Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Daytona: Coke Zero 400

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Track history: On July 2nd, Daytona International Speedway will host its second race of the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season. This time it will be high-speed racing under the lights at the 480 acre facility which is considered the "World Center of Racing" hosting the famous Daytona 500 race in February. Banking in turns on the 2.5-mile track is 31 degrees. Banking in the tri-oval is 18 degrees and 3 degrees on the backstretch. The frontstretch is 3,800 feet and the backstretch is 3,400 feet. In addition to the tower suites, there are 168,000 grandstand seats for the fans to enjoy this exciting nighttime event.

First Daytona Cup races: The first Daytona Cup race was the February 1959 Daytona 500 won by Lee Petty. The first summer Cup event was the 1959 Firecracker 250 held on July 4th. Fireball Roberts put the Jim Stephens owned No. 3 Pontiac on the pole, led 84 of the 100 lap race and beat the rest of the 34 car field. He earned $7,050 for crossing the line 57 seconds ahead of runner-up Joe Weatherly's No. 12 Thunderbird.

July 3, 2010: Kevin Harvick won the Coke Zero 400 from the pole. It was the No. 29 Chevrolet driver's 2nd victory in 2010 and his 2nd at Daytona. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 42-Juan Pablo Montoya (11 laps, finished 27th), 19-Elliott Sadler (11 laps, 22nd), 31-Jeff Burton (11, 5th), 24-Jeff Gordon (13, 3rd), 77-Sam Hornish Jr. (14, 21st), 2-Kurt Busch (14, 7th), 33-Clint Bowyer (19, 17th), 18-Kyle Busch (15, 40th) and winner Harvick led the most laps (28).

February 20, 2011: Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 from a 32nd place start. It was the No. 21 Ford driver's first career victory in only his second NSCS start. This is team owner Wood Brothers' fifth Daytona 500 victory, the last coming in 1976 with David Pearson. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 1-Jamie McMurray (11 laps, finished 18th), 27-Paul Menard (11 laps, 9th), 56-Martin Truex Jr. (17, 19th), 22-Kurt Busch (19, 5th), 33-Clint Bowyer (31, 17th) and No. 39-Ryan Newman, who finished 22nd, led the most laps (37).

Fantasy games won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. There were 46 cars on the entry list for this weekend's Cup race. Here are our picks for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Mid-Pack picks

Jamie McMurray is a two-time Daytona winner (July 2007, February 2010) and our top pick this week. He is ranked 4th in NASCAR's loop data in their Green Flag Passes category (passed 2,661 times) and 5th in Quality Passes (passed 1,741 cars while running in the top 15) over the last 13 Daytona races. In this year's season opener, McMurray led 11 laps and finished 18th. In this race last year, he was attempting to become the 5th driver ever to sweep Daytona in a single year. He got as high as 7th before being taken out by another spinning car (No. 6 David Ragan). After repairs, he made it back up to 3rd but was involved in the Big One on lap 166 (credited with a 39th place).

In his first three restrictor plate starts (2006 and 2007) David Gilliland had 2 poles, a 2nd place start and finishes of 15th, 8th and 4th. Then he struggled for a couple of years. Since Daytona (and Talladega) have been repaved and are now known for the two-car draft, Gilliland has become a 'dancing partner' expert and regained his rep as a restrictor plate specialist. Working well with several other drivers, he finished 3rd in February's Daytona 500 and 9th at Talladega in April. According to NASCAR Statistics loop data, Gilliland is the 2nd best 'Closer' (improved an average of 8.8 positions in the last 10% of his 6 Daytona races). This is a great week to give the Taco Bell Ford a look.

Paul Menard has one pole and a 19.9 average finish in 8 Daytona starts. His average for the last three has improved to a 13.3 including a 9th in February's 500. Menard scored the 10th most points in the last two races at DIS. He earned a respectable 12th at Talladega in April. He also led laps in both 2011 plate races. The month of June has been very good for the No. 27 Chevy driver. All four races (Kansas, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma) were started in the top ten. He backed that up with a 13.5 average finish. We think Menard will continue that average into July.

Our long-shot pick this week is Regan Smith. His overall numbers are not impressive at the plate tracks (a 24.7 average finish in 7 Daytona starts and a 22.8 in 8 'Dega races) but we like his recent trips to those venues. His last two Talladega starts ended in top 15 finishes. In February, Smith finished 2nd in his 150-mile Daytona qualifier race. He followed that up with a strong attempt at a victory in the 500. He was leading the race with 5 laps to go when he got turned into the wall by his "pusher", Kurt Busch. After quick repairs for front-end damage, he managed a 7th place finish. Smith's 10.2 average start in the 16 races so far this season is the best among all drivers in the series. He just needs to close the deal. We think he might be a contender on Saturday night.


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



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