Weekend Preview: Daytona International Speedway

Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

With FOX Sports’ NASCAR tenure complete, the tour now returns to Daytona International Speedway for a race weekend that’ll be headlined by intense pack racing and the potential Daytona finale for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Coke Zero 400

Track: Daytona International Speedway

Race: #17 of 36

Scheduled Time of Race: Saturday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Coverage: NBC (TV), Motor Racing Network (Radio)

Race Distance: 160 laps, 400 miles

Track Length: 2.500 miles

Number of Previous Races*: 58

Number of Previous Winners*: 35

Most Wins by One Driver in This Race: Five (David Pearson: 1961, ’72, ’73-74, ’78)

Most Wins by One Driver in All Races: 10 (Richard Petty: 1964, ’66, ’71, ’73-74, ’79, ’81 (Daytona 500), ’75, ’77, ’84 (Firecracker 400)

Track Record: 210.364 mph (Bill Elliott, 1987)

Top Race Speed: 173.473 mph (Bobby Allison, 1980)

Average Number of Cautions**: 4.8

Average Number of Caution Laps**: 23.2

Defending Winner: Brad Keselowski

Entry List

*Only includes wins in this race, not all races at the facility
**Excludes caution numbers from the four 250-mile races from 1959-’62 in the interest of consistency.

Fun Facts

  • Thought traditionally held in July, the 400-mile Cup Series race was held on Oct. 17 in 1998 due to a delay caused by summer wildfires in Florida. Jeff Gordon won the event en-route to his third Cup Series championship.
  • While the Daytona 500 has mostly seen big names pull into victory lane, the summer race in Florida has provided a few surprises over the years. Sam McQuagg earned his only NASCAR win in the 1966 edition of the race. Others that earned their first (and sometimes only) win in the 400-miler include Greg Sacks, Jimmy Spencer, John Andretti, David Ragan and, most recently, Aric Almirola.
  • Both Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt can each boast a Daytona 500 win, but only Foyt has victories in the summer race. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner claimed two Firecracker 400s in 1964 and ’65.

Storylines

Daytona International Speedway has fostered the highest of highs and lowest of lows in Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s career. (Photo: Johnathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Dale’s Last Daytona – While it may not prove true should he return for the Daytona 500 someday, on paper it appears Saturday will make Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s last race at Daytona. Given that, the annual summer showdown is bound to bring with it a hint of bittersweet nostalgia, with fans and media alike reflecting on the history of the Earnhardt name on NASCAR’s hallowed ground.

Daytona’s been the biggest showcase for the Earnhardt family for nearly four decades. From the elder Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 win and his tragic passing after a crash in the 2001 race, to the emotional triumph of his son just five months later at the same facility, and the litany of additional wins that followed over the next 16 years, the Earnhardt name has both gained and lost everything in its trips through Daytona Beach, Florida.

But all good things must come to an end, and while Jeffrey Earnhardt may continue the Earnhardt tradition on to future Daytona starts, it’ll be this final race for Dale Jr. that likely signals the symbolic end of the family’s strongest era at the sport’s marquee facility.

Recently married and preparing for retirement, the two-time Daytona 500 champion will arrive at the 2.5-mile oval looking for a win to help him salvage a torrid season with an automatic playoff berth. But whether he succeeds or not, the weekend promises to foster equal parts tears and smiles, as the Daytona faithful cheer their prodigal son on one last time.

Fresh Rubber – For the first time in four years, Goodyear Racing is bringing a new tire to compete at Daytona.

The company will bring a new tire compound to Daytona for both series competing this weekend after completing a successful tire test at on the superspeedway on April 12.

What effects the tires will bring remains to be seen, but regardless they ensure another curveball for the many teams in the NASCAR paddock looking to gain an advantage.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

(Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Race: Coca-Cola Firecracker 250

Track: Daytona International Speedway

Race: #15 of 33

Scheduled Time of Race: Friday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Coverage: NBCSN (TV), Motor Racing Network (Radio)

Race Distance: 100 laps, 250 miles

Track Length: 2.500 miles

Number of Previous Races*: 15

Number of Previous Winners*: 13

Most Wins by One Driver in This Race*: Three (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: 2003, ’06, ’10)

Most Wins by One Driver in All Races: Seven (Dale Earnhardt: 1982, ’86, ’90-94, Tony Stewart: 2005-’06, ’08-11, ’13)

Track Record: 177.162 mph (Tony Stewart, 2013)

Top Race Speed: 157.012 mph (Kasey Kahne, 2004)

Average Number of Cautions*: 5.3

Average Number of Caution Laps*: 20.6

Defending Winner: Aric Almirola

Entry List

*Only includes this race, not all races at the facility

Fun Facts: 

  • While the Feb. XFINITY Series race has seen many different winners at Daytona, only one driver – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – had tallied multiple wins in the summer event.
  • Only two XFINITY-only drivers have ever won the Firecracker 250 – Mike Wallace in 2004, and Martin Truex, Jr. one year later in 2005.
  • Defending winner Ford has only two XFINITY Series wins in the Daytona summer race, and neither are from Team Penske. Instead, it’s Fred Biagi who can claim both victories, with Wallace in the aforementioned ’04 race, and with Almirola under the Biagi-Denbeste Racing banner in 2016.
  • Despite being 150 miles shorter, the Firecracker 250 averages .5 more cautions per race than its Cup Series counterpart. Yet, somehow the race averages 2.6 fewer caution laps.

Storylines

Opportunity – If the saying that any team can win with the right setup on a restrictor-plate race proves true, then the XFINITY Series garage area should be filled with hope come Friday evening.

With the new points system implemented for 2017, series regulars are rewarded for both stage and race victories with crucial playoff points and – in the case of a race win – an automatic berth into the playoffs. However, while both Cup and the Camping World Truck Series have seen multiple drivers with double-digit playoff point totals, the Cup-dominated XFINITY Series has yet to see anyone earn more than seven.

Given that, a chaotic race such as Daytona offers a unique opportunity to gain an advantage on the field.

Ryan Reed did just that in Feb., surging late to claim his second Daytona win, and the five playoff points and near-certain postseason berth that come with it.

Repeating Reed’s feat won’t be easy – no XFINITY Series regular’s managed a July Daytona win since 2005 – but the opportunity is out there for teams that are willing to chase it. Expect to see an aggressive field come Friday night.

Feb.’s PowerShares QQQ 300 proved expensive for car owners, with a litany of crashes throughout the race. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

A War of Attrition – If there’s one thing that the new stage racing has brought in spades, it’s aggression – particularly on restrictor plate tracks.

The season-opening race at Daytona race was a chaotic affair, marred by 10 cautions that saw the field slowed for 42 of the event’s 124 laps. Only 20 cars made it to the end of the race, with many contenders and series regulars crashing out far before the finish.

With 50 fewer miles to work with and everything to gain, Friday’s 250-mile race promises to bring, at the minimum, the same tension and sense of urgency seen in Feb.

The field will be tightly packed together in the draft, so one wrong move from anyone could spoil the night for a dozen or more of their surrounding competitors.

While it’s not a given, the odds are high that many of the 40 drivers in the starting field will suffer the same expensive fate 20 teams did in Feb. If that proves true, any teams that can survive the carnage could be set for a surprising result.

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