2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 (1 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) Preview And Predictions

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – One of the last wildcard races for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season is upon us. Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (1 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) should produce a ton of fireworks on and off the track.

See, we’ve only had six different winners this season in NASCAR’s premiere division. That leaves 10 wildcard positions available. Mix that with this race literally being wide open, you get drivers making more daring moves than before.

How To Watch

Coverage – 1 p.m. ET

Green Flag – 1:10 p.m. ET

TV- NBC

Radio – MRN

Race – 18 of 36

Defending Race Winner – Erik Jones

Storylines

So, what are the top storylines for this weekend at the Daytona International Speedway?

Practice during Thursday’s Cup Series action at Daytona


New Package

Out with the old, in with the new. The race in Daytona this weekend will look a lot different on Saturday night compared to the last Cup Series race we saw back in February. See, the Daytona 500 was run with the old restrictor plate package. This weekend, we will see the debut of the tapered spacer to Daytona. The horsepower will be higher this week but with a larger spoiler too. So, for the first time since 1986, the cars will not have a restrictor plate on them at Daytona.

Actually, the race at Talladega back in April also ran with this package and we saw a wild race that day. Will Saturday night look a lot like the Talladega event earlier this spring?

Also add to the fact that this is a night race with more grip than what Talladega had in April under sunny skies, and you may see an even wilder show on Saturday night.

It couldn’t get much worse than the single file racing that we saw dominate the headline in February. The reason though that February raced like it did was because of the package and development to these cars.

The common theme was that these cars don’t side draft on the left side very well anymore and that the best way to get a side draft is to do so on the right side of the cars. Well, how can you side draft someone when they’re running the high line?

The low line struggles to make any headway when all the cars have all the energy from the draft up high. Plus, cars are getting a side draft off the outside SAFER barrier and getting a run through the corners and off of it.

The ‘500 had more double file racing than the Clash and the Duels, but it was nothing like what we saw in Talladega.

So, lets see how this goes on Saturday.

Last July Race In Daytona

Saturday night will be an end of an era at Daytona. This will be the last race on the Fourth of July weekend in Daytona Beach before moving back on the schedule for next year.

See, this race has been a mainstay on the NASCAR schedule since DIS was constructed. The original plan was to host a 300 mile USAC race on July 4, 1959. Unfortunately, after a couple of fatalities in testing, NASCAR decided to cancel the USAC visit and move the race to a second NASCAR date instead as the annual July trip was born.

The race would start at 11 a.m. ET to get the event in before the daily threat of thunderstorms arrived. The 250 mile race was set.

In a few short years, the race kept growing in popularity, so a move from 250 miles to the current 400 mile system was adopted.

From 1959 to 1987, the race was always scheduled for July 4, regardless of the day of the week. Beginning in 1988, the race was moved to the first Saturday of July (that nearest to July 4). Going forward, the race would only be held on July 4 in years in which it fell on Saturday

In 1998, lights were installed and the race moved from late morning to primetime.

Other than that, the race remained on the NASCAR schedule on this weekend for decades. Until 2020.

The race moves to August for the regular season finale as the regular season on the NASCAR schedule starts and ends on the high banks of Daytona.

5 Straight Years, 5 Straight Different Organizations To Win

When Aric Almirola won the rain delayed race in 2014, he started a new trend for the annual July race. Almirola, won in the famed No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports entry that year. Ever since, we’ve seen a different organization win in each year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports) won the next year followed by Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush/Fenway Racing) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing) after.

So, who’s next?

If we get a sixth straight different organization to win, look for Stewart-Haas Racing, Wood Brothers, Leavine Family Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Germain Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Premium Motorsports, Spire Motorsports or StarCom Racing to reach victory lane.

LFR would be a good choice as Matt DiBenedetto led the most laps in February’s Daytona 500. Paul Menard would too with the Wood Brothers as he had a fast hot rod in February. SHR would be an obvious choice since they’re typically strong on superspeedway races plus being a Ford team, the blue ovals have won three of the last five Coke Zero Sugar 400’s. But, SHR has only scored five total Daytona wins with Tony Stewart taking the checkered flag first in three of them including both in the summer classic.

Erik Jones during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida.


1st Win Club

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 has produced a number of drivers’ first career NASCAR Grand National/Cup Series victories. Drivers include A. J. Foyt, Sam McQuagg, Greg Sacks, Jimmy Spencer, John Andretti, Greg Biffle, David Ragan, Aric Almirola, and Erik Jones respectively.

For McQuagg, Sacks, and Jones, the victory in the annual July trip was the only victory in their respective Cup Series careers.

The 400 has also marked the first of multiple points-paying victories at Daytona for a total of seven drivers, including Jeff Gordon (1995), Dale Earnhardt (after 24 previous attempts from 1978–1990), Dale Earnhardt, Jr.(2001), and Jamie McMurray (2007). David Pearson won the 400 four times prior to finally winning the Daytona 500 in 1976.

In 2000, it was Jeff Burton’s first restrictor plate win. In addition, Tony Stewart won the 400 four times, but never won the Daytona 500 (his best finish being second in 2004).

OT Finish?

With how this type of racing goes, it should come to no surprise that we will likely see a NASCAR overtime on Saturday night. Five of the last six Coke Zero Sugar 400’s have seen one as the only one that wasn’t was the rain shortened race in 2014. In fact, seven of the last nine years have seen overtime finishes in the July night race at Daytona.

Action during practice for Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona


Can Chevrolet Get Another Win?

The Chevy camp is off to another slow start to the season. Chevy drivers have combined for just two wins all year. One of those victories came via Chase Elliott’s trip to victory lane at Talladega at the end of April. With Daytona being a similar package this weekend to that of Talladega, will the bowties have a chance to shine again on Saturday night?

The problem is, since Chevy replaced the SS with the Camaro at the start of last season, they’ve only reached victory lane just six times in 52 tries.

But, in Talladega, they took five of the top six finishing positions and six of the top eight including a 1-2-3 finish. They also led 74 of the 188 laps that afternoon too.

Then, they dominated last week in Chicagoland en route to a 1-2 finish and having three cars in the top four overall.

So, will the Chevy drivers work together and get their second straight win of the year?

Manufacturer Teamwork

Speaking of drivers working together, will Daytona be another superspeedway race to where it’s Toyota vs. Chevrolet vs. Ford? See, the Fords worked together to perfection in the Fall race at Talladega last year. Stewart-Haas Racing executed the draft as perfectly as one could.

That made others take notice.

During Speedweeks, everyone knew that Fords had strength in numbers. If they all teamed up again, which they tried to do so, they’d be tough to stop. In order to slow them down, Chevy and Toyota had to work together and try to separate the Ford’s up front. If you let them all take the high line and line up in a draft together, it would be game over.

So, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing set up an alliance. Yes, two rival manufacturers in Chevy and Toyota worked together to break up the Ford party. It worked too.

JGR finished 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500.

But, Chevy was somewhat mad at that too though. They prefer their teams to work together and not to help the Toyota’s. So much so, a prerace meeting before the Talladega race in the spring between all Chevy teams and drivers took place.

It paid off.

Hendrick Motorsports finished 1-2 at Talladega in April.

Toyota’s don’t have the numbers to hang. They will have six cars max in the field but five of which with a chance to win. If Chevy and Ford don’t work with them, then it’s an up hill battle for them to win.

Manufacturers and how they work together will be key to watch this weekend.

Playoff Bubble

Now that we’re nearing the midway mark of the 2019 season, the playoff race is heating up. We’ve still only had just seven drivers reach victory lane this year, meaning there’s 9 wildcard spots available at the moment. With only one superspeedway race left in the regular season and it being run this weekend, it’s likely we’re going to have a race among several drivers for some wide open playoff spots.

Currently, there are several drivers near the bubble.

Right now, William Byron is +39 in 12th. Kyle Larson is +35 behind him in 13th. Jimmie Johnson (+20), Daniel Suarez (+18) and Clint Bowyer (+15) are on the good side of the bubble. But, you have Erik Jones (-15), Ryan Newman (-20) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-58) right there too. Jones and Stenhouse have won the ‘400 in each of the last two years. If someone 17th or worse in the standings wins, then the cutoff moves up a spot.

Suarez and Bowyer are separated by just three points. Johnson is only five points above them.

With such a slim margin, stage points are crucial now. That means strategy is going to be key as some drivers, like these ones in particular, may need to forego race wins and positioning for them and just get as many points as they can get.

Just look at how Sonoma went two weekends ago. William Byron went for stage points, not the win, and it worked. He may have only finished 19th but he scored the fifth most points for the race (36). That propelled him up in the playoff standings.

Kyle Larson only finished 10th himself in Sonoma but he too went for stage points instead of the race win. He scored the third most points (39) of the day.

With Daytona being another track where you can pit before the pits close at the end of the stages and not lose as lap as well, do you pit to position yourself for the end or do you go for stage points?

That will once again be a key thing to watch on Saturday night? The playoff bubble drivers needs the points but they also need to win, especially when drivers like Ty Dillon, David Ragan, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto and Bubba Wallace could each win this weekend.

Brad Keselowski gets into William Byron during final practice at Daytona on Thursday


Mad Brad

There may be fireworks on the beach at Daytona on Thursday night for the Fourth of July, but a few hours earlier on the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway, we had an early fireworks show.

See, Brad Keselowski is among the top superspeedway racers in the game today. That’s a start to why we saw a potential melee break out in final practice on Thursday afternoon. Out of his 30 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories, six have come at either Talladega or Daytona.

In 2016, Keselowski led 115 laps en route to a win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. That’s still his lone points paying Daytona win in NASCAR’s premiere series. But, it’s not like he hasn’t had the speed to win more at the World Center of Racing, it’s just that he’s been involved in more crashes than not.

Four of his last five starts on the famed 2.5-mile Florida oval have resulted in an accident. Since his victory three years ago, Keselowski’s finishes at Daytona are – 27th, 31st, 32nd, 36th and 12th respectively. If you go back to the July race in 2014, eight of his last 10 starts have seen the Team Penske driver finish 18th or worse. He has one top 10 result in that time frame and that was that win in 2016.

Last year, Keselowski was running up front but was collected in a big crash early on in the race when he tried to avoid a blocking William Byron. That sparked a melee in Turn 3.

In final practice on Thursday, the two came together again, this time it was Keselowski backing up his words at Daytona after his crash a year ago.

With about 15 minutes to go in final practice, Keselowski got into the left rear quarter panel of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet in Turn 3 which sent Byron’s car out of control. Luckily, Byron was able to keep control of his car enough to not come back up the banking and take several other drivers out. But, it was a move that look intentional on Keselowski’s behalf.

Why make a move like he did in practice? Well, go back to last year, remember?

Byron was leading last year’s race but switching lanes from top to bottom. He moved low to block Keselowski, an incident that ended with the No. 2 Ford spinning high and smashing the wall.

“I need to wreck more people so they’ll stop throwing bad blocks,” Keselowski said that night.

On Thursday, Keselowski blamed Byron for putting him in that exact same position again, this time, Keselowski didn’t back down.

“Just had a big run,” Keselowski told NBCSN when he brought his car back to the garage. “He put me in a position where I had to lift, and I keep telling these guys I’m not lifting. Just trying to send a message. I’m not lifting.

“I’m tired of getting wrecked at these (superspeedway) tracks,” he added. “They’re all watching. They know. I’ve been put in positions these last few plate races – not just by William (Byron) but a handful of other people too where I’ve had to make a decision to risk myself on being loaded up on the trailer and watching the end of the race or drive through the guy in front of me. I’ve been too conservative and ended up watching too many of these plate races from the back of the trailer and that is not the responsible thing to do for my team. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’ve made that commitment. If you’re going to make that commitment, then you make that commitment today and make that commitment in the race as well.”

That sets a bad precedent for Saturday night’s race though. I mean, it’s Daytona, you’re going to have to lift at times. These cars with this package that we run allows for bigger drafts from behind. Without much real estate to go at some times, you have to be able to control the throttle so you’re not running over the car in front, like Keselowski did today.

Granted, you can’t slam on the brakes either because of cars behind running into you, which is what happened in last year’s race and what Keselowski is referring to, but you have to be smart and choose how to maneuver the pack and not cause an melee. If guys aren’t going to lift, then expect there to be plenty of fireworks on Saturday night.

“It’s practice,” Byron said after climbing from his car on Thursday. “I don’t think that was really necessary to turn us there. … I didn’t really expect that, but that’s all right. It wasn’t like I changed four lanes down the backstretch and blocked him. I was just kind of holding my lane, and he just used his run to drive into my left rear.”

Joey Logano during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway on March 8, 2019 in Avondale, Arizona.


Logano Looking For 1st Coke Zero Sugar 400 Win, Starts On Pole

Due to mother nature, Joey Logano will start on the pole for Saturday’s race. Logano, has four wins in 42 tries compared to Keselowski’s six in 41 starts. Since his Talladega win in 2016, Logano has 11 top six finishes in his last 15 superspeedway starts.

Furthermore, Logano has six top five finishes in his last seven points paying Daytona or Talladega tries. He’s won the Daytona 500. He’s won multiple times in Talladega too. But, one thing that’s kind of eluded him has been a win in the Firecracker 400.

With how well he’s fared on these tracks, look for Logano to vie for his first career Daytona victory in July.

Team Penske also put all three drivers in the top six of last weekend’s race at Chicagoland too.

SHR On Playoff Bubble

Now that we’re nearing the midway mark of the 2019 season, the playoff race is heating up. We’ve still only had just seven drivers reach victory lane this year, meaning there’s 9 wildcard spots available at the moment. With only one superspeedway race left in the regular season and it being run this weekend, it’s likely we’re going to have a race among several drivers for some wide open playoff spots.

Currently, there are several drivers near the bubble. Unfortunately for one team, two of their drivers are squarly on the bubble, like in the last two spots in.

Right now, William Byron is +39 in 12th. Kyle Larson is +35 behind him in 13th. Jimmie Johnson (+20), Daniel Suarez (+18) and Clint Bowyer (+15) are on the good side of the bubble. But, you have Erik Jones (-15), Ryan Newman (-20) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-58) right there too. Jones and Stenhouse have won the ‘400 in each of the last two years. If someone 17th or worse in the standings wins, then the cutoff moves up a spot.

Suarez and Bowyer, both Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, are separated by just three points. Johnson is only five points above them.

With such a slim margin, stage points are crucial now. That means strategy is going to be key as some drivers, like these ones in particular, may need to forego race wins and positioning for them and just get as many points as they can get.

Just look at how Sonoma went two weekends ago. William Byron went for stage points, not the win, and it worked. He may have only finished 19th but he scored the fifth most points for the race (36). That propelled him up in the playoff standings.

Kyle Larson only finished 10th himself in Sonoma but he too went for stage points instead of the race win. He scored the third most points (39) of the day.

With Daytona being another track where you can pit before the pits close at the end of the stages and not lose as lap as well, do you pit to position yourself for the end or do you go for stage points?

That will once again be a key thing to watch on Saturday night? The playoff bubble drivers needs the points but they also need to win, especially when drivers like Ty Dillon, David Ragan, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto and Bubba Wallace could each win this weekend.

That has to have SHR worried a bit. If someone behind Suarez and Bowyer win, then at least one of them will be on the outside looking in. That’s a far cry from where they were last year.

A year ago, they put all four drivers in the Round of 8. Also last year, SHR had seven wins, 20 top fives and 38 top 10’s at this point of the season. This year, they’ve scored zero wins, 13 top fives and 34 top 10’s. They also led 1,566 laps at this point last year and only 624 this year counting Harvick’s domination on Sunday in Chicagoland.

While he hasn’t finished better than fourth all season, Harvick is solidly in right now. Aric Almirola is at his best on superspeedway’s and made reference last weekend that he’s actually trending better so far this season than where he was at this point last year.

It’s the other two that have to be nervous heading into this weekend’s race. They could easily fall out of the playoff order at the midway mark.

Jones/Hamlin Looking To Accomplish Rare Daytona Feats

Winning at Daytona puts NASCAR teams on the map. If you can win anywhere on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, the Daytona International Speedway is at the top of the list. Drivers and teams alike don’t care whether it’s in February’s Daytona 500 or July’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, if you can take a trip to victory lane at the World Center of Racing, you’ve made it.

Well, Joe Gibbs Racing won early. Dale Jarrett took his No. 18 Chevrolet to victory lane in NASCAR’s Super Bowl in 1993. It wasn’t until 12 years later that JGR went back to victory lane in a points paying race at Daytona.

Tony Stewart won the next Cup points paying race at Daytona in the 2005 Pepsi 400. He’d win again the next year in 2006. Kyle Busch gave them three wins in a four year span in his thrilling victory in 2008. They’d not win again until 2016 when Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500. Hamlin, won the Great American Race back in February too.

In fact, if you throw in Erik Jones’ win in last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, JGR has won the last two points paying Cup Series races on the 2.5-mile Florida oval.

They went 12 years without a Daytona win and now have won two in-a-row. Now, each JGR driver will try to do the rare feat of winning two in-a-row themselves.

Hamlin heads back to the annual July trip to the Daytona International Speedway as the defending Daytona 500 champion. This time, he’s hoping for better luck.

“The July race has always been pretty tough on us, finish-wise,” Hamlin said. “I think a lot of it is, you are getting to the point of the season that this is going to be some of the last great opportunities for the under-funded teams to go out there and get a win so they are a lot more aggressive. The racing itself seems to be more chaotic. It’s tough to avoid those crashes. Sometimes you’re in it, sometimes you’re not. In the summer, we’re in it, so we’ve got to figure out how to play it, to win it.”

When Hamlin won the ‘500 back in 2016, he finished 17th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 that year. In his defense though, it’s not like anyone has much success in the Daytona double. That rare feat hasn’t happened since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2013. But, Johnson is the only one to accomplish that in 37 years.

Drivers to previously sweep the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in the same season are Johnson (2013), Bobby Allison (1982), Fireball Roberts (1962), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969).

Also, if Hamlin can win, he would become only the 10th driver to win all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at DIS (The Clash At DAYTONA, Duel At DAYTONA, DAYTONA 500 and Coke Zero Sugar 400). Other drivers to accomplish this feat are Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson.

Only Kurt Busch can accomplish that feat this weekend too.

On the season, Hamlin enters with two wins, seven top five finishes and 10 top 10’s. But, only one top five and two of his top 10’s have come in the last eight races overall. His best finish since his Texas win back in early April is fifth (three times).

What about Jones?

Jones, is looking forward to the return trip to the Daytona International Speedway this weekend. See, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is in a contract year and has nothing solidified for the 2020 NASCAR season. He’s heard the rumors. Christopher Bell is coming up. JGR picked up his option for next season, so he needs somewhere to go. The other three drivers in the JGR camp on the Cup level are already under contract. So, pressure is on for Jones.

But, this weekend is his return to the site of his first and only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. A year ago this week, Jones bested Martin Truex Jr. in the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400. Now, nearly 365 days later, he’s back for more. If he could win, Jones would join the back-to-back club of Coke Zero Sugar 400 winners including Fireball Roberts (1962-63), A.J. Foyt (1964-65), Cale Yarborough (1967-68), David Pearson (1972-75) and Tony Stewart (2005-06).

“Coming back as the defending champion always feels good,” Jones said. “For me, it gives you that extra little bump to keep being the defending champion, to come back and do it again.”

Jones, currently sits on the outside looking in for the Cup Series playoff standings by just three points. When you drive for JGR, that’s not going to cut it. Combine that with his three teammates having not only won in 2019, but to have reached victory lane multiple times, the time is now for Jones to shine.

The Michigan native has actually been at his best on superspeedway’s lately too. After crashing out in five of his first six points paying Daytona and Talladega starts, Jones has three top eight finishes in his last four since including his win on the high banks of Daytona last July.

Jones, also finished third in the Daytona 500 back in February capping a 1-2-3 finish for JGR in the Great American Race. He also enters this weekend with three top six finishes in his last seven starts of the season and is looking for not only a win on Saturday night, but a guaranteed playoff spot by virtue of that.

Also, a win would make him the first back-to-back Coke Zero Sugar 400 winner since Tony Stewart did so in 2005 and 2006. The last driver to do so before Stewart was David Pearson in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

Last year, Jones’ win was the ninth time that a driver earned their first career Cup Series victory in the Firecracker 400. He’s hoping to not be one of the other three of that group to have this be his lone victory either.

Jones has three top eight finishes in his last four starts on the season and five in the last seven overall.

“It (superspeedway racing) has become something I like,” Jones said. “Early in my career, it drove me crazy because I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t understand it.

“As much as it’s out of your control, it’s also in your control. Just knowing better, situationally, becoming more aware on superspeedways on what situations you don’t want to be in has helped me a lot. I learned more about the draft, how to position yourself, where you need to be at certain points of the race. Learning all those things has helped me enjoy it more.”

Jones, hopes to get high 30s in points scored on Saturday night which means he’d have a good points night if he doesn’t win.

Alex Bowman celebrates in victory lane last Sunday evening at Chicagoland Speedway


HMS Favorites Again

For the first time since this race in 2016 and just the second time since 2014, a Hendrick car won’t start on the pole in a points race at Daytona. Sunday night was exactly what Hendrick Motorsports needed. It was a vintage race for them. They’d reach victory lane for the second time in 17 races run in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and just their fifth since the start of last season.

Now, HMS has crept back to among the favorites once again. It wasn’t that long ago that this was the team to beat. From 1995 through 2001, Jeff Gordon won four championships in a seven year span. Terry Labonte (1996) won another. Then, Jimmie Johnson rattled off five titles in-a-row between 2006 and 2010. He won another in 2013 for six championships in a span of eight years.

Between 1995 and 2013, HMS had won 11 Cup Series championships in 19 years. But, the stats started to decline since.

See, the organization saw drivers like Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. retire. Then, they watched Johnson go into a 3+ year slump. They needed new blood. Unfortunately, their youth movement didn’t pay off initially.

2018 saw a rebuilding effort for HMS. Gone was Kasey Kahne, Gordon and Earnhardt and in was Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman. Heading into last season, that trio of Elliott, Byron and Bowman combined for zero Cup Series victories.

The action during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida.


As we sit here today, they now have five win, with Alex Bowman taking his No. 88 Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time of his career on Sunday in Chicagoland. Bowman, now has six top 10 finishes over the last eight races himself including four of which being in the top two. He’s starting to really show that he can be a contender for this year’s championship too.

Johnson was second in the group with a fourth place finish in his No. 48 Chevrolet on Sunday in Joliet. It was just his seventh top five finish since the start of the 2017 season including only his second this season. But, it was his third top 10 result in the last six races on the year too, so you can see that Johnson is trending in the right direction. His car looked good all weekend and he remained in contention all day/night.

Elliott, brought his No. 9 Chevrolet home 11th but it wasn’t indicative on how good of a car that he had. If not for him stopping over the air hose of one of his crew members after the second stage, he would have been competing for the win in the end. Even in the races that he didn’t finish in the top five lately, he was strong. Last weekend in Sonoma, the Georgia native had another top five car before his engine expired. His time is coming again soon.

Byron, came home eighth in his No. 24 Chevrolet for his fifth top 10 finish of the season, three of which coming in the last five races. The second year driver had a car capable of a top 10 last week but his crew chief Chad Knaus decided to go for stage points instead of the win. It worked. This week, they went for a win.

Byron’s car had to make changes overnight and he went from the 11th starting spot to 37th. He would make his way through the field though as he improved 16 positions up to 21st before the rain brought out a 3-hour, 18-minute delay. Strategy moved him up to the front and he’d remain, even leading nine laps overall.

Now it’s to Daytona this weekend where they put three of their four cars in the top four of the starting lineup for last year’s race. They qualified 1-2-3-4 for Daytona 500 qualifying back in February and won the last race on a superspeedway with this tapered spacer when Elliott won back in April at Talladega. They’d finish 1-2 in fact that day.

Things are certainly looking up for HMS. They’re contenders once again.

Prediction

  1. 24 Byron – He enters on a roll. He’s also the subject of controversy when Brad Keselowski got into him in final practice on Thursday. HMS qualified 1-2-3-4 for the Daytona 500. They finished 1-2 in the last superspeedway race at Talladega. They put three cars in the top 10 last weekend in Chicagoland. Why not two straight wins?

  2. 88 Bowman – HMS goes 1-2 again this weekend but this time Bowman gets his fourth runner-up since Talladega in April, a race he finished second in too. He gets his fifth top two finish since late April.

  3. 6 Newman – Surprise here but Newman will nab his seventh top 10 finish in his last nine superspeedway starts.

  4. 22 Logano – He finished fourth in February. He finished fourth in April in Talladega. Why not fourth on Saturday night? This will be Logano’s seventh top five finish in his last eight superspeedway starts – five of which being fourth place finishes.

  5.  9 Elliott – HMS puts three cars in the top five with Elliott scoring his second straight superspeedway top five.

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