Track Talk: Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona

A race that traditionally kicks off the second half of the MENCS season, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona may produce a new race winner!

As the official kickoff to the second half of the MENCS season, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona may produce a new race winner!

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero JrKathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley muse about the exciting finish at Chicagoland and the potential for mid-week Cup races in the future.

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Question 1
Kyle Busch didn't see anything wrong with a little bump and grind at Chicagoland.

Kyle Busch didn’t see anything wrong with a little bump and grind at Chicagoland.

We saw some wild, exciting, hard racing for the win between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at Chicagoland.  How refreshing was it to see competitive racing at an intermediate track and is this trend of hard racing continuing in the second half of 2018?

Acero :  This is what we need more of, two drivers battling it out for the checkered flag. Many will say it’s go time and guess what? It is. Daytona is this week and from here on out pressure starts building for those who have yet to win.

Was it necessary? Yes and yes! Those final laps made for some great racing with some last lap excitement. This is what I want to see for a win not just settling in and ending up second. Go get it!

Bowman :  I am so bummed I was not able to watch the race on Sunday! From what I hear, it was an absolute spectacle to watch! Let’s hope the rest of the season has people as excited!

Cassidy :  With the number of races winding down in the 2018, driver’s are starting to feel the pressures of snatching wins. There are a lot of talented drivers who have no been able to beat ‘the strong 3’ this season. I look forward to seeing teams battle it out for the remainder of the season!

Conley :  The decision to not run the all star package and use the condensed schedule was brilliant on NASCAR’s part. I really think it helped add to the competition we saw at Chicagoland, and if they continue on that path, we could see great racing moving forward. Harvick proved how important stage points are, and Kyle Busch proved that you never give up.

Copple :  The last handful of laps at Chicagoland were some of the best laps we’ve seen all season long. It’s no debate that the racing this season has been less than stellar, but whatever they put in the Kool-Aid, or I guess, the Sunoco racing fuel, worked. I just hope it transfers to the rest of the season, but I’m not optimistic.

Hobbs : If you were not entertained by the last 30 laps or so, you will never be a satisfied NASCAR fan. Even if you dislike Kyle Busch, his victory is not enough for you to call that not a good race; if it is, you are not a NASCAR fan. Those final laps between Busch and Kyle Larson is what we have been missing at these cookie-cutter 1.5-mile tracks. The fact that they were able to battle as long as hard gives me hope that other races can be this good.

Hull :  That was so much fun to watch! This is what we need to see more of in this sport, racing like this! I never expected this to happen at Chicagoland, but hey, it was very entertaining. I think the Daytona race will be just as exciting.

Lucas :  Holy cow, what a race! Hot and slick 1.5 mile ovals are phenomenal. The overtly horrid heat and boiling cockpit temperatures produced one of the best intermediate oval races in the last five years or so. I’m going to be dreaming of that one for a long time! I think with the playoffs looming and the summer weather outlook that we could be in for a decent stretch of events. Of course I’m beaming with excitement after this weekend, I truly hope this is a sign of things to come.

Shoppe :  It sure was a great finish! Similar to the Darlington ‘03 finish with Craven and Busch, not the best race overall but a fantastic finish to make up for it! I’d have to say a lot of factors had to go the certain way they did for it to be such a great finish, the long run to end the race giving Larson the option to go to the top with worn tires as well as the lapped traffic holding up Busch.

These finishes are hard to come by and that is what makes them so special when they work out that way! Daytona can and likely will be another exciting finish but that’s a plate track. What we were all treated to In Chicago however, was so rare for a current era mile and a half, making it that much more special!

Sturm : That finish was amazing. This is exactly the kind of excitement NASCAR needs to lure fans back in. I’m not sure what to tell ya if you were disappointed with that finish. And the fact that Larson understood it was just racing business and had no hard feelings toward Kyle Busch made it even better.

Unfortunately, I believe this finish only happened because Ryan Newman held Kyle Busch up, allowing Larson to close in. Had he not done that, I think Kyle Busch would have just run away with the race.

Question 2
Might an idea mentioned by Denny Hamlin succeed in the future?

Might an idea mentioned by Denny Hamlin succeed in the future?

As a guest on Dale Earnhardt Jr’s weekly show, Denny Hamlin alluded to the the possibility of mid-week races in the future.  How viable would these be to sustain or perhaps increase the popularity for NASCAR with its current fanbase and new ones?

Acero :  TV audience good, fans filling the stands, kind of iffy. Like many others, last thing I would do is miss work to head to track during week. It’s already tough to watch a race on Sunday on TV, let alone go to track let’s say Wednesday. Nothing wrong with a beta race during the week to see how fans respond!  

Bowman :  Perhaps this would draw in a new audience for TV and radio, however, I don’t know that I see much of an upside for attendance at the racetrack itself. There would have to be major incentives to the attending fans in order to make it worth the purchase and possibly taking vacation time from work.

I wouldn’t mind seeing some mid-week racing – don’t get me wrong. I just don’t know that I see it being worth it. Maybe they could think about moving qualifying or practice to mid-week to give fans a reason to camp at each track?

Cassidy :  My concern with midweek races is attendance. Already, NASCAR sees a huge drop in most races over the years due to many factors. Now, with a midweek race the sport is asking fans to take more time off work to attend this event. I do not think it is practical for most fans to do this.

Conley :  I can’t see a mid-week cup race working. It certainly would be different, but the attendance would take a major hit. If it was to be done, I could see it with the All-Star race. But, that’s it. Just because the NFL and MLB does it, doesn’t mean we should do it or have to do it in NASCAR.

Copple :  Bad idea! NASCAR is already struggling just getting fans to the tracks on a Saturday or Sunday, and now they expect them to take more time off work for a weeknight race? Plus, they’d have to compete with baseball, football and basketball?

And… they’d almost always have to be held under the lights which restricts what tracks they can be run at because having them during the afternoon wouldn’t work… people are at work! The only mid-week race that works for NASCAR is the Eldora trucks race. It’s a special race and held under the lights. Let’s leave that alone and just forget this idea was ever brought up in the first place.

Hobbs : This would not be good for the existing fan base, but it could bring in other fans. It would be a gamble for sure, but you cannot know how good the gamble could be if you do not try. I would not suggest doing this in the fall, because the race would compete with new television programs; and for remote success, the race would have to air on the broadcast network (not cable).

The question would then be when to run it; morning, afternoon, or evening? No time will be good because we work. However, there could be a case to do this for the July 4th race and always run the race on July 4th.  

Hull : This is very tricky. I honestly think that attendance would be way worse than it is now because of a mid-week race. It would be so hard for people to get off of work and attend the race. On the other hand, more people would probably watch the race on television. But overall, it’s not a real solution to the attendance problem.

Lucas :  I am not in favor of midweek races for the premier series. Let’s test it out in the lower ranks some more and then we’ll talk about it again in a few years. We’ve barely scratched the surface with the “enhanced race weekend” schedule, so let’s R&D that first before we jump into the lagoon.

Shoppe :  A mid-week race to me is Nascar saying we give up on trying to figure out the attendance issue and just focusing on the TV ratings. It would have to be some kind of special return to a beloved short track venue or dirt track like the Wednesday Eldora Truck race for it to make since as far as ticket sales. I don’t see any current race making since on a weekday at this point.

Sturm :  I’m not sure how this would go over, honestly. We can already see how badly attendance is dwindling at racetracks. Throw in midweek races when people are working, and it’s almost guaranteed to cut the crowd down even more. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

After a few laps around Daytona, the Track Talk panelists are a step closer towards winning time for tonight’s race!  Before heading into the final lap for this weekend’s preview, let’s review the race that was at Chicagoland from last Sunday!
A trio of panelists enjoyed the productive race by Kevin Harvick.

A trio of panelists enjoyed the productive race by Kevin Harvick.

Meanwhile, Hobbs continues to lead the way heading into the second half of the season.

Meanwhile, Hobbs continues to lead the way heading into the second half of the season.

We’re heading into the final corner for this weekend’s preview on TPF.  You’ve all been apprised of the stats from Hobbs. With that, let’s reveal our picks for tonight’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona!
Might one of these seven feel magnificent after tonight's race at Daytona?

Might one of these seven feel magnificent after tonight’s race at Daytona?

Tiongson :  Aric Almirola was oh so close to finally snapping his four year victory drought last Sunday at Chicagoland. However, his bid came to an end because of a pair of loose wheels.  After this episode and his bitter defeat in the Daytona 500, look for the Tampa, FL native to redeem himself with a win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Sturm :  I picked Brad Keselowski last weekend at Chicagoland and he let me down, so maybe he won’t this weekend. Going with BK.

Hull :  Going with Bad Brad!

Shoppe :  Penske cars are always so successful at plate tracks lately but I always pick the wrong one! Going with Brad K this time lets see what happens!

Bowman :  Oh buddy! Night racing at Daytona and the only thing you can ever really go off of is your gut. Mine is telling me to choose hometown boy BK!!

Cassidy : Joey Logano.  

Lucas : Joey Logano will be smiling wide Saturday night under the bright lights of Daytona!

TPF Stats: Two victories this season and two different tracks; look for Clint Bowyer to grab a third victory at a third different track type this season. We will see how big his eyes truly get then.  

Hobbs : I am liking the stats that TPF shows on Clint Bowyer for this weekend.  

Conley :  From downtown, he cracks a smile two weeks in a row. Paul Menard wins in Daytona.

Copple :  Does it really count here? I mean, anyone can win at Daytona. With that said, I’m going to say a new guy gets to Victory Lane and I’m going with Bubba Wallace.

Acero :  Under the lights at Daytona, one name comes to mind – Denny Hamlin! The 11 crew will be in Victory Lane.

That wraps this week’s preview, race fans!  Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into tonight’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Track Talk are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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