Daytona International Speedway

Who is Hot/Not ahead of Coke Zero 400? In restrictor-plate races, Ford is very hot (VIDEO)

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In the last two seasons, restrictor-plate races have become playgrounds for teams powered by Ford.

Playgrounds full of chance, chaos and luck if the first two don’t end your day.

A combination of all three have resulted in Ford teams winning four of the last six Daytona races and the last five plate races overall dating back to the May 2016 event at Talladega. That race was the first of three straight won by Team Penske, as Brad Keselowksi won it and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Joey Logano followed suit in October, winning his second fall Talladega race in a row.

The Ford parade continued in February. After Kevin Harvick led a race-high 50 laps, it was his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch who won, leading only the final lap after a string of leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps.

It was only the second time in a non-qualifying race and the first time since July 1994 that a Daytona winner led only the final lap.

The last-lap heroics were again on display at Talladega, when pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the lead from Kyle Busch heading into Turn 1. He held the field off for his first career Cup win.

Here is who is Hot and who is Not heading into the Coke Zero 400.

Who is Hot

Kyle Busch
• Busch is winless in the last 32 race, but after finishing fifth at Sonoma has top-10 finishes in six of the last seven races.
• Passed for the win on the final lead change five times this season.
• Led the most laps four times in first 16 races with total 746 laps led.
• One Daytona win in 2008 Coke Zero 400.
• Finished top three in two of the last three races at Daytona, crashed out of Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick

• Coming off first win of season at Sonoma Raceway
• Finished top 10 in eight of the last 10 races (23rd at Talladega after being in wreck, 14th at
Michigan).
• Two-time Daytona winner but has three top-four finishes and three finishes of 22nd or worse in last six races.

Brad Keselowski

• Finished third at Sonoma. Has not had back-to-back top 10s since Talladega and Kansas.
• Nine top fives this season leads all drivers.
• Won this race last year at Daytona, only Daytona win and only finish better than 18th in the last six
races at Daytona.
• Five restrictor-plate wins, tied with Johnson for second most among active drivers

Kyle Larson
• Finished 26th, a lap down at Sonoma for worst finish of season outside of DNF in Coke 600.
• Two wins this season, at Auto Club and Michigan; leads the points after 16 races.
• Finished in the top two seven times this season.
• Best Daytona finish is sixth in 2016 Coke Zero 400.
• Finished top 12 in the five of last six plate races.
• Finished 12th in 2017 Daytona 500 after running out of fuel from the lead on the last lap.

Who is Not

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 38th at Sonoma Raceway.
• Won at Talladega, but only one top-10 finish (Michigan) in the six races since.
• Finished fifth in this race last year for best finish at Daytona in 10 starts.

Kasey Kahne

• Finished 24th at Sonoma after wrecking on the last lap.
• Only one top-10 finish (Talladega) in the last 14 races.
• Best Daytona finish is second in 2010 Coke Zero 400.
• Only two top 10-finishes in the last nine races at Daytona, including seventh in February.

Austin Dillon

• Finished 18th at Sonoma.
• Despite Coke 600 win, has only two top-10 finishes this season after having seven at this point last year.
• Best Daytona finish is fifth in the 2014 July race.
• Finished top 10 in five of his eight Daytona starts, his most top 10s at a track in the Cup Series.
• Finished 19th in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Ryan Blaney

• Finished ninth at Sonoma Raceway and scored points in both stages.
• Scored his first career win at Pocono Raceway.
• Only three finishes better than 24th in the last nine races.
• Finished second in the 2017 Daytona 500, only finish better than 14th at Daytona in four starts.

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NASCAR America: Dale Jr.’s aggressiveness at Sonoma pays off, will need it at Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt was very aggressive in his final Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, and while it may have resulted in his Lap 14 accident in Turn 11, it also helped produce his third top 10 of the year and his second in a row.

“I think being offensive is better than being passive on a road course, nothing wrong with that,” said NASCAR America analyst Max Papis, who also broke down what caused Earnhardt’s bizarre spin early in Sunday’s race that also involved Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson.

“You’ve got to commit, usually the pass has happened before you actually arrive at the corner,” Papis said. “He thought that was a good opportunity, (then) committed. ”

NASCAR America’s analysts also discussed Earnhardt’s upcoming start at Daytona, which likely will be his final Cup start there. The track may be his best shot to earn a win and a spot in the playoffs.

The analysts believe the aggressiveness that was on display at Sonoma will be necessary for Earnhardt to pull a win out at Daytona.

Earnhardt’s year got off to a rough start in the Daytona 500. He was leading the race when Kyle Busch lost a tire in Turn 3 on Lap 105, spun and collected Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

Earnhardt was near the front at Talladega in May late in the race when he was forced to pit for a loose tire with less than 15 laps to go.

That leaves the 14-time most popular driver with just two more chances to win a restrictor-plate race, the format he’s earned 10 of his 26 Cup Series wins.

“They’ve got to find a way to give him a car where he can be aggressive Dale Jr.,” Jeff Burton said. “What makes him so good at Daytona and Talladega is that he doesn’t hesitate. He’s the guy setting the tempo, he’s the guy forcing the issue. … He can’t drive with caution, he can’t drive worried about if ‘is my car going to stick?’ He’s got to stick it in there and know it’s going to stick. He hasn’t had that the last several plate races.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

Here’s how Daytona is honoring Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Coke Zero 400

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s farewell tour began last weekend with his final NASCAR Cup Series start at Sonoma Raceway.

It will pick up steam this weekend at one of the track’s synonymous with the Earnhardt name – Daytona International Speedway.

Even though Earnhardt left the door open on Friday to a potential future start in the Daytona 500, the track is approaching Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 as if it will be his last at the 2.5-mile track as a driver.

With the Hendrick Motorsports driver gearing up for his 36th points race there, the track has announced how it will be honoring Earnhardt’s career, which includes four points wins, among them two victories in the Daytona 500.

The track will have a “#Daletona mosaic,” which will be located in the Axalta Injector. The mosaic will be made up of printed off photos of Earnhardt and Daytona that fans submit via Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag.

Here are the other ways Daytona is honoring Earnhardt this weekend.

·   No. 88 logo painted in the tri-oval grass.

·   Special video during pre-race ceremonies.

·  Earnhardt Daytona highlights display and photo opportunity in the UNOH Fanzone.

·  Dale Jr. #APPRECI88ION Lap on Lap 88 for fans to stand and recognize Earnhardt.

· Earnhardt greatest moments at Daytona bracket challenge at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/dalejr

The 59th Coke Zero 400 will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 1 on NBC.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. keeps door open for future Daytona 500 run, TV work

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race a Cup car next week at Daytona International Speedway for the final time.

Or will it be?

The 14-time most popular driver, who has said he will retire from full-time driving at the end of this season, opened the door Friday to running the Daytona 500 again some day.

Asked about his feelings of racing at Daytona one last time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt noted an interest in running the Daytona 500 again some day.

“You never say never,’’ said the two-time Daytona 500 champ, whose 2004 triumph will air from 7-9 p.m. ET June 29 on NBCSN. “I’m just retiring from full-time racing. I’m going to run some Xfinity races next year. I don’t know that I won’t ever run the Daytona 500 again if the right deal comes along.

“All these tracks, you have memories at all of them, Daytona included. I’m going to be coming back to these tracks and want to be continue to be part of the sport. I don’t think it’s really, I don’t know how it’s going to affect me. It’s hard for me to put into words.

“It will be pretty weird, I think, to come back to the 500. I’m going to go to the 500 (next year) whether I’ve got any work to do or not. So it would pretty weird to be there and not race. It’s going to be strange.

“I remember when (former crew chief and current NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve) Letarte went into the booth. When he wasn’t working a race, he had a hard time being there, he had a hard time watching it and not wanting to be a part of it.

“That was pretty difficult last year (for Earnhardt when he sat out the final 18 races because of concussion symptoms) but it was a different circumstance with the injuries. It will be interesting just when we get to the 500 next year to see how all that feels emotionally.’’

But even if Earnhardt isn’t on the track, he could be on TV. A June 19 report by Sports Business Journal, citing industry sources, stated that Earnhardt was talking to both Fox Sports and NBC Sports about joining either next year.

How likely is it that fans will see him working for one of the TV networks next year?

“I definitely did enjoy doing that,’’ said Earnhardt, who has been in the booth for both networks previously. “We are certainly open to discuss the possibilities, seeing what options I have … what kind of job they want me for. We’re sort of in the middle of understanding that. That just goes along the lines of doing due diligence on everything.

“I’m not retiring from work. I want to keep seeking out opportunities to make a living, make money and be relevant and be a value to my partners. I want to continue to be a part of the sport and not just as an owner in the Xfintiy Series. I want to be a valuable asset to the growth of the sport and continue to help raise the bar and raise the awareness of the sport and promote the sport as much as I can. We’re just kind of looking at what opportunities there are out there for me.

I’ve obviously signed with (talent agency) WME and that’s really sped up that process of being able to vet through some of these things. I think it’s just a natural curiosity for me to see really what those options are in broadcasting.’’

One thing is certain about next year for Earnhardt. The co-owner of JR Motorsports has said he would drive in at least two Xfinity races next year. Which races he will run have not been announced. As for this season, Earnhardt heads into Sunday’s race 23rd in the points. He likely needs a win to make the playoffs. He’s coming off a ninth-place finish last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, his best finish in the last eight races. 

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Four-time Olympic medalist to explore different aspects of NASCAR for NBC Sports

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Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist and 10-year NBC Sports track and field analyst, will join the NASCAR on NBC broadcast team as a features contributor for this season.

NBC broadcasts the final 20 Cup races of the season, beginning with the July 1 race at Daytona International Speedway. NBC also broadcasts the final 19 Xfinity races of the season, beginning June 30 at Daytona.

Boldon will make his NASCAR on NBC debut July 1 at Daytona.

At Daytona, Boldon will be embedded with the die-hard NASCAR racing community. He will  report on what makes NASCAR fans so loyal to their drivers. Boldon will experience the infield firsthand, and will look back at what it was like to race on the packed sand of Daytona Beach where the sport first began.

In addition to his role at Daytona, Boldon will contribute to NASCAR on NBC’s coverage of four additional races during the 2017 season, including Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Reporting assignments will include serving as a NASCAR hauler driver, joining Joe Gibbs Racing’s pit crew, and becoming a driver himself, when he takes the wheel of NBC Sports’ on-track car to experience piloting a 750+ horsepower stock car on 20-degree banked turns.

“As an athlete, broadcaster, and lover of speed and adrenaline, I’m eager to experience the fascinating intricacies of NASCAR,” said Boldon. “It’s an amazing opportunity to bring fans even closer to the action, and I hope to bring a perspective that viewers have not previously seen.”

Boldon had his first taste of NASCAR last year during a ride along with NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Boldon’s hot laps around the 1.5 mile oval can be found here.

Boldon, who joined NBC Sports Group in 2007, serves as NBC Sports Group’s lead track and field analyst. Boldon has covered four Olympics for NBC Sports, including the 2016 Rio Olympics, 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, 2012 London Games, and 2008 Beijing Games.

In 1992, Boldon represented Trinidad and Tobago in the 100m and 200m competitions at the Barcelona Olympics. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Boldon won bronze medals in the 100m and 200m events. Four years later, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Boldon won a silver medal in the 100m, and a bronze in the 200m.