Coke Zero 400: Beating Heat, Humidity, ‘Smoke’
Daytona International Speedway in July isn’t Daytona in February.
The 2.5 miles of asphalt has less grip; heat and humidity test both car and driver and the race distance is 100 miles shorter. The Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca Cola (7:30 p.m. ET TNT, MRN RADIO, SIRIUSXM RADIO) is run under the lights instead of in the afternoon’s early hours.
“Usually it’s about 95 degrees with 90% humidity in July so a slick track condition is biggest change we deal with when racing at Daytona International Speedway in July compared to February,” said Kevin Harvick, the race’s 2010 winner.
Active drivers who have won both races – but not in the same season – are Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray and Michael Waltrip. The last competitor to sweep both Daytona events was NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison in 1982.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart continues to pursue a Daytona 500 victory. But Smoke, defending winner of the Coke Zero 400, counts four July victories in the past eight seasons. He’s the last driver to win Daytona’s July race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup title in the same season (2005).
Jimmie Johnson – February’s Daytona 500 winner and a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – has yet to record a victory at Daytona in July.
Also winless in July is 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who recorded a season-high fourth victory on Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. Kenseth, third in last year’s Coke Zero 400, posted a phenomenal 2.0 average finish in last year’s four restrictor-plate races.
Saturday night’s race will be the second at Daytona for the Gen-6 race car that made its NASCAR Sprint Cup debut during February’s Speedweeks. The Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry cars outwardly may appear the same but teams since have made dramatic strides in development.
“It was practically a blank sheet of paper,” said Busch of the Gen-6 in February. “I think we’ll see these cars handling better as these teams have learned so much more and are a lot smarter than we were back then.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson and Earnhardt finished one-two in February’s Gen-6 debut. Last July, Stewart passed Kenseth on the final lap with Jeff Burton taking second. The race ended under caution, the result of a 15-car accident in Turn 4.
Four different organizations have won the most recent eight Daytona July races. Joe Gibbs Racing has the best record with three victories. Active teams yet to win the Coke Zero 400 include Penske Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.