Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Daytona Presents Opportunity to Capitalize in Season with Few Winners

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Through the first 17 races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, there have only been six drivers to visit victory lane, leaving 10 playoff spots up for grabs heading into the home stretch of the regular season.

Enter Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, which presents an opportunity for a new winner on the season to punch their ticket to the postseason. Restrictor plate racing plus an overabundance of drivers hungry for a win means the 160-lap event is prime for aggressive driving and risky maneuvers in an effort to take the checkered flag first.

Past summer races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway almost guarantee chaos and several drivers agree that we are in one of those kind of races tomorrow night.

“I’d say this race weekend is probably going to be one of the most aggressive you see,” said Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon. “Everybody has an opportunity this weekend that they don’t get every other weekend and if you’re in that position then, yeah. You’re going to do crazy things to make it happen.”

Last season, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. capitalized on some of that late race chaos and scored the win, his first at Daytona and second of the season after winning earlier in the season at Talladega.

“I think respect kind of goes out the window at the end of every race,” said Stenhouse. “We all want to win and here at Daytona there’s so many options and so many different things and ways the race can play out.  You might think you have it and then all of a sudden you don’t, but I think that goes all the way back through the field.

“We all go as hard as we can here on these last few laps at the speedways and generally there’s a reason why there are always wrecks at the end because we know it’s a good opportunity for us to win.”

Another of the drivers looking to break through this weekend is Darrell Wallace, Jr. His second-place finish in the Daytona 500 remains his best Cup Series finish to date and he will be looking to improve one position to score his inaugural victory.

“We could wad them up going into one,” Wallace said of the aggressive driving at Daytona. “I think the biggest thing is making sure you are in turn three and coming to the checkered.  That is what you are really setting yourself up for.  We always say, ‘set ourselves up for the end or the last two or three laps’, but shoot, we can wad them up quick and in a hurry.

“So, for me, I am just going to try and miss everything that happens…. because it is going to happen.  Maybe not as big as the 500, maybe a lot worse than the 500.  Hopefully we steer clear of it, but I can’t answer that question truthfully and fully until we are entering turn three and coming to the checkered.

“You have got to do everything you can to win.  Look at last weekend.  Respect was thrown out the window and it ended up being a pretty cool race.  So, you have to do what you have to do to win.”

Should Wallace win the day on Saturday, he has some words of advice for all those watching.

“For me it’s still a dream to go out and win in NASCAR, win a Cup race, and there is no greater opportunity than this weekend.  Every emotion is coming after that so have your recorders and video cameras ready.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.