Coke Zero 400 Preview
July 2, 2013
By Micah Roberts
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If there was proof needed that restrictor plate races in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season with the new Gen-6 was the biggest crap shoot ever in the sport, all you need to do is refer back to the results of the top finishers from the February 24 Daytona 500 and May 5 race at Talladega.
Sure, Jimmie Johnson ended up winning at Daytona, but finishing in the top-10 were drivers like Danica Patrick, Regan Smith, Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley. At Talladega, not only did David Ragan win while driving the No. 34 Farm Rich Ford, but coming in second was David Gilliland in the Love's Travel Stops Ford.
Those aren't the typical names or sponsors we see on a weekly basis doing well, but it's the perfect example of how throwing darts at car numbers before the race is just as good as any handicapping method when dealing with either of the two restrictor-plate tracks. It's also why the sports books will have maybe only one driver at single-digit odds this week. Last week, Johnson was 4-to-1, this week, he'll be 12-to-1.
While the plate races themselves have appeared to be boring at times this season with not a lot passing, the results show otherwise. At Daytona, there were 28 lead changes among 14 drivers, and at Talladega, there were 30 lead changes between 17 drivers.
The one dominator between the two races was last weeks winner Matt Kenseth, who led race highs with 86 laps at Daytona and 142 laps at Talladega. To give an example of how dominating he was, the next closest lap leader at Daytona was Denny Hamlin with 33 laps. At Talladega, the gap is even greater with Johnson leading the second most at only 16.
Between the two races, as great as Kenseth was, his best finish between the two was seventh at Talladega, proving emphatically that the best car doesn't always win. He's sure to eventually win one of these. He was the best during Daytona speed weeks and was the best in both plate races, but Kenseth winning doesn't flow with the theme set where everyone has a chance.
To make the story feel somewhat closer to what we have seen this season, we need an underdog, a surprise winner, but also with someone that has shown an inkling for plate racing, in particular at Daytona. While both tracks use restrictor-plates, and both are big fast tracks, they race completely different.
The driver that pops up is Hamlin, who was leading the Daytona 500 with 28 laps to go, before settling for 14th. He'll have a car set-up similar to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth and he's also in the underdog role right now. I also like the fact that he's going all out for wins as he's sitting 25th in points -- needing to make the top-20 in order the have a chance at one of two wild card positions which are given out to those with the most wins. He's a 50-to-1 long shot to win the Sprint Cup Championship right now, but those odds will drop in half if he does win his first race of the season this week.
I grabbed the dice and rolled 11, so I'm cruising with Hamlin. It's just as good as any other method at picking a winner in plate races.
Top-5 Finish Predictions:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (20/1)
2) #20 Matt Kenseth (8/1)
3) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12/1)
4) #99 Carl Edwards (18/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (12/1)