Coke Zero Sugar 400 Preview

Kyle Busch went from plowing to bowing at Chicagoland (thank you, Tony), and has evened up the season lead for wins (5) with Kevin Harvick. The final laps of Sunday’s race were about as good as it gets for drama, which is a perfect lead into more potential fireworks in Florida on Saturday night under the lights…


The probability of getting caught up in a wreck at Daytona is so high, I’m very reluctant to ever recommend risking a big name unless you have plenty of uses to spare. At most tracks we visit, there is a very wide and obvious spectrum between the best drivers and the worst. This often makes my job of picking names look easy, pointless, or foolish at times in retrospect. However, they call the draft ‘the great equalizer’ because restrictor plates and aerodynamics significantly narrow this spectrum. Suddenly the best names are less appealing, the worst names are slightly more palatable, and every car with a number on it has an honest chance at winning. That said, here are my top five lower profile drivers, all of whom I believe deserve serious consideration this weekend because of plate track talent and/or situational opportunity to spare a big name. Since everyone has a chance to finish well, I’ve eliminated the Draft and Drag sections for this week.


This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch have been purposely omitted because they are obvious options each week. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Aric Almirola – Aric has been overshadowed by his Stewart-Haas teammates for most of the season, but he’s a solid plate driver and they’ve been bringing good cars to the fights. He doesn’t typically earn a lot of stage points methodically creeping his way towards the front, but he’s a consistent finisher and has a knack for running all the laps. Aric has finished 4 of his last 5 plate events at Talladega and Daytona in the top-10 since 2017.

Rickey Stenhouse Jr. – As I’ve written about on prior occasions, the #17 team is all about their plate program, and this may be their last serious shot at winning a race this year, with a distant honorable mention to Bristol. They are currently 16th in the points standings and would much rather punch their ticket to the playoffs this weekend with an automatic bid. Ricky has won 2 of the last 6 overall plate events and is this weekend’s defending champ.

Paul Menard – Paul has figured out how to finish in the top-6 in his last three Daytona events since 2017, including a 3rd place finish in this race last season. Even more amazing, the Wood Brothers figured out how make Trevor Bayne a Daytona 500 winner. Suffice it to say, Paul is in good hands with solid ownership, let alone a favorable working relationship with the Penske drivers (#2, #12, #22).

Austin Dillon – Austin is the current Daytona 500 champion after ‘moving’ Almirola from the lead back in February. Since 2014, Austin has finished 6 of his 9 Daytona attempts in the top-10, and 8 of those 9 in the top-20. Never underestimate the simple ability to just finish races at Daytona, as it should be anyone’s primary goal with their pick(s). It’s also a lot more comfortable knowing you’re already in the playoffs instead of driving defensively to worry about points.

Front Row Motosports – Both Michael McDowell and David Ragan are grossly underrated plate drivers, mostly because they never get considered elsewhere. However, it may surprise some people to realize McDowell hasn’t finished worse than 15th in his last 5 Daytona events, which includes a 4th place effort in this race last season. Meanwhile, Ragan has always been a super sneaky sleeper pick, but has been historically stronger at Talladega than Daytona. Alliteration aside, he finished 6th in this race last season, and his 3 consecutive top-10s at Talladega have him back on my radar recently. My preference of the two is for McDowell, but I wanted to write about both, and I get to do whatever I want.

As always, good luck!


8.5, #43 Bubba Wallace (2 races)
10.5, #10 Aric Almirola (4 races)
10.6, #34 Michael McDowell
11.o, #22 Joey Logano
11.0 #47 A.J. Allmendinger

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ DAYTONA (last 5 track events)

101.8, #12 Ryan Blaney
96.8 #88 Alex Bowman
93.0, #22 Joey Logano
92.7, #2 Brad Keselowski
90.1, #11 Denny Hamlin

2018 MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

46.6, #18 Kyle Busch
43.6, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
39.2, #2 Brad Keselowski
38.6, #14 Clint Bowyer
38.0, #4 Kevin Harvick

One Response to “Coke Zero Sugar 400 Preview”

  1. 🙂