Tony Stewart’s DAYTONA Finale
Tony Stewart shares some special history with Daytona International Speedway, a track at which he's won an incredible 19 times -- including Can-AM Duel qualifying races for the DAYTONA 500, The Sprint Unlimited exhibition, two International Race of Champions (IROC) events and the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, among others.
Trailing only Dale Earnhardt as the most successful driver in the history of DAYTONA, and ranking second on the all-time Coke Zero 400 victories list, there is perhaps no race better suited for Stewart’s farewell to the “World Center of Racing” as an active driver than this Independence Day weekend classic. The four-time Coke Zero 400 champion (2005, 2006, 2009, 2012) will look to add to his legacy by tying the all-time event record for victories (five) set by David Pearson.
Strong Rookie Class
It’s been more than 50 years since A.J. Foyt (1964) and Sam McQuagg (1965) won back-to-back Coke Zero 400’s, each as rookie drivers. Since then, no rookie has won the Coke Zero 400. In fact, only one NASCAR rookie (Trevor Bayne, 2011 DAYTONA 500) has won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway since then. That could all change this year, however, with one of the most promising rookie classes in recent memory.
Through 16 races this season, 20-year-old Chase Elliott, the 2016 DAYTONA 500 pole-sitter, has transformed into a legitimate contender by racking up 12 top-10 finishes in his last 14 races.
Ryan Blaney, who started seventh in this year’s DAYTONA 500, already has six top-10 finishes to his credit, including a streak in May that produced three of his four best career finishes. Don’t sleep on Brian Scott or Chris Buescher either as the two Rookie of the Year contenders each look for their breakthrough on racing’s biggest stage.
Dale Jr. Going for Back-to-Back Wins
A year ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured his second career Coke Zero 400, dominating from the pole position and leading 96 of the 160 laps before his No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet claimed the checkered flag.
So far in 2016, Dale Jr. has recorded six top-10s, five top-5s and a Sprint Cup Series-leading four second-place finishes. Though he sits 11th in the driver standings and is currently in the prospective Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Grid, a Chase spot is not guaranteed as he’s yet to win a race.
Dale Jr. looks to become the fifth driver overall – and the first since Tony Stewart in 2005-06 – to win consecutive summer races at Daytona International Speedway.
Denny Hamlin for DAYTONA Double
Denny Hamlin’s 2016 DAYTONA 500 victory was the closest in the 58-year history of “The Great American Race” – with only 0.010 seconds separating him and Martin Truex Jr. at the start/finish line. Hamlin’s triumph gave Joe Gibbs Racing its second DAYTONA 500 victory and first since Dale Jarrett in 1993.
Hamlin returns to the site of his biggest career moment looking to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2013 to pull off the DAYTONA double by winning both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in the same year.
Other drivers to previously sweep the DAYTONA 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in the same season are Bobby Allison (1982), Fireball Roberts (1962), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969).
Top Drivers Chasing First DAYTONA Win
When digging into the racing records of the top drivers in NASCAR, it’s surprising how many of them have yet to claim a victory at the world famous tri-oval. In fact, five of the drivers currently in the top-10 in points this year are still looking for their first career Sprint Cup win at Daytona International Speedway. In addition, 11 of the 16 drivers currently locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup have never won the Coke Zero 400. Of the 2016 race winners, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. are looking to conquer the 31 degree high banks.
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