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Coke Zero Sugar 400 Preview


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The great equalizer will be in play for Saturday night's Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway's high-banked 2.5-mile layout. It's restrictor-plate racing time, the third of four races of its kind this season and the first two were incredible edge-of-your-seat drama. Best of all, both races were won by someone other than Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.

The elite teams drop a notch down to the same level as everyone else when the plates get attached. Their edge is stripped. Guys like Harvick and Busch, who are tied for the series lead with five wins each, don't have a car better than anyone like they do almost everywhere else. They're all the same. They're equal. Anyone can win and I love it.

So drop that green flag and let's get this Saturday night party started. And happy birthday America!

If looking at the results from the season-opening Daytona 500, you'll see the top-10 and immediately see something different compared to any other race on the season. Austin Dillon took the checkers at paid out at 50-to-1. The surprising part is not just Dillon winning or seeing the famed No. 3 in Daytona's victory lane again, but it's simply because a Chevrolet won. The new Camaro hasn't won any of the 16 Cup races since. That's another cool facet. I'm a Chevy bow-tie guy forever and they now have a chance of winning with plates on.

Here's the rest of the Daytona 500 top-10 finishers: Bubba Wallace was second followed by Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Chris Buescher to round out the top-five. Paul Menard was sixth, Ryan Blaney was seventh and led the most laps (118), Ryan Newman was eighth followed by Michael McDowell and A.J. Allmendinger. Further down the results sheet are Justin Marks (12th), Trevor Bayne (13th) and David Gilliand (14th). What a diverse crowd.

“I’m excited to get back to Daytona (International Speedway),” Buescher said. “We had a really good showing there to start off the season in the Daytona 500 and I feel like it’s a place that we’ve been focusing on trying to work together with AJ (Allmendinger) and have a gentle clean Kleenex Wet Wipes Camaro ZL1 that we can race at the end. It’s going to be way hotter this time around, even though it’s a night race."

Buescher's lone Cup win came in 2016 at Pocono, albeit rain-shortened. He finished 11th at Talladega in April. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has him posted at 100-to-1. Anything can happen here, for real, even a Buescher win.

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Truex Jr. finished 18th, Kyle Busch was 25th and Kevin Harvick was 31st. Those three drivers have won 13 of the 17 races this season, but they're each 0-for-2 in plate races. Logano won his only race of the season on the other plate-race track at Talladega to give him four career restrictor-plate wins. Truex doesn't have any plate wins in 53 career starts.

“It (bad luck) has to change eventually,” said Truex who is 18-to-1 to win this week. “We tried some different strategies in the past but we still found trouble. Our mindset is to try and run up front, collect some stage points and hopefully end the race with a clean car and a top 10 finish in our No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota.”

Nothing against Truex, Busch or Harvick -- they're the best, but I'm hoping someone else gets the glory this week. Another awesome thing about plate racing is the odds board this week with unusually high odds on Harvick at 10-to-1 and Busch as 12-to-1. Odds that high on the top drivers and I still won't bet it. That's how equal things are with the plates on.

I also like being able to focus on other drivers. I rarely talk about Ricky Stenhouse Jr, but in plate races, I have to. He won his first career Cup race at Talladega last spring and then followed it up with a win in this race.

“I’m really looking forward to this weekend," said Stenhouse who is 15-to-1 to win Saturday night. "Jimmy Fennig has done a great job building our superspeedway cars. Last year, we were able to get our Fifth Third Ford into victory lane. Anything can happen in typical plate racing but hopefully, we can once again get our Ford into victory lane and clinch a spot in the Playoffs.”

Stenhouse is one of eight different drivers to win the past eight races at Daytona. There have also been eight different winners in the past eight July Daytona races.

Everyone has a chance to win at Daytona, or least let's narrow it down and say 34 of the drivers. Because of that type of randomness, the usual suspects to win regular races at 3-to-1 or lower are jacked up over 10-to-1 and the sleds that usually are offered at 100-to-1 or higher weekly are chopped down to 50-to-1 or lower.

Wallace will not be a waste of money this week at Daytona because he actually has a shot to win. He's usually 500-to-1 to win on a regular track but he's 50-to-1 to win this week. He was one of three Chevrolets to finish in the top-five of the Daytona 500. I'm not betting him, but I couldn't criticize anyone for doing so.

The one manufacturer that has shown to have a slight edge in plate races lately has been Ford who has won five of the past eight races at Daytona and the last six at Talladega. The only driver this season to finish in the top-five of both plate races was Logano so I'm sticking with him this week as the best of the bunch.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #22 Joey Logano (10/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
3) #12 Ryan Blaney (10/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
5) #41 Kurt Busch (12/1)

  
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