July 4, 2014

NASCAR: Coke Zero 400 guide

Coke Zero 400: David Gilliland will start from the pole in Saturday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Gilliland, Sorenson 1-2 in rain-shortened qualifying

David Gilliland will start on the pole for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 after a rain-shortened qualifying session Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

It’s Gilliland’s third pole and second at Daytona. Gilliland, who won the Daytona 500 pole in 2007, had a fast lap of 199.322 mph.

The second and third sessions of Friday’s knockout qualifying were called off when rain hit the track. The top 24 drivers from the first and only session would have advanced to the next round, but the field instead was set with that session.

Reed Sorenson (199.221 mph) starts alongside Gilliland. The second row consists of Landon Cassill and Bobby Labonte.


Changes at the track: Daytona recently added 2,400 feet of SAFER barriers in Turns 1 and 4. The track already had the energy-absorbing barriers on the outside wall from Turn 3 to the exit of Turn 2 and on most of the inside retaining walls.

The track’s $400 million “Daytona Rising” renovation project – which ultimately will result in a reduction in seating at the track – also continues. The project is due to be completed in time for the 2016 Daytona 500, but a section of new grandstands could be ready for next year’s race.

Hendrick hot streak: Hendrick Motorsports has had its four drivers in the top 10 of the past three races – the first time a team has done that in NASCAR history. In races at Kentucky, Michigan and Sonoma, Hendrick drivers have a combined average finish of 5.5. At Kentucky last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth, Jeff Gordon sixth, Kasey Kahne eighth and Jimmie Johnson 10th.

Remembering Roberts: Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts. Roberts was severely burned during an accident during the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He spent several weeks in the hospital before passing away on July 2 of that year.

Three things to watch

1. Weather might be a factor, which wouldn’t be unusual for a Cup race this season. Rain affected Sprint Cup and Nationwide qualifying and practice Thursday and Friday, and there’s a chance of thunderstorms again in Saturday’s forecast.

2. Kyle Busch, who won the 400 in 2008, has by far the highest driver rating (97.1) of any driver at Daytona over the past nine years (Matt Kenseth is second at 92.9). Busch is sure to contend Saturday.

3. Jimmie Johnson starts fifth, but he hasn’t had an especially strong car since his victory June 15 at Michigan. He led one lap at Sonoma and none last week at Kentucky.


• Tough stretch for Denny Hamlin, who won the season’s previous restrictor-plate race at Talladega. After consecutive top-five finishes at Dover and Pocono, Hamlin hasn’t finished better than 26th, and he wrecked out of last week’s race at Kentucky.
• Friday’s rain-shortened qualifying was nearly comical to watch, as some groups slowed to get behind others in hopes of forming fast packs with more speed. “It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
• Proud day Friday for all of us at the Observer upon the news that Tom Higgins will go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Squier-Hall Award. Congratulations, Pap!

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy team:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick

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