Like the last two restrictor-plate events, Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona international Speedway produced two-car drafting, creating a story of teammates and partners. Drivers chose draft partners, mostly even before the green flag waved, and stuck with each another through the entire distance, a situation almost never seen in past Daytona and Talladega races.
The race saw minimal attrition until the overtime periods, but those drivers that had trouble early fell deep in the finishing order. Carl Edwards was the biggest name to fall quickly, but the Cinderella story from February, Trevor Bayne, also found himself on the wrong end of the wall very early.
A late caution created even more drama for the two-car tandems trying to pick one another off. Matt Kenseth defended from the first restart, and each of the pairings worked to find their partner as quickly as possible. Still, there was trouble again, and the ensuing carnage collected even more cars.
The fireworks certainly didn't end there, though. David Ragan and Matt Kenseth linked up and held off a challenge from Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne. Two more crashes after the white flag made the finish one of the most exciting this year, and Daytona produced its second first-time winner this season in David Ragan.
This week, the Sprint Cup series visits Kentucky Speedway for the first time. The 1.5-mile tri-oval will be familiar to many of the teams and drivers. Since the track opened in 2000, both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series have held events at the track as well as Sprint Cup test sessions.
Matt Kenseth Kenseth found himself in the lead with just five laps remaining in the Coke Zero 400 with his teammate pushing. When Jeff Gordon spun in the final laps Kenseth found himself defending from a restart. In the end, the No. 17 ended up pushing the No. 6 to victory in a one-two finish for Roush. It gets even better. No team has been better on the many 1.5-mile tracks that define Sprint Cup than Roush Fenway Racing. This team won nearly every visit to this type of track in 2011. Fourteenth-place in the Coca-Cola 600 was Kenseth's worst result so far on this type of oval in 2011. Fantasy owners would do well to select any of the Roush drivers this weekend, but Kenseth may be even more distinguished.
Carl Edwards Saturday night was certainly not a comfortable night for Edwards. He crashed early, and then became ill enough to get sick inside the car after breathing engine fumes. Amazingly, he continued to struggle on as far as possible, but it must have been an awful experience. After being dumped in Daytona, Edwards will be more than ready to bounce back in Kentucky. With Roush dominance on the 1.5-mile tracks, Edwards should be well poised to rebound from Saturday night's poor finish. He hasn't had back-to-back finishes outside of the top 10 yet this season, and he is likely not to stumble again next week in Kentucky.
Denny Hamlin Saturday posed a great opportunity for Hamlin to record another win. He worked his way into the top-three runners with less than 10 laps to go in a race that saw very little attrition. Once the pile-ups began, though, Hamlin fell a bit further back in the pack and rolled home 13th. His performances have trailed off a bit in recent weeks, but the series is now heading back to tracks where he is consistently competitive. Hamlin's lone Nationwide start at Kentucky Speedway was a good one. He finished that race in third position after starting from pole. Hamlin should be an assured selection in this week's race.
Joey Logano Logano almost made it two victories in two days at Daytona after winning the Nationwide Series event, and challenging for the win with Kasey Kahne in the closing laps of the Coke Zero 400. Unfortunately for him, he came up just a bit short Saturday. This week may be better, though. Logano has the best finishing record at the Kentucky track in the last three races. He started from pole in each of those events, and won all of them as well. For those bad at math, that is an average finish of 1.0. Logano probably won't be the winner when the Sprint Cup comes to town, but he should know a thing or two about how to finish higher up the order.
Kevin Harvick As laps in the Coke Zero 400 wound down and final pit stops began, Harvick found himself at the front of the field. He has a tendency to find the front as each race comes to a close, and that consistency wins championships. Regardless of what experience the team may have on the track, it knows how to adjust its settings and get its driver a car with which he can challenge for the win. Harvick has also sampled the Kentucky pavement, though. He raced once there in the Nationwide series and finished sixth after starting 13th. His current form in Sprint Cup, along with a solid outing at Kentucky, makes him an attractive fantasy option this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr. Truex ran very well with his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate David Reutimann at Daytona until he was collected in a green-white-checkered incident that ended his race. The MWR teammates hooked up with one another and stayed at the front for nearly the entire distance before crashing. On the 1.5-mile ovals this season Truex has been inconsistent, though. He finished well in the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but then was only able to bring home a 20th-place result in the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway. While the results are erratic, Truex did qualify third at Kansas, so has the speed. The No. 56 team is having a decent season in 2011, and could make a solid third driver for fantasy rosters in the Quaker State 400.
Jamie McMurray McMurray and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya were just one of the many pairs of teammates to work together in the Coke Zero 400. Montoya didn't do the most desirable job when pushing, though, and that bothered McMurray and probably lessened their chances of winning the race. McMurray finished 22nd after all of the incidents. The season to date has been a disappointment for McMurray as well. The No. 1 team has not been good on the 1.5-mile ovals this season. McMurray's best finish on the tracks is 17th, which came in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. A new event at Kentucky Speedway would not be the place for fantasy players to expect big things from McMurray.
Jeff Burton The No. 31 has been hoping its luck this season would turn around, but it continues to elude the team. Burton has not posted the results he is used to seeing, and his teammates have been doing well, so there is something seriously wrong in the No. 31 garage. In Kansas, Burton finished 25th. In Las Vegas he came home 21st. His 11th-place result at Texas Motor Speedway was his best finish on a 1.5-mile oval this season. Considering those statistics, he'll have to work hard to record a top-20 result this week, and that is not what fantasy owners want from a selection. It would be best to avoid choosing Burton for Kentucky.
Clint Bowyer Saturday night's 36th-place result for Bowyer marked the end of his try for three consecutive top-10 finishes. He qualified third and was having a decent race, spending 50 laps in the top 15, and even leading three laps of his own. However, late crashes caught Bowyer and finished off his hopes of surviving the night. He has competed at the Kentucky track in Nationwide competition and can even claim a top-10 from one of those two events. His average finish in the races is 10.5, and he completed every lap of both. Bowyer might get back on the horse again next week, but his finishes don't compare to those of the Roush drivers at this type of track. Bowyer isn't the healthiest selection for this week's race.
Paul Menard Menard worked with teammate Kevin Harvick to drive home a top-10 in Saturday's race. He worked with Harvick all night, and the two worked their way into contention when it mattered most. Unfortunately, on the final restart, Harvick and Menard couldn't get together fast enough, and that gave Ragan a chance to pull ahead. Saturday's performance is solid evidence of Menard's new lease on life since joining Richard Childress Racing. His results on the shorter tracks have been a gamble, though. While he turns in consistent top-20 finishes, one top-five finish at Texas Motor Speedway isn't attractive enough on the 1.5-mile ovals to earn him a spot on a fantasy roster this weekend.
Mark Martin With less than 10 laps remaining in the Coke Zero 400, Martin and teammate Jeff Gordon were deep in the field and desperately hoping for a caution to catch up. When the caution finally did fly, it didn't work out for the two as the track narrowed and Gordon was spun. The restart then saw Martin getting into the wall and ending his night. Looking to this week, Martin has not been strong on the most common track on the Sprint Cup calendar. His best finish on a track similar to Kentucky was 18th at Las Vegas. He has posted some top-10s this season, but none have come on a 1.5-mile track. Fantasy owners should look to Martin when the tracks vary instead of the so-called cookie cutters.