THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. There were several drivers – Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson, among others – who enjoyed their best finishes of the season in the Sprint Cup Series’ first event at Daytona back in February. Will those same drivers be factors again?

2. No doubt Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had his share of problems this season and has changed crew chiefs since the Cup series’ last visit to a restrictor-plate track in April. Even then with his struggles he finished second, showing he’s still a force to be reckoned with on these tracks.

3. Now comes more fun with double-file restarts. At a track where having teammates has always helped, double-file restarts could potentially throw a wrench into the decision by drivers with whom to “draft” since lead-lap cars will now line up side-by-side instead of single-file.

OBSERVATIONS

There has been a lot back-and-forth verbal sparring between NASCAR and TV officials over who is to blame for late East Coast start times for Cup races. The gist seems to be that no one is taking responsibility but everyone now believes it’s a good idea. Well, when a copy of next year’s Cup series schedule is released with all new early-afternoon TV start times comes out, then I’ll believe everyone is on the same page.

So, Jeremy Mayfield goes to court for “emergency injunctive relief” arguing he needs to be in Daytona to earn a living and then doesn’t show. I’m sorry, what was the whole point of Wednesday’s court hearing again?

There has got to be a better way to set the starting fields for races at Daytona and Talladega than multiple-hour single-lap qualifying sessions. And with the new format for the Budweiser Shootout, the only benefit to come out of all that wasted time is a pit stall.

JUST THE FACTS

Coke Zero 400

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Track type: 2.5-mile paved tri-oval

Race distance: 160 laps or 400 miles

When: Green flag is 8:19 p.m.

Weather: Low 80s with 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.

TV: Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. on TNT.

Radio: Motor Racing Network

INSERT LINEUP

OBSERVER PICK

JIM UTTER

He hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire, but this is still Daytona and he was second in the Cup series’ most recent restrictor-plate race at Talladega. Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NOTES

France set to defend drug policy

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Friday the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy was “thorough, accurate and fair” and the sport would continue to do what was in its best interests to protect the safety of drivers, officials and fans.

“We will be defending this policy very vigorously,” France said.

France was referring to an expected court battle which looms between NASCAR and driver Jeremy Mayfield, who was indefinitely suspended on May 9 for testing positive for methamphetamine.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Charlotte granted a temporary injunction and lifted Mayfield’s suspension allowing him to participate in NASCAR events until his case is decided. Mayfield, however, elected not to show up to participate in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Safety is our first responsibility and always will be,” France said. He said it was NASCAR needed to ensure all drivers competing on the track “are of clear mind.”

France said NASCAR was still exploring its options on whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.

Mayfield has not been at the track and he has made no comment since Wednesday’s hearing.

Petty says Hall class will be difficult

Richard Petty, the seven-time Cup series champion who is among the favorites to be named to the first class of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, said the selection process for that honor “should not be a popularity contest.”

Petty was among 25 nominees announced on Thursday for the first five-member class, which will be inducted next May in Charlotte.

“You know a lot of reporters and people today don’t know a lot about (car owner) Raymond Parks, him winning the first championship, or (driver) Red Byron and him winning the first championship,” Petty said. “It’s going to be really hard and it’s not going to be accepted by all people no matter who they put in.”

Petty said if he were selecting the class, he would look back to 1949 and determine who took the chance on creating the sport.

“I would get the people who got (NASCAR) started,” he said. “Those are the ones who planted the seed.”

Kenseth reflects on February win

Asked if the last time he left Daytona International Speedway, Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth offered a surprising answer, “The last time I was here, I wasn’t.”

What?

But there was more to the story. Since his win in February, Kenseth had appeared at a speedway event to promote this weekend’s race. “I got beat in the media go-kart race,” he said.

But he still recalls his 500 win fondly.

“Obviously, the 500 was huge for us and really kicked our year off and we were lucky enough to follow that up (with another) at California,” Kenseth said.

“We’ve had some good runs, some bad runs and some not very consistent finishes, so I’m glad to be back here.”


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