Hamlin, Jones Going For Rare Daytona Wins On Saturday Night, Why Both Are Going In Opposite Directio
DAYTONA Beach, Fla – 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.