NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 01: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Patriotic Chevrolet, Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Credit: 320040Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet, Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

2016 Logos

2016 Logos

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola
Daytona International Speedway Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)
Saturday, July 2 7:45 p.m. ET TV: NBC, 7 p.m.
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola
Daytona International Speedway Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)
Friday, July 1 7:30 p.m. ET TV: NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up in Your Truck 225
Kentucky Speedway Distance: 225 miles (150 laps)
Thursday, July 7 8:30 p.m. ET TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

2016 July 1 319322

Smoke Show: Stewart Fires Up Win At Sonoma

Even Smokey the Bear couldn’t have prevented the fire performance Tony Stewart produced in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350.

Stewart, who paced the field for 22 circuits, lost the lead to Denny Hamlin on the final lap, but moved him off the 11th turn to win his first race since June 2, 2013 at Dover – 110 events ago. The triumph marked Stewart’s first win in 84 starts.

Now with 49 career wins, Stewart will attempt to notch his milestone 50th victory – arguably NASCAR’s equivalent to 3,000 hits or 500 home runs – in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion’s four Daytona wins are tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s title for the most among active drivers. All of Stewart’s Daytona victories have come in its summer race. His 369 laps led in July at Daytona are the most by an active driver.

Importantly for Stewart, who’s in his final season, the Sonoma win assures he can make a run at his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. Right now, he is only nine points behind 30th-place Brian Scott in the series standings, the minimum position to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kyle Busch made the Chase last season – and won the championship – after facing a 136-point deficit to 30th following his first win of the year at Sonoma.

There is the chance Stewart could race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in his final race – the Championship 4 at Homestead – like Jeff Gordon did last year.

Coincidentally … or not … Stewart’s 2016 season currently parallels his 2011 championship campaign. He’s competed in races nine through 16 this season, recording an average finish of 17.125. In races nine through 16 in 2011, he logged the same exact average finish. The only difference between the two stretches is 2011 included Darlington, while 2016 contained Talladega instead.

A 50th win would tie Stewart with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 11th on the all-time list. Every eligible driver with as many wins as Stewart is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

This Is Dale’s Town: Earnhardt Eyes First Win Of Season At One Of His Top Tracks

Only one of the 11 active drivers who visited Victory Lane last year has yet to win so far in 2016 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The restrictor-plate ace – and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader in runner-ups, with four – gets his next best shot at a win in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway.

Earnhardt ranks tied with Tony Stewart for the active wins lead (4) at “The Birthplace of Speed.” On restrictor-plate tracks, Earnhardt boasts double the victories of the next-closest drivers – Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, who both have five. Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Michael Waltrip each claim four restrictor-plate victories.

The No. 88 Chevrolet driver also paces all active drivers in top fives (13), top 10s (19) and average finish (13.4) at Daytona (33 starts). He owns the second-best driver rating (95.3) and average running position (13.618).

Right now, Earnhardt sits 12th on the Chase Grid, 39 points ahead of Ryan Blaney on the cutoff line.

An Earnhardt win would give Hendrick Motorsports 14 victories at Daytona, tying it with Wood Brothers Racing for the most wins at Daytona.

Earnhardt will be without his famed superspeedway car, “Amelia,” which he piloted to two victories in 2015 (Talladega-1, Daytona-2), along with a third (Daytona 500) and runner-up (Talladega-2). The 13-time most popular driver wrecked “Amelia” in this year’s Daytona 500 where he finished 36th and crashed her for good in the Talladega spring race where he placed 40th.

It’s Hamlin Time: Denny Hopes He Can’t Be Touched As He Vies For Daytona Sweep

Following a slip-up on the final lap at Sonoma that allowed Tony Stewart to pass him for the win, 2016 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin hopes his luck changes when he attempts to become the sixth driver to sweep the races at “The World Center of Racing.”

The five drivers who have achieved the feat are Jimmie Johnson (2013), Bobby Allison (1982), LeeRoy Yarborough (1969), Cale Yarborough (1968) and Fireball Roberts (1962).

In 21 starts at Daytona, Hamlin owns one win, six top fives and seven top 10s. Among active drivers, he ranks third in Daytona driver rating (91.5) and fourth in average running position (14.4).

He has finished sixth or better in his last five races at the 2.5-mile track. (Hint, hint… pick Hamlin if you play fantasy NASCAR)

I’ma Let You Finish: Daytona Has Had Some Close Margins Of Victory

Denny Hamlin’s win over second-place Martin Truex Jr. in this year’s Daytona 500 (.010 seconds) was the closest margin victory in the race’s history and tied for the seventh-closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record books since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993.

Overall, it was the third-closest finish in Daytona International Speedway behind the 2007 Daytona summer race (Jamie McMurray over Kyle Busch, .005, tied for third all-time) and the 1994 Daytona summer race (Jimmy Spencer over Ernie Irvan, .008, sixth all-time).

10 To Go: Wins In High Demand With Time Running Out In Regular Season

With 10 races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, only five berths remain for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Wins are in high demand with time running out for drivers to solidify their spots in the Chase or steal a bid from afar.

Below are the remaining tracks and the winless drivers who have visited Victory Lane at them:

Daytona: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, David Ragan

Kentucky: None

New Hampshire: Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne

Indianapolis: Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman

Pocono: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman

Watkins Glen: AJ Allmendinger

Bristol: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Michigan: Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne

Darlington: Greg Biffle

Richmond: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 01: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Credit: 320037Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

NASCAR XFINITY SERIES

2016 July 3 319323

NASCAR XFINITY Series Salutes U.S. Military Units With Tribute At Daytona
In a show of appreciation for the United States Armed Forces, NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers will bear the names of active military units and installations on their race car windshields during Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

NASCAR: An American Salute™ (#NASCARSalutes) is the industry’s collective expression of reverence, respect and gratitude for those who have served and continue to defend the United States today.

“NASCAR’s long-standing tradition of honoring the U.S. Armed Forces will never waver – it is woven into the fabric of our sport,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. “We have a unique opportunity with the NASCAR XFINITY Series to pay tribute to the military units and bases integral to preserving our country’s freedom.”

50th Running At Daytona Has XFINITY Series Excited To Return
The World Center of Racing is nestled in Daytona Beach, Florida and the 2.5-miles of asphalt banked at 31 degrees in the turns welcomes the NASCAR XFINITY Series for the 50th series race at Daytona — the Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola.

The series has competed at Daytona International Speedway 49 times producing 36 different pole winners; led by Joe Nemechek with five. Also during those 49 races, the series has witnessed 25 different drivers enjoying the spoils of victory, led by Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart with seven wins each.

With 14 races in the books this season, the series has seen 10 different winners and six different pole winners. Chase Elliott, the 2014 series champ, won the season-opener at Daytona, and will return to defend his win in the JR Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro.

The series started racing two events per season at Daytona in 2002, and since then only one driver has been able to sweep both races – Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2003. Elliott is looking to become the second driver in the series to sweep both races at Daytona this weekend, joining his car owner.

Elliott has made five starts at Daytona, posting one win (2016 season opener), two top fives and an average finish of 13.4.

Jet Setting: Suárez Visits South Florida On His Way To Daytona
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suárez is garnering a lot of attention lately, and rightfully so. The Monterrey, Mexico, native not only leads the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings, but he also recently won his first career national series race, locking himself into the Chase. With all that is going for him, Suárez made time to visit with media in South Florida this week as he prepares for Daytona.

Suárez’s recent accolades are impressive by any standard. He graduated from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs before winning NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors last season. A few weeks ago, he became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series race when he pulled into Victory Lane a Michigan International Speedway.

Heading into Daytona this weekend, Suárez holds a 21-point lead over second-place Elliott Sadler and a 35-point advantage over third-place Ty Dillon in the series standings.

In 14 starts this season, Suárez has posted one pole, one win, six top fives and 12 top 10s (tied with Sadler for series-most). In three starts at Daytona he has posted one pole and one top 10 – an eighth-place finish earlier this season.

Sadler’s Restrictor-Plate Skills Could Bring Him Second Win Of the Season
JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler currently sits second in the standings with a gap of 21 points between he and standings leader Daniel Suárez. Sadler can close that points gap this weekend with a win at Daytona.

The JRM veteran captured his lone win this season at Daytona’s sister track, Talladega Superspeedway. Not to mention, his teammate Chase Elliott won at Daytona earlier this season, proving the JR Motorsports Chevrolet power plant has some steam.

But it’s been Sadler’s skills in the draft that has his 14 starts at Daytona yielding five top fives and seven top 10s. His average finish at Daytona is 14.5 (fifth-best among active drivers). He finished runner-up in this event last season.

Dillon Brothers Both Have A Chance At The Checkered
Richard Childress Racing has the second-most series wins (six) at Daytona International Speedway, and this weekend the Dillon brothers look to add to the total.

The elder of the two Dillon brothers, Austin, won this event last season by taking the lead with eight laps to go and never relinquishing it. This weekend, Austin can make it back-to-back July race victories as he will be wheeling the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro. It won’t be easy for Dillon to accomplish though; the last nine series July races at Daytona have seen nine different winners.

Austin Dillon has made seven series starts at Daytona, posting two poles, one win (2015), six top fives and an average finish of 6.4 (series-best).

The younger of the two Dillon brothers, Ty, currently sits third in the series standings – 35 points behind the series lead. Ty Dillon is hungry for his first win of the season; it’s been 61 races since his last victory (Indianapolis, 2014).

In 14 starts this season, Dillon has posted five top fives and nine top 10s. He has made six starts at Daytona, posting one top five and two top 10s.

Earlier this season at Daytona, Ty Dillon sat on the pole and ran in the top five for the majority of the race, but was shuffled back on the last restart. He ultimately finished 13th.

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Bell Rings In First Victory Of Season; KBM Ties For First On All-Time Wins List

Christopher Bell won Saturday’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park to earn the fifth berth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. The win was Bell’s first of the season and the 50th for Kyle Busch Motorsports, tying the organization with Roush Fenway Racing for the most victories in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history.

The four other Chase berths are owned by Bell’s KBM teammate William Byron, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek.

Seven races remain until the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. If the season ended today, Timothy Peters (30 points ahead of Tyler Reddick on the cutoff line), Daniel Hemric (+25) and Ben Kennedy (+1) would clinch the remaining three berths.

On the cusp of the Chase spots are Reddick (-1), Ben Rhodes (-11), Spencer Gallagher (-16) and Cole Custer (-20).

Rhodes Roars To Career-Best Finish

Ben Rhodes powered to a career-best runner-up finish after earning his second career 21 Means 21 Keystone Light Pole at Gateway Motorsports Park.

The No. 41 ThorSport Racing driver’s previous career-high showing was a fourth-place finish recorded the race before at Iowa.

On the season, Rhodes owns two top fives and four top 10s in seven starts. He ranks ninth on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase Grid – 11 points behind Ben Kennedy on the cutoff line.

“A career-best finish of second is great, but after tasting it (victory) four times now, and not being able to go home and get it – that’s been tough, but hopefully here soon,” Rhodes said. “We’re just going to keep pushing forward.”

Rhodes, a Louisville native, next heads to his home state of Kentucky for the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 on Thursday, July 7 at Kentucky Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Truck 13 Cameron Hayley Cabinets by Hayley Toyota
Watch for a better finish by Cameron Hayley from Calgary Alberta Canada coming back from a bad luck at Gateway Motorsports.

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Graphics & Photos Courtesy of NASCAR

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