Podium Preview: Coke Zero Sugar 400

No matter the year, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona always produces excitement. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

No matter the year, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona always produces excitement. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

For as long as most of the panelists’ lifetimes, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona signals the halfway point for the NASCAR season.  Above all, it’s a race that could continue a driver and team’s dreams for the championship.

On the other hand, Round 18 of the season could prove to be a true headache for the other 39 competitors.  By all means, with the tapered spacer and taller rear spoilers, drivers will make moves that may resemble The Matrix or Twister.

Of course, The Podium Finish team anticipates this race to be quite competitive and exciting.  With unique stage lengths of 50/50/60 laps, the aggression level will be quite high.

At the present time, The Podium Finish’s Ashley Hobbs, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleJose Acero JrKobe LambethMatt Sisoler, Stephen Conley, and yours truly ruminate about Matt DiBenedetto’s fantastic fourth at Sonoma and the next NASCAR superstar in waiting.

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Question 1
Arms raised in victory. (Photo Credit: Matteo Marcheschi/TPF)

Arms raised in victory. (Photo Credit: Matteo Marcheschi/TPF)

Alex Bowman scored his much anticipated first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Chicagoland.  How much of a relief is it for the Arizonan to net his first victory and will he earn his second win in these upcoming races?

Conley :  Bowman once said he thought he’d end up in a computer with all of the sim work he did.  Alex Bowman is the definition of hard work pays off.  He worked and worked, stayed patient, and got his opportunity.  Now, he has made it pay off.  And he earned that first win.  If momentum is anything, this could be a great summer for the “Showman.”

Hobbs :  We’ve seen this time and time again – once that first win comes, the next are “easier” to come by. This was definitely the case with Kyle Larson. He finally broke through in (late) 2016, and he followed up in 2017 with four victories. Alex Bowman now has the keys to success, has that win monkey off his shoulder, is (more or less) locked into the 2019 Playoffs, and can focus on how to replicate this victory. Will the second victory come in the next few races, or even this year? That is hard to say. But, what we do know is that Bowman has put on an incredible Sophomore season at Hendrick Motorsports.

Sisoler: I think it’s a win that, to compare to IndyCar, sort of rivals what Danica Patrick did at Twin Ring Motegi when she won there in 2008. Obviously it’s not quite as big a deal as Danica being the first woman to win an IndyCar event, but where I speak from is in terms of the anticipation for both of their wins, so stay with me.

Both of these drivers had had a lot of hype behind them, showed a lot of promise and had near misses at Victory Lane before their breakthrough victories driving for top-line teams with storied histories (Patrick for what is now Andretti Autosport in 2008, Bowman for Hendrick Motorsports last weekend). Now hopefully Bowman can do what Patrick never did, in Indy or NASCAR, and win another race.

Also, fun fact: both drivers drove No. 7 cars early in their respective careers and have a strong connection to Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Patrick drove for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series before going to Stewart-Haas Racing and Bowman famously subbing for Dale Jr., alongside Jeff Gordon, when Junior was battling concussions).

Question 2
Can NASCAR find the perfect package for our sport like it could with tonight's Coke Zero Sugar 400? (Photo Credit: Matteo Marcheschi/TPF)

Can NASCAR find the perfect package for our sport like it could with tonight’s Coke Zero Sugar 400? (Photo Credit: Matteo Marcheschi/TPF)

Given how exciting the package was at Chicagoland, is it time for NASCAR to consider tailoring specific packages for tracks to optimize the on-track product?

Acero :  I really don’t see NASCAR having specific packages for certain tracks. Why? Money. I mean, if the package worked wonders at Kansas, that same package may not work at other 1.5-mile tracks. NASCAR is in a position to tweak the rules package a little bit or start from scratch to try and improve the on track action! 

Cassidy :  In theory – great idea for some good race. However, in reality, it is not practical. For starters, it takes away part of the challenge for teams and drivers to find a competitive edge against others. Additionally, consider the factor of money. With the sports economy, this is not practical at the moment. To start investing in many different types of cars will financially make it harder for smaller teams, plus be a larger costs to the bigger ones.

Lambeth :  For the 2020 season, I’d like to see NASCAR make some minor tweaks to the aero package. I think the 750 horsepower package could be improved, but I say leave the 550 horsepower and aero ducts alone. NASCAR is already investing in the future Gen 7 car. The main focus should be on the years ahead. They need to ensure that the next generation Cup car is ready to perform when the time comes. Hopefully, Gen 7 will be a positive step in the right direction. 

Tiongson :  Here’s the thing with this particular hot topic.  Sure, this aero and horsepower package has worked at places like Kansas, Texas, and Chicagoland.  However, it seems like a bandage to the true problem surrounding these Gen-6 cars. Aesthetically, the cars look amazing.  That said, it’s a fine line between pleasing the drivers and fans.

It may cost teams to dedicate tailored packages for specific track types.  Certainly, it’s no secret that expenses are on the minds of team owners as the sport prepares for the Gen-7 car in 2021.  Ultimately, much like how IndyCar had a specific package for the superspeedways in the late 1990’s, I think, at least for the short-term, this isn’t a bad idea to have the best of both worlds.

Two exciting laps at Daytona aren’t enough!  Before we return to “The World Center of Racing,” let’s take a gander at last Sunday’s race results and our points report from Round 17 at Chicagoland!
Yours truly and Katie Copple earned a victory thanks to Alex Bowman!

Yours truly and Katie Copple earned a victory thanks to Alex Bowman!

Meanwhile, the points race just heats up!

Meanwhile, the points race just heats up!

As usual, Ashley Hobbs breaks the numbers down for you, race fans!  Let’s get to it by “Crunching the Numbers: Coke Zero Sugar 400” style!
How does your favorite team fare in the Coke Zero Sugar 400?

How does your favorite team fare in the Coke Zero Sugar 400?

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Nearly equal results for our past three Cup champs.

Nearly equal results for our past three Cup champs.

Now, here's the trends in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 since 2011.

Now, here’s the trends in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 since 2011.

Presently, these are your trends at Daytona since 2014.

Presently, these are your trends at Daytona since 2014.

Might this be another win for Erik Jones?

Might this be another win for Erik Jones?

Without further ado, let’s jump to it and reveal our picks to win tonight’s Coke Zero Sugar 400!
Five different picks could be brilliant or a total guess for the Coke Zero Sugar 400!

Five different picks could be brilliant or a total guess for the Coke Zero Sugar 400!

Tiongson :  Kurt Busch seems to be the first driver on my mind for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.  While he’s only got one win at “The World Center of Racing,” which was the 2017 Daytona 500, he excels at these shorter, more aggressive races.  Also, with the taller spoilers and lower horsepower, I look for the 2004 Cup champ to enjoy a wild and intense race on Saturday night!

Conley :  The number 1 spot goes to the No. 1 car. Kurt Busch wins at Daytona. 

Hobbs :  This driver is having a fairly good season, Daytona is nice to him, and he happens to be coming off his first victory of his Cup career. Look for Alex Bowman to ride the wave into the last July 4th race at Daytona International Speedway.

Acero :  Alex Bowman is riding that wave of momentum and we all know that he can drive a race car, so he’s my pick.

Sisoler :  Whenever you go to restrictor plate tracks, you have to be prepared for craziness, so with that being said, I think Ross Chastain will be going to…I’m kidding. If he was in better equipment than at Premium Motorsports, I’d say he’d could swipe his first MENCS win, but no.

To win at Daytona, you need good equipment, a lot of bravery and some solid luck to make it through the chaos and win. I’ve been burned before going with momentum, because I see drivers who are doing really well and then it comes back to bite me. 

Last year, I spoke to Erik Jones in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Michigan International Speedway a few weeks before the Coke Zero Sugar 400, and he survived the absolute chaos to beat Kasey Kahne along with former FRR and current JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. to the line to get his first Cup Series win. Will he successfully defend his title and win the final July 4 running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400? Your guess is as good as mine, so I’ll take him to win it.

TPF Stats :  This young driver only has a few starts in the Coke Zero Sugar 400, but it comes with all top 10 finishes and a win. He also rounded out the podium earlier this year in the Daytona 500. The defending race winner, Erik Jones, will find himself back in victory lane this 4th of July weekend.

Cassidy :  Matt DiBenedetto.

Lambeth :  Chris Buescher will pull off an upset victory on the high banks of Daytona. 

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Saturday night’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 in 2019. 

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview 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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