart                 104.5
Kyle Busch                   100.6
Matt Kenseth                 93.4
Kurt Busch                    92.7
Jimmie Johnson            91.8
Jeff Gordon                  91.5
Clint Bowyer                  88.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.         87.7
Kevin Harvick                85.4
Carl Edwards                84.0
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2010 races (11 total) at Daytona.
Qualifying/Race Data
2009 pole winner: None (inclement weather)
2009 race winner: Tony Stewart (142.461 mph, 7-4-09)
Qualifying record: Bill Elliott (210.364 mph, 42.783 secs., 2-9-87)
Race record: Bobby Allison (173.473 mph, 7-4-80)
Estimated Pit Window: 36-38 laps depending on fuel mileage




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