What drivers to like at Daytona?
Take an inside look at the top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 1st, same as last week, 25 points ahead of second place.
DAYTONA RECORD: No wins, four top-five and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts at Daytona. His best finish was second in this year's Daytona 500. He was sixth in last year's Coke Zero 400. He has four straight top-10 finishes including two top-fives.
LOOKING AHEAD: A new asphalt surface along with higher spoiler and a new nose on the cars made racing far different at the Daytona 500 than in the past. Edwards expects the same on Saturday night. "Daytona is such a different race now with the new surface. It is all about pure speed and partnering up with someone," he said. "I know this weekend I don't want to finish second like I did in the 500. I will be doing everything I can to win this race. The 500 in February was the closest I have been to winning at Daytona in a Cup car and I really, really want to win there. That would be cool."
LOOKING BACK: Coming off one of his better road course races -- he was third at Infineon. It was his third top-10 finish in seven races at the road course. "I am really proud of my team for the way we battled today," Edwards said. "It was just a crazy race and for us to be able to work our way up to where we finished just says a ton about my crew and Bob (Osborne, crew chief) and everyone. To be able to escape out of here with a top three is a good day with us, especially considering everything that went on out there."
ETC.: Crew chief Bob Osborne is bringing the same car that finished sixth at Talladega in April -- RK-677. "The night race at Daytona is an exciting race," Osborne said. "We have the tension of superspeedway racing with the added need for a race car that handles well over a fuel run. A solid run at Daytona will be important to the 99 team. Anything can happen there, but I feel that with smart racing, we'll be in good shape. We could really use another win for the extra bonus points when the Chase begins, and of course we always want to win."
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 2nd, same as last week, 25 points out of the lead.
DAYTONA RECORD: Two wins, five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 20 Daytona starts. He is the defending winner of this race but finished 42nd in this year's Daytona 500 after his car had engine failure. He has two top-10 finishes in his last three Daytona starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick is confident he can get back on the right track at Daytona. "I think as a team we have a set strategy that we're going to go into that race and see how it works," Harvick said. "The worst thing in the world that happens to this sport is repaving race tracks. You look at some of the race tracks that have been paved for five or six years now and I don't know if it's the type of asphalt or whatever they're doing, but the racing isn't the same that it was and the race tracks just don't get bad. Basically, if Daytona and Talladega would have been paved like they are now, however many years ago and everybody would have figured out how to do -- that car would have done what we do now, it's just that there's enough grip on the race track with the way that the asphalt is to allow you to do that. There's really no way to fix it as far as I'm concerned. Unless you just say, go back to the no bump-drafting in the corners. That's the only way you can really fix it until the grip goes away. Paving the race tracks are a killer for the racing."
LOOKING BACK: Started 26th and finished ninth at Infineon after leading one time for five laps. "It was all strategy," Harvick said. "I mean, we got up to about 14th or 15th there and just kind of stalled. The car was really loose. Then we got in a little wreck and tore it up even worse. As the run would go on, we would just get so loose. The car has a lot of damage on it. A lot of credit to these guys for getting it fixed for the strategy. It was the best ninth place finish I can ever remember."
ETC.: Harvick believes his team is operating on a high level right now. "I've never been a part of something where the chemistry is so good," Harvick said. "You can change things around, you can swap teams and obviously Gil's (Martin, crew chief) been a part of my team before and the chemistry still wasn't what it is today. Gil does a great job with the guys and this group of guys has been together for a long time. I think that helps. … The chemistry of this team is great. Obviously, you always want to get faster cars and you always want the performance to be better, but I feel like when you have a team like this, even when you're off, you can still salvage something decent out of a day and I think that's what it takes to be competitive for a championship."
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 3rd, an improvement of two positions in one race, 33 points out of first place.
DAYTONA RECORD: Has one win (2006 Daytona 500), six top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 19 Daytona starts. He was 31st in this race last year and 27th in February. In fact, since finishing second in this race in 2009 he has finished 35th, 31st and 27th.
LOOKING AHEAD: With a new style of racing at Daytona, Johnson is confident he can get back to the front. "I think we have more options as competitors (than at the Daytona 500) to make passes for the lead or to work your way through traffic and play some strategy and different things there," he explained. "I feel as a group we're
all smarter and will be a more competitive race with the push draft, but I don't see any reason why we'd be in a big pack. Until we have to lift and we can't run nose to tail, I don't see us getting away from what we're doing."
LOOKING BACK: Started 12th and finished seventh after leading one time for five laps. "The strategy worked against us, but we still had a decent car and could get up there and get a top-10," Johnson said. "So, we'll take it."
ETC.: Johnson believes pushing and bump drafting has been the biggest change at Daytona the past 10 years. "We thought there was some change from year to year and then this whole push drafting thing came around with the new asphalt that has been put in and I would say that's been the biggest change to plate racing ever," he said. "People picked up the draft early on and understood how that worked, but to take the drafting experience to the next level like we have - that started at Talladega a year and a half ago and now it's the norm and a totally different environment."
22 KURT BUSCH, Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 4th, a gain of three positions in one race, 34 points out of first place and only one point out of third.
DAYTONA RECORD: Looking for his first Daytona win but has 10 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 21 starts. He was seventh last July and fifth this past February.
LOOKING AHEAD: Should Busch win his second race in a row it would be his first ever victory on a restrictor plate track. "We certainly want to finally win us one of these things (restrictor-plate race), that's for sure," he said. "But, we still have to keep focus on this season and what it's going to take to move forward in the effort to
make the Chase this year. We need to win races because that will be so important come September. At the same time, we have to stay consistent in posting the top-five finishes and top-10s. The bottom line is that we have to go after those race wins as hard as we can, but still exercise conservatism, if you want to call it that. Unlike the guys back there in 15th to 20th in the points who can gamble on fuel mileage and roll the dice out there in every race, we have to look at it as the big goal of completing all the laps and getting the best possible finish we can in every race."
LOOKING BACK: Scored his first victory of the season when he dominated at Infineon by leading four times for 76 laps. It was his 23rd victory in 380 Cup starts and ties Ricky Rudd for 23rd on the all-time victory list. It is his first win and fourth top-10 finish in 11 races at the road course. His previous best road race finish was second at Watkins Glen last year. His previous best Infineon finish was third in 2005. It is his first win and ninth top-10 in 2011. His previous victory came in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 30, 2010. "It was one of those unbelievable days where having a game plan going in -- we weren't questioning it -- and it was just old school on how we were going to make it on two stops," Busch said.
ETC.: Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports Engineering explains what to look for Saturday night at Daytona. "The Daytona 500 in February was fast, the Amp Energy 500 in April at Talladega was faster," Comstock said. "Who knows how fast this restrictor plate race will be. The rules package in effect for Sprint Cup restrictor-plate tracks this season is geared for faster races than we've seen in more than 10 years. That may not have been the original intent but it's certainly been the result."
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 5th, a one position drop in the standings, 37 points out of the Cup lead.
DAYTONA RECORD: Won this race in 2008 for his only Daytona victory to go along with four top-five and five top-10 finishes in 13 starts. He was 40th in this race last July and eighth this past February. That finish snapped a streak of four straight races 14th or worse.
LOOKING AHEAD: Driving at Daytona is easily physically but taxing mentally. "Here, the physical demand isn't that big of deal," Busch said. "You can run around here all day long and not break a sweat, really. Once you get down into the nitty gritty of the race and try to play the chess game that goes on all day, you've got to really pick
and choose your spots, and think all the time about going here or there and teaming up with a guy. It really wears on you a little bit, mentally -- kind of makes you tired. The other thing, too, is when you're in the two-car draft and you're pushing each other, you're more worried about not spinning that guy out than anything else. You just don't want to do that. So, you're up on edge most of the time, just making sure you don't get to that guy left of center of his rear bumper and cause him to turn sideways. I don't know if you call it racing, or what to call it, really. But it's definitely a different dynamic here at Talladega and Daytona, now, than what we've had in the past."
LOOKING BACK: Started 19th and finished 11th at Infineon. "Overall it was a really good day," Busch said. "Early on in the race it seemed like we had a pretty good Camry that we could come up through the field and pass a few guys. You know, a couple guys started making pit stops and getting their cars a little better and we sort of fell back. We were a little bit mediocre. We were still fast, we just didn't have the speed like the 22 (Kurt Busch) did all weekend. We were like a fourth- or fifth-place car. We had the opportunity to finish there, but unfortunately with about five (laps) to go we were involved in a few others wreck and spun out. We gathered it back up and got going again, probably fell back to 15th, but salvaged an 11th out of the thing. We'll take it and go on."
ETC.: Busch had a great answer when asked if finding someone to team up with at Daytona is like trying to find a date for the prom. "I never had to do that because I never went to the prom," he said. "I don't know. I'd imagine that is probably what it's like. It's probably the best analogy anybody else can come up with. As far as trying to pick somebody to go with or draft with or anything, in a perfect world, you'd come off pit road with either a teammate or somebody you've worked with already throughout the day. I was working pretty well in the Daytona 500 with Denny (Hamlin), so he was about two rows back of me. And Trevor (Bayne) wanted to work with me, and then Carl (Edwards) wanted to work with me. I'm hoping we can find the right drafting partner and we can get a win."
17 MATT KENSETH, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 6th, same as last week, 52 points out of first place.
DAYTONA RECORD: Won the 2009 Daytona 500 for his only win, one of three top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 23 starts. He was 15th last July and 34th in this year's Daytona 500. Prior to last year's 400 he had four straight top-10s at Daytona.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has tried to determine how the two car draft will work at Daytona on Saturday night. "I think the biggest difference going there this time than if February is the weather," Kenseth said. "The track should be more slick than February. I don't know if that will make much difference or not with the way we are racing there. It should be maybe a little bit different. No, I don't like it (two car draft) but there isn't a lot you can do about it because two cars shoving each other is so much faster than the normal style of draft or anything else that is going on. Unless the rules or cars change, I don't see it changing."
LOOKING BACK: After started 33rd he drove all the way to 14th at Sonoma.
ETC.: Roush Fenway needs to find a new sponsor for Kenseth's car. Crown Royal announced Tuesday that it will pull out of its sponsorship at the end of the season. ... When asked what is the biggest thing he has learned from the Daytona 500 that he can use Saturday night, Kenseth had a brilliant answer. "Man, just to try not to have a wreck," Kenseth said. "I have been wrecked at both superspeedway races so far. I need to avoid that. Pushing and getting pushed is difficult. I don't know how it will be. If it is real hot it might be easier to get spun out or spin somebody out. I think it will be a challenge."
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 7th, a huge four position drop in just one race, 65 points out of the Cup lead.
DAYTONA RECORD: Has two wins (2001 400, 2004 Daytona 500), eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 23 starts. He was fourth last July and 24th this past February.
LOOKING AHEAD: After a disastrous weekend on the road course Earnhardt is hoping to get back on track at Daytona. "We've got a fast car," Earnhardt said. "We sat on the pole there (Daytona) in February. We rebuilt that car and we're taking it back. And I'm sure it'll be great. I'm sure it will race really well. It looks like you're just going to have to team-up with a guy and work with him all day long and try to stay out of wrecks and push him to the lead or get pushed to the lead you know, I don't know. It's all going to come down to circumstances. I think I learned more at Talladega. We ran OK at Daytona but it's just circumstances. I thought it was a lottery five years ago (but), good Lord, it's ridiculous now."
LOOKING BACK: Had one of his worst finishes of the season when he was involved in a multicar crash in Turn 11 on Lap 38 and that punctured a hole in the radiator. The car overheated after 45 laps, dropping him to a 41st-place finish. "We had made the car better during that first stop," Earnhardt lamented. "They had a big old mess getting into (turn) 11 and we jumped in there and got part of it and banged up the nose a little bit. It knocked a hole in the radiator and it ended up hurting the engine a little bit so I think the engine is done. It has a hole in the side of it so that usually isn't good."
ETC.: Earnhardt does not like the two-car draft. "I don't enjoy the two-car draft because when I push somebody I can't see around him," Earnhardt said. "And I would like to be in control of my own destiny all the time; be in control and be able to win the race. I was happy to push Jimmie (Johnson) to the win but in a perfect world, me and him both would rather just be racing our own cars and not have to worry about being obligated to push anyone to the win. You want to drive your own car across the finish line and that's the way it ought to be."
33 CLINT BOWYER, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, an improvement of two positions in one race, 77 points out of the lead.
DAYTONA RECORD: Looking for his first Daytona win where he has two top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts. He was 17th both last July and this past February.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer intends to hook up with his teammates on the track during the race. "It's a little more easier to navigate," Bowyer said. "I can find my teammates. I think it even has a really cool light on it that lights up whose numbers they are so they've worked on it really hard. Other than that, just making sure you bring the fastest bullet to the race track. That's all you can do. We were good there obviously in the 500, we were good at Talladega, I mean missed it by inches. This is a great opportunity for us to capitalize hopefully and get our first win of the season. It's time."
LOOKING BACK: Started ninth and finished fourth leading one time for one lap. "Well, we didn't really weather the storm but it was a lot of fun," Bowyer said. "Thank you guys for coming out here and enjoying this place. It is a hell of a place to race. It was a lot of fun. It is always fun to race in front of a great crowd like this. Our Chevrolet was pretty good all weekend long. It was about a second- to fifth-place car is where we were all weekend long. So, a good finish in fourth."
ETC.: Bowyer was asked what is standing in the way of signing a new three-year contract with Richard Childress Racing. "Money, sponsorship that's the biggest thing just making sure you lock in everything," Bowyer said. "It takes time to get all that done. Like I said I would be happy exactly with the sponsors, the partners we have are great. General Mills has been an awesome sponsor to work with. BB&T has always been our go-to sponsor and it's always been good. We've won the Nationwide championship, we won my first Cup race with them, been a great sponsor and is right there in our own backyard. It's been a proven product that has worked. I think we'll get it all put together and certainly that's the goal. It just takes time to get everything put together and if that doesn't happen then you've got to explore options and see what's out there. It's the same thing that everybody goes through. It's not much fun but it's part of it."
24, JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, a jump of three positions in the standings, 93 points out of first place.
DAYTONA RECORD: Has six wins, 12 top-five and 18 top-10s in 37 starts at Daytona. He was third last July and 28th in February.
LOOKING AHEAD: With a new type of racing on the restrictor plates Gordon has had to change his driving style at Daytona. "Just the bump drafting, that you can push all the way around the race track now," Gordon explained. "I think when we go back to Daytona; it will be about the temperature, the track and whether the grip has gone away
at all and whether we can still do that. Right now I'm expecting us to be able to do that so it's going to be about finding a partner, a drafting partner to work with and me and Mark (Martin) obviously worked well together at Talladega so we'll have to look at maybe going that same route for Daytona. You know it's not really about whether you have an opinion or like it; it's just the way it is. If you want to be good and have a shot at winning, then you have to learn how to do it well. You have to learn how to cool the engine and you've got to find somebody that you can stick with and they can stick with you all day to be there at the end to win the race."
LOOKING BACK: Battled back from a 13th-place finish to finish second at Infineon. It was his 15th top-10 finish in 19 races at Infineon and his sixth top-10 finish in 2011. "It was as much a statement to us as anything else," he said. "You know a great effort by this team and Alan (Gustafson) and everybody. It was a struggle. I've got to tell you we really missed the set up at the beginning of this race. I don't know just the adjustments we made were that good or the track position or the track changing at the end. It looked like a lot of guys were really; really struggling with grip there at the end and our car was actually pretty good. We were fast and I think we were faster than the leaders. That felt awesome to start there with old tires and be able to work through traffic all the way up to second. Man, that was amazing."
ETC.: Gordon has gotten plenty of road course advice from sports car driver Scott Pruett in his career. "I'm a huge Scott Pruett fan," Gordon admitted. "One of the things growing up around this area when I did race go-karts, which I didn't do a lot of go-kart racing, but when you did and you went to the race track and Scott Pruett was there, he was like a legend. You just looked up to him like he was the ultimate. To see what he's done through his career and still to this day be one of the premiere road racers in the world in my opinion and he's a great guy. To me, I kind of knew we probably weren't going to need a fill in driver, but I just to me, if you're going to have one, why not have the best. I definitely had one of the best road racers standing in for me if we did need him."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, a two-position drop in one race, 98 points behind first place.
DAYTONA RECORD: Has one win (2008 Daytona 500), two top-five and three top-10 finishes in 19 starts. He was 26th last July and 22nd in February. He has finished 20th or worse in his last six Daytona starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Although he is a former winner, Newman is not a fan of restrictor plate tracks but has an upbeat outlook for Saturday night. "I look forward to coming back there; and getting a little more experience from Daytona and Talladega, I'm sure our teams are going to be more competitive than they ever have been at that type of racing," he said. "The racing itself, I wouldn't say is my favorite kind of racing, but I do prefer it more over the old style of drafting, I guess you could say, that we have always done there. It's nice to have an impact as a driver on the abilities of tandem racing, but I would rather be racing side-by-side, three-wide or four-wide or running wide open and having my car do the work than something else pushing me."
LOOKING BACK: Started sixth but dropped back to 25th at the end of the race.
ETC.: Newman will be trying to find a way to beat the heat and expects a slightly different style of racing because high heat means higher engine temperatures at Daytona. "The heat will affect the cars and how long we can drive together," Newman said. "I don't think the heat will have an effect on the grip of the racetrack and being able to do what we do in the corners and in the straightaways. Once the cars get on edge, grip-wise, we struggle a little bit more to stay hooked up. Once you start moving the car in front of you around because you are kind of jacking it sideways, at times, it gets a lot more interesting. But I don't think we're going to be at that grip level. The biggest thing is that if it is hotter, you're going to have to save your car because, as you go into night, if it does cool down -- which sometimes it never does here -- you want to be there at the end and you can start being a little more aggressive toward the end of the race."
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 12 points out of the top-10. Lost two spots to fall out of the top-10.
DAYTONA RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin feels it is about time for his luck to change at Daytona. "We've had a really good car the last few years, but we can't seem to get the finishes we deserve," said Hamlin. "If we can get to the finish without any problems, I think we will be in the hunt (for the win). JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has the cars. We just now need the luck."
LOOKING BACK: After starting fourth, Hamlin would lead twice for 12 laps before running into problems or having problems run into him. On lap 42, A.J. Allmendinger ran into Hamlin, who then bounced off Martin Truex, Jr. Hamlin was able to continue, but later he learned that the contact had broken the track bar. This forced Hamlin to the garage area for repairs as he ended up 37th, 11 laps down. "We had a great car," said an upset Hamlin. "It was probably the best we've ever had for a road course and then we get run into."
ETC.: Hamlin hopes his win at Michigan will end all the talk about switching crew chiefs at JGR. "Getting rid of Mike (Ford, his crew chief) or switching Mike out would never leave my desk," said Hamlin. "He's the guy that knows me the best and even though people doubt him and his ability and consider him old school, I consider him new school. He's the guy on our team that innovates a lot of things that's all on those (JGR) race cars. I definitely feel he's the guy that I can win the championship with – there's no other guy right now that I would do a better job with than him."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 15 points out of the top-10. Lost one spot last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: Three wins and 12 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said he is ready to move on from what happened last Sunday with Brian Vickers. "I pretty much stood my ground," said Stewart. "Now on to Daytona. You know you're going to be partnered up all day. I think it's a bigger challenge for the crew chiefs going into Daytona, trying to figure out how to keep the cars cool. I hope we can keep the swapping down to a minimum and try to figure out how you can stay in line longer without having to do that exchange."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart seemed headed for a top-five finish at Sonoma when he was rammed into by Brian Vickers and sent spinning backwards into a stack of tires. Stewart's car was heavily damaged as the rear end ended up on top of the tires. He finished 39th. "I dumped him earlier for blocking and he got me back later on," said Stewart. "If they block, they are going to get dumped. It's real simple. I don't blame him for dumping us back. He did what he had to do. I don't blame him. I like Brian. I'm not holding it against him at all. But if guys want to block, that's what's going to happen to them every time for the rest of my career."
ETC.: Stewart said he has been complaining "about the way guys have been racing all year. Until NASCAR makes a rule against it (blocking), I am going to dump them every time for it. I don't know if it's a lack of respect or guys just pushing the envelope and not working with each other. It doesn't make sense to do it and I'm not going to tolerate it. I don't race guys that way and I'm not going to let anybody race me that way. So if they block, they get dumped. Plain and simple."
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 29 points out of the top-10.
DAYTONA RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said he "always likes the night race at Daytona. My first ever Sprint Cup win was this race in 2003 so it's definitely a race on the schedule that means something to me and that I look forward to. Racing at Daytona under the lights adds a little extra excitement I think for both the drivers and the fans. We could definitely use a good finish and we need to avoid a bad finish at all costs."
LOOKING BACK: It was a long day for Biffle as he suffered front-end damage on the very first lap of the race. This forced the team to change the front sway bar. "The guys really did a good job working on the car today," said Biffle, who ended up 23rd at Sonoma. "Unfortunately no matter what we tried we were constantly searching for grip and we just were not able to find what we needed."
ETC.: Biffle realizes that "we're getting a little too close to the Chase to have many more bad races (like Sonoma). We had a decent run with this car earlier this year at Talladega because we were able to work well with Carl (Edwards). If we can pair up with Carl or another good drafting partner this weekend we should do well."
5 MARK MARTIN, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 32 points out of the top-10.
DAYTONA RECORD: Finished 10th in the Daytona 500 for his 18th top-10 finish in 52 starts. Still looking for his first win at the 2.5-mile facility.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin said "I can honestly say that I like this style of racing (at Daytona) way better than those 15-car packs that we used to race in. There is just so much more that goes into this. It's finding the right partner, finding which is better pushing. There's got to be so much trust there. And then your spotters have to be working together and most likely, one of them will do all the work for both teams. It's mentally tough. That's one of the reasons I like it so much."
LOOKING BACK: Martin battled an ill-handling race car all day as he finished 19th at Sonoma. "We were like a lot of people, no rear grip and the car wouldn't turn like we needed," said Martin. "We threw a lot of things at it, but nothing really seemed to work. It was just one of those days."
ETC.: Martin and teammate Jeff Gordon worked together for almost all of the Daytona 500 and both of them say they expect to repeat the procedure this weekend. "I'm looking forward to getting back out there and working with Jeff again," said Martin. "There is a huge challenge that goes into this style of racing that we don't typically see every weekend. I know it's a lot to get used to, but I love it."
43 A J ALLMENDINGER, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 42 points out of the top-10. Gained two spots last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: One top-10 finish in six starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger said "the night race at Daytona is always really cool. The atmosphere is electric, and the fans are going to see fireworks on and off the track this weekend. If I can avoid 'The Big One,' I think my Ford will have a shot at ending up in victory lane at the end of what is sure to be a wild night with a crazy finish."
LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 13th at Sonoma. "That was crazy just like always," said Allmendinger. "Everybody was running into each other out there. I got into a couple of guys and got them angry and then I had one guy dump me. I just tried to keep fighting. The car was pretty good. It could have been a lot worse; it could have been a lot worse with 20 to go. But we were able to rally in the final part of the race."
ETC.: Crew chief Mike Shiplett said "having good solid pit stops all day is a key (this weekend). You don't want to have to come back into the pits for a mistake. You don't want to make any unnecessary stops because if you lose your drafting partner you are going to be in trouble. The biggest thing will be staying out of trouble and not getting caught up in someone else's mistake."
42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 43 points out of the top-10. Lost one spot last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: Finished 10th in the Daytona 500 for his third top-10 finish in the last four races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya feels things will be a lot tougher this weekend at Daytona than they were back in February. "If people were spinning around when we had 60 or 70 degrees track temperature, it's going to be quite a challenge with the hotter conditions," said Montoya. "It's going to be interesting to see how people will approach the race. Because at the end of the race it's going to be two-by-two with everybody pushing. The question is if you're going to do it all night."
LOOKING BACK: It was a rough ending to the day for Montoya, who was expected to battle for the win on the track where he scored his first NASCAR victory. But after bouncing off several cars and getting knocked off track by Brad Keselowski late in the race, Montoya had to be content with a 22nd-place finish. "The 4 car (Kasey Kahne) was the first car (he ran into while battling for a top-five spot)," said Montoya "I got beside him and he knocked me a couple of times and they just don't give me any room. The 2 (Keselowski), I got on his bumper and moved him a little bit, passed him and he just plain and simple wrecked us. It's hard when people don't know how to race on road courses and think they do. We had a good car."
ETC.: Despite falling to 16th in the points with only 10 races left until the Chase begins, Montoya still believes "we can make the Chase by being in the top-10. We have a car that is capable of doing that. I think if we make good calls in the next few weeks we should be pretty good. If we can get a win, I think it would be great. We still have a great chance (of winning) at Watkins Glen (the second road course event)."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 46 points out of the top-10. Lost one spot last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: Finished ninth in this year's Daytona 500 for his first top-10 finish in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard expects a repeat of the Daytona 500 this weekend "as far as the two-car drafts are concerned. It's going to be hotter, but the track has so much grip that it won't really matter. There will be two-car break-a-ways and we'll manage that the best we can. I am definitely looking forward to returning with the power that the ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing) engines give us. Restrictor-plate racing still isn't my favorite type of racing. It is a total crapshoot once you're out there."
LOOKING BACK: Despite suffering early-race damage to both front fenders and later being knocked off the course, Menard was able to finish 17th at Sonoma. "Obviously, this wasn't the result we had hoped to have," said Menard, who started a career-best third. "But we still fared better than some and our finish didn't gain or lose us much in the way of points."
ETC.: Menard knows time is running out in his bid to make the Chase. "We're got to get on a run in these next 10 races," said Menard. "We need to put together a number of runs like Michigan (where he finished a season-best fourth). If we can do that, we can still make the Chase."
56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 63 points out of the top-10. Gained two spots last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 12 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex, who turned 31 on Wednesday, thinks he has an excellent chance of getting a late birthday present on Saturday night. "David (Reutimann) and I were leading at Talladega with four or five laps to go, but just got the lead a little too soon," said Truex. "I think our chances this time are just as good. We saw some craziness at Infineon last week and I expect some more craziness at Daytona."
LOOKING BACK: Truex finished a career-best eighth at Sonoma, but he admitted he was disappointed with his finish. "I thought we had something for Kurt (Busch, the eventual winner) there," said Truex. "We were running him down when that caution came out (with 22 laps to go). Then after the caution I was so loose I couldn't go and I got pushed in the dirt. After that caution my car was horrible. Before that caution – if it went green – we were going to be fighting with Kurt (for the win), I believe. Still it was a good day for us. We had a fast car and good pit strategy."
ETC.: Truex said "everyone has a handful of drivers that they like to work with (in the restrictor plate races). I know there are guys out there that when I get to them or they get behind me, I can trust them. I think what we saw at Talladega is what we will see on Saturday and that is teams dictating their drivers to draft and stick together all day long. There's a need to keep it all in the family."
4 KASEY KAHNE, Toyota
Team: Red Bull Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 64 points out of the top-10.
DAYTONA RECORD: Finished second in the July race of 2010, a career best. Has five top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne feels good about the rest of the 2011 season even though Red Bull has said it will not own the team after the year is over. "I think Red Bull is going to do all they can to help out the team and try to get people involved and hopefully carry the two teams on and keep racing," said Kahne. "They are going to do what they can throughout this year to help that situation."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne was running fourth with less than 15 laps to go when he was knocked off the course by Juan Pablo Montoya. As a result, Kahne had to be content with a 20th-place finish at Sonoma on a day when he thought he was going to move up in the standings. "Montoya just drove through me at the top of the hill," said Kahne. "That was obvious. I got hit from behind, just driving into the corner. He got mad because I beat him into turn one when he was beside me in turn 11. So he got mad and just wrecked me in turn two."
ETC.: Kahne said he would like to do some testing with the No. 5 car before the end of the season. "That way, I'll have an idea of how their engines feel and how their cars drive compared to what I have now." Kahne will be moving to Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 5 car in 2012. Kahne said he wants to finish this year with Red Bull.
6 DAVID RAGAN, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 65 points out of the top-10. Lost two spots last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ragan said he can't "wait to get back to Daytona. Daytona is a track we've always run well at and we even had a chance to win the 500 earlier this year (until a late-race penalty for jumping the start ended any hopes he had of winning the race). I'm confident we will have a fast UPS Ford and we've got good teammates to work with so I feel really good about this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: A pass-thru penalty for too many crew members over the wall late in the race ended any hopes Ragan had of challenging for a top-20 finish at Sonoma. Instead, he had to be content with a 29th-place finish at the road course. "We struggled from the get-go," said Ragan. "Goodyear brought a new tire here and we couldn't get our UPS Ford to hook up from the first lap of the race. We never gave up and I thought we were going to be okay during the middle part of the race. But then we had that penalty and that hurt us."
ETC.: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer feels Ragan is a "great (restrictor) plate racer. We had good runs going at both Daytona and Talladega this year and we deserved much better finishes than what we got. We are looking forward to going back. I feel as if we've prepared ourselves for the two-by-two draft as good as anyone else, and we almost got a win there last time so we feel really good about going back."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 67 points out of the top-10.
DAYTONA RECORD: One top-10 finish in five starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose will be making the 100th start of his Cup career on Saturday night. "There is a lot of grip at Daytona since the new surface was put down so there's going to be a lot of action this weekend," said Ambrose. "I'm looking forward to a good finish this time around since we were a victim of a multi-car pileup earlier in the season and didn't finish as well as our car should have. It's going to be an exciting Saturday night race with sparks flying and tempers flaring."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose had high hopes for the weekend as he expected to challenge for the win at Sonoma. That didn't happen, but Ambrose was able to rally in the final 19 laps to finish fifth for his third straight top-six finish at the road course. "I am so proud of my Stanley team," said Ambrose. "To get a top-five out of what could have been a very tough day shows how hard they worked today. That was a great call by Todd (Parrott, crew chief) to stop and change all four (tires) under that last caution."
ETC.: Parrott said the team's goal this weekend is pretty simple. "Getting to the checkered flag in one piece has been our No. 1 goal, as well as our main obstacle in restrictor plate racing this year," said Parrott. "We've seen the checkered flag, but we want to see it on the lead lap this weekend. It's going to be important to get paired up with our teammate and to work together so when it's time to go, we can quickly work our way to the front."
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 77 points out of the top-10. Only 12 points out of the top 20 which is where he needs to be to qualify for the Chase with his one win.
DAYTONA RECORD: Best finish in four starts is 24th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski said "our Dodge was really fast at Daytona in February. We're bringing really fast cars to the race track these days, and we feel that we have a shot to win every week. We know we need to keep doing what we did last week – finish in the top-10 to get into the top 20."
LOOKING BACK: Even a late-race run-in with Juan Pablo Montoya couldn't keep Keselowski from his first top-10 finish at Sonoma as he ended up 10th. "We had a really good Miller Lite Dodge this whole week," said Keselowski. "I'm really proud of my guys. To finish 10th on a road course is nothing to be disappointed about. I thought we were going to get a top-five; we just fell off a little bit at the end. To come out of here with a top-10 is something I'm very proud of."
ETC.: When asked about his knocking Montoya out of the way late in the race, Keselowski said, "I don't take any pride in all that stuff, but at some point you have to run your own deal. It was pretty obvious that it was eat or be eaten, and I wasn't going to be eaten."
20 JOEY LOGANO, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 77 points out of the top-10.
DAYTONA RECORD: Best finish in five starts is 19th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano feels "Daytona is just one of those unpredictable tracks. When you unload, you pretty much have what you have. There's not much you can do at that point to improve your race car. These two-car drafts and the new style of racing make it so important to take care of your equipment and make sure you are there at the end with a drafting partner. Everyone knows that pretty much anything can happen."
LOOKING BACK: After surprising everyone including himself by winning the pole for the road course event, Logano struggled in the first half of the race before rallying to finish a career-best sixth at Sonoma. "The four-tire call there at the end by Zip (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) was definitely a good move to get us a solid finish," said Logano. "I can't tell you how bad I needed a weekend like that. It's definitely going to help our season. It's definitely going to get us some momentum." Logano also won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race on Saturday.
ETC.: Logano said it was "no big deal" that he shoved Robby Gordon out of the way at Sonoma. "He was running me all over the race track," said Logano. "He knocked my fender in for no reason. We were a lot, lot faster than him. I just had enough. I wasn't going to get pushed around. He pushed me around before and I was sick of it. That's not a big deal. The big deal was we finished sixth. I'm pretty happy about that."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 107 points out of the top-10. Gained one spot last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: One win and nine top-10 finishes in 35 starts. Finished fifth in this race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said he feels "really good about our (restrictor) plate program. We led a lot of laps at those races this year. You have to approach Daytona much more like Talladega now. I don't see any possible way that the track has lost enough grip that you wouldn't approach it like a Talladega race. I'm really comfortable with the two-car drafting style. I like it a lot. I don't have any issue with it. We worked real hard at it practicing for the (Daytona) 500. By the time the race came around, I feel like we had adapted to it pretty well."
LOOKING BACK: Burton rallied in the final 20 laps to finish 21st after being knocked off the course from contact with Boris Said. After recovering from the spin, Burton stood 32nd in the running order. "It's been a difficult season so far but we're not a team that gives up," said Burton. "We never were able to get a hold of the handling on the Caterpillar Chevrolet today. Todd (Berrier, crew chief) made a number of changes to the setup and we would run well for a couple of laps but then rear grip would just disappear again."
ETC.: Burton said the biggest concern he has with the two-car packs that have become the norm now at Daytona and Talladega is "you literally can't see when you are the pusher. The only thing that you can see is if you're approaching turn one and you look out of the side window, you can see the middle of turns one and two. But you can't see anything in front of you. You have no idea what you're catching. You're really committed to the guy in front of you. He's communicating with you – telling you what's going on. You're committed to your spotter. It's truly blind racing."
83 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Red Bull Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 119 points out of the top-10. Lost two spots last week.
DAYTONA RECORD: Only three top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers said he is going to "keep all my options open" as he looks forward to 2012. "I built a home here (Red Bull Racing) for five years. A huge part of me wants to stay. We all know we must perform at a high level if we want this program to continue."
LOOKING BACK: Vickers was very blunt about what transpired at Sonoma. "He (Tony Stewart) wrecked me and I wrecked him," stated Vickers after his 36th-place finish. "I wasn't blocking him. That may have been his perception where he was sitting. The 18 (Kyle Busch) went off the race track in front of me. I was trying to avoid him. It was pretty early in the race (lap 39 of the scheduled 110) to worry about blocking someone or wrecking someone. He made his bed at that moment (when Stewart slammed into Vickers to trigger a seven-car accident), and he had to sleep in it."
ETC.: Vickers said he was "not angry" with Stewart. "I think we were joking and laughing (together) last week," said Vickers. "We haven't had any problems in a long time. Actually, I think the last real problem we had (with each other) was turn 11 (at Sonoma) in 2004, funny enough. He wrecked me so I wrecked him. I'm fine with how it all worked out. Granted I wished it hadn't happened – I hate it for the Red Bull guys. I'm sure Tony and I will talk this week."