What to Watch: Daytona

Tony Stewart

No matter what any driver plans to do, they might as well forget it in the final lap, says Tony Stewart, a four-time winner at Daytona in July. (Photo: Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The randomness of restrictor-plate racing can be maddening. One moment a driver is in position to win, the next moment the chance is gone. And then it can return just as suddenly.

Picking a winner is more difficult than picking which lottery ball will pop up next. Who could have guessed that David Ragan would have won at Talladega Superspeedway, in the most recent restrictor-plate race, and his Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland would finish second?

For every David Ragan, who also won at Daytona in July 2011, or Trevor Bayne, the surprise 2011 Daytona 500 winner, there are others who have not won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway.

That list includes Bobby Labonte (41 starts), Kurt Busch (25), Kasey Kahne (19), Carl Edwards (17), Martin Truex Jr. (16), Clint Bowyer (15) and Denny Hamlin (15).

Busch, Edwards, Kahne, Truex and Hamlin also have not won a Cup race at Talladega.

“Kurt (Busch) is a great plate racer and always has been, so that surprises me that you said Kurt hasn't won here,’‘ said Matt Kenseth, who is the defending race winner. “I think that restrictor-plate racing is just totally different. It's hard to even honestly really group it with the other 32 races. It's just totally different. There's a lot of that comes into play and a lot of circumstances that come into play.

“You've got to have a fast car everywhere, but if you don't have a fast car here there's absolutely nothing that you're going to do about it. I mean, everybody is wide open all the way around so if your car is slow, what are you going to do about it? You know, I think winning these races, there's a lot, I don't want to use the word luck, but there's a lot of circumstances that come into play to win one of these races than there would be at Charlotte or somewhere."

Who’s turn will it be tonight? Will the winner be someone one expects, a surprise or a first-timer at this track? That will be just part of what to watch for tonight.

Restarts - Jimmie Johnson has made this an issue in the last month with his penalty at Dover and his complaints about a late restart at Kentucky. Jimmie says he’s done worrying about it.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how I interpret the rule, it’s how it’s enforced,’‘ Johnson said. “That is the thing that I’m trying to focus on now. It doesn’t matter how I read it, what I think. Clearly the way I’ve felt a few things have gone are different than the way it’s enforced. The way it’s enforced is all that matters. That is where I’m focusing now.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - It seems hard to believe that his last Cup win at Daytona was the 2004 Daytona 500. He’s finished second in two of the last three Cup races at this track and says he knows what he needs to do to win again here - be aggressive.

“Just trying to force myself to take a few more chances,’’ he said. “I’ve got to be further ahead than fourth on the last lap. We had enough race car to win the (Daytona) 500 and just ran out of laps. I need to be a little further forward to be able to have that shot.’’

Gameplanning - No matter what any driver plans to do, they might as well forget it in the final lap, says Tony Stewart, a four-time winner at Daytona in July.

“It’s very much I call it the Peyton Manning deal,’’ Stewart said, noting the Denver Broncos quarterback known for often changing his team’s play at the line of scrimmage. “You are constantly calling an audible in those last two or three laps. It may work it may not work. You can’t sit there and say okay this is the playbook this is what we do, this is where we want to be on that last lap. There are no guarantees. It’s just literally adjusting what you think you need to do by what you are seeing in the mirror and what you are seeing in front of you.”

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