Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Following last Sunday’s battle in the Windy City, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to where it all began, Daytona International Speedway, for this weekend’s 60th running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400, the third superspeedway race of the season.

From 1959 until 1987, the 160 lap, 400 mile shootout at the World Center of Racing, then called the Firecracker 400, was held on July 4th, even if the holiday fell in the middle of the week. Beginning in 1988, the race was moved to the first Saturday in July closest to the July 4th holiday. Starting with the 1998 running of the event, the race was moved under the lights, where it has remained ever since.

This season, however, will be the final time the race will be run on Independence Day weekend as it moves to the regular season finale beginning in 2020.

Throughout the history of the event, the Coke Zero 400 has provided countless memorable races, from Richard Petty winning his 200th race with President Ronald Reagan in attendance in 1984, to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scoring his first win at the track in the first race back in Daytona after his father’s death in 2001, to photo finishes galore.

Given the nature of the racing at Daytona and the unpredictability of restrictor plate racing, Saturday night’s race should provide plenty of water cooler moments once again as it will feature the new aero package that received rave reviews at Talladega a few months ago.

By the Numbers

What: Coke Zero Sugar 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 18 of 36

Where: Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida (Opened: 1959)

When: July 6, 2019

TV/Radio: NBC, 7:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 2.5-mile tri-oval

Banking: 31 degrees in turns, 18 degrees in tri-oval, 6 degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 160 laps, 400 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 50 laps each; Final Stage: 60 laps

Pit Road Speed: 55 mph

Pace Car Speed: 70 mph

February 2019 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started 10th, 30 laps led)

July 2018 Race Winner: Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota (Started 29th, one lap led) 

Track Qualifying Record: Bill Elliott (42.783 seconds, 210.364 mph – 02/15/1987)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Daytona:

  1. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 91.2
  2. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 87.9
  3. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 87.6
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 87.4
  5. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 86.8
  6. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 86.2
  7. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 83.4
  8. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 79.0
  9. William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet – 78.7
  10. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 78.2

From the Driver’s Seat

“Hot temperatures and high heat, at superspeedway races, especially, make them that much more difficult,” said Aric Almirola, winner of the July 2014 race at Daytona. “You’re already really, really focused on everything going on and it’s very mentally draining.

“It’s like a high-speed chess match and you’re constantly on pins and needles, and constantly watching both sides of your car and you’re watching everything happening in front of you. You’re really tense all day long and the heat on top of it just gives you one more thing to think about and you have to try and block that out. You have to try and forget about the fact that you’re boiling inside the car and focus on everything going on around you.”

Last Year’s Results

Last summer’s Daytona Beach showdown turned into a carnage-filled free for all, with half the field finding themselves collecting in one of the many multi-car crashes that came about that night.

Pushed to two overtimes as a result, Erik Jones finally got the monkey off his back by outdueling fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex, Jr. down the stretch to take the lead on the last lap and hold on for his first win in the Cup Series.

Jones only led one lap that night, but it was the only one that really mattered – the last lap.

“Oh, boy. How about that race, boys and girls? That was something else,” Jones said. “I thought that we were out of it and we were right back in it. Took the lead and ran away. Wow, what an awesome race. To have buyatoyota.com on here and my first win at Daytona. My first superspeedway win. What an awesome day. I am out of breath. Too much smoke in the car from that burnout. I can barely breathe. What an awesome finish.

“I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much that has felt better than this one.”

Rounding out the top-10 was A.J. Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, and Alex Bowman.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Thursday, July 4

  • MENCS Practice (2:05 pm to 2:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (4:05 pm to 4:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Friday, July 5

  • MENCS Qualifying (5:05 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, July 6

  • MENCS Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (7:30 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – NBC)

 

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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. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.