By Tori Petry – With this year’s Chase format, NASCAR Sprint Cup victories become more and more precious as the opportunities to earn them dwindle with every race, and victory lane real estate at the Coke Zero 400 is looking pretty valuable. This track plays to the strengths of a few drivers who excel at superspeedways, but in stark contrast, is also known for elevating some of the weaker ones with its unexpected nature.
While Daytona is always a prime chance for lower-tier teams to make waves with a win and a Chase berth, here are six drivers in need of a trip to victory lane on Saturday.
This one’s a no-brainer, and also one of the more capable competitors when it comes to Daytona in July. Stewart usually finds his groove come summertime, and the Daytona weekend seems to be one of his specialties – he’s racked up four Cup wins here on Independence Day weekend and placed second here last year.
However, Stewart has been lackluster this season so far after coming off an injury that sidelined him for 15 races at the end of 2013. If he can turn his prowess at this track into a win this weekend, it would be his ticket back into the Chase mix he’s accustomed to.
When you think of good restrictor plate drivers, Jamie McMurray is certainly one of the first that come to mind. It’s unlikely he’ll make it into the Chase on points as he’s currently 21st, so at the last plate race before the Chase, this is his shot.
He has a non-points win under his belt with his All-Star Race victory in May, and has placed top-15 in the last two races here. We still have yet to see this format give a Chase berth to a driver that isn’t one of the usual suspects, and he could be that driver here this weekend.
Matt Kenseth certainly hasn’t had a bad season so far. He’s fifth in points, and through 17 races, he has 1 top-10 finishes. But after winning seven races last season and coming down to the wire against @JimmieJohnson for the championship, you would think the win-and-you’re-in Chase format would give Kenseth an easy way into the post-season.
Still, Kenseth has yet to get his first win for 2014, and Daytona is a great place for him to do it. His most recent win here came in February of 2012 and he had a top-10 car here earlier this year. It’s time that team got the
If there’s anyone who needs a win this season period, it’s Kasey Kahne. He’s been less than impressive compared to his dominating Hendrick Motorsports teammates this season to say the least. He has had some frustrating weeks (ahem, @KyleBusch and Pocono), and the pressure is not letting up with his impending contract expiration at Hendrick and no news about his future.
He needs nothing more than to get the win monkey off his back and give his team a collective sigh of relief. With the momentum from Friday night’s thrilling Nationwide victory, he desperately needs to make it happen again on Sunday.
If there’s any track where Danica is capable of putting it in victory lane, it’s at a plate track. She made history here last year when she became the first woman to win the pole and to lead a lap, and she ended up logging a solid eighth place finish.
She’s only had one other top-10 in Cup, so if she wants to prove her worth to the naysayers, her best chance is definitely at a track like Daytona that often favors wild card drivers. If she’s able to avoid the big one, she can make it happen.
Hamlin doesn’t need a win this weekend quite as bad as some of the others. In fact, he’s already (theoretically) in the Chase after his win at Talladega. That doesn’t mean he won’t be coming at Daytona with a vengeance. He dominated all of the pre-season qualifying races here back in February after a disappointing end to 2013, and was well favored to sweep Sprint Cup action for Speedweeks with a 500 win.
However, he failed to keep his solemn vow to the media that he’d win that Sunday (awkward …), and instead, came in an oddly frustrating second after having to maneuver himself through the wild final laps with a broken radio and no spotter. With February domination, a stinging runner-up 500 finish, and a win at the other restrictor plate track on the circuit, you can bet he’ll be running for redemption this weekend.
Tori Petry is a Guest Columnist for Popular Speed