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By The Sports Xchange July 3, 2013 6:30 PM
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the 12th straight week after Kentucky. He leads second-ranked Carl Edwards by 38 points and third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 41 points (Bowyer has gained 47 points on Johnson in the last three weeks). DAYTONA RECORD: 23 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in 2006 and 2013 Daytona 500s. Finished 36th in this race last year and won this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: After a terrible stretch of finishing 35th, 31st, 27th, 20th, 42nd and 36th in his previous six starts at Daytona, Johnson finally broke through with a win in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. He's looking to repeat that magic in Saturday's Coke Zero 400: "The asphalt there is pretty new and very forgiving. It's changing. It's been a couple of years at least that we have had that surface down. Grip level will go away. I think the speeds will slow down a touch, but I'm not sure it's going to be a huge swing for us. They put down an asphalt that is going to last a long time, so it won't change too much." LOOKING BACK: Oh, the agony. Johnson had a car that was the class of the field at Kentucky, leading 182 of the 267 laps. Unfortunately, Matt Kenseth's late pit stop surprised everyone and Johnson eventually faded to a ninth-place finish, certainly not what he had hoped for. ETC.: Johnson has completed 91.9 percent (3,736) of the 4,065 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Daytona. His average start is an outstanding 9.6, but even with his win in this year's Daytona 500, his average finish is still a less than spectacular 18.2. He also has five DNFs there. 99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in second place for the ninth consecutive week after Kentucky. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 38 points (was as close as 25 points back prior to Kentucky) and is just three points ahead of third-ranked Clint Bowyer. DAYTONA RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in summer 2008 and 2011 Daytona 500. Was sixth in this race last year and finished 33rd in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards has become a very good restrictor plate track racer, particularly at Daytona. Since the July 2008 race, he's managed four top-fives and four other top-10s in his last 12 starts there. LOOKING BACK: Edwards' string of strong performances continued somewhat in Kentucky, but not when it came to his eventual finish. He led 35 laps, but got shuffled back late in the race and finished 21st. Here's his thoughts on the disappointing showing: "Man, I don't understand what happened there. We just got back in traffic and we were terrible at the end. I thought we were really good out front when we had track position. We were really good when we were out front. There at the end I just couldn't make anything happen. It was definitely a frustrating situation there." ETC.: Edwards has completed 93.2 percent (2,866) of the 3,076 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 17.4 and average finish is a nearly identical 17.5. He has two DNFs there. 15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in third place for the fifth consecutive week after Kentucky. Bowyer is 41 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson (Bowyer has gained 47 points on Johnson in the last three weeks), trails second-ranked Carl Edwards by just three points and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by 25 points. DAYTONA RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2009 and 2010 Daytona 500s. Was 29th in this race last year and finished 11th in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has really struggled of late at Daytona. Since finishing fourth in the 2010 Daytona 500, he has recorded finishes of 17th, 17th, 36th, 11th, 29th and 11th. Can he break that run of bad luck and get a top 10, maybe even a top-five finish this Saturday? LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had a great run at Kentucky, finishing third. Here's his thought on Sunday's showing: "(It was a) good day for us. Obviously when you get that close at the end you can smell a chance at the win (but it's) just not our day yet. I'm proud of the way our team is working together and keeps clicking off solid finishes. This is what we have to do this time of year and hopefully those wins will come when the time is right. ETC.: Bowyer has completed 99.4 percent (2,696) of the 2,713 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 19.0 and average finish is 15.5. He has two DNFs there. 29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place for the third straight week after Kentucky. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 66 points, is 25 points behind third-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 16 points. DAYTONA RECORD: 24 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2007 Daytona 500 and summer 2010. Was 23rd in this race last year and was a terrible 42nd in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick will be making his 25th career start at Daytona this Saturday. He has become quite the restrictor plate track master, including having won the Daytona 500 in 2007 and the Coke Zero 400 in 2010. However, he's struggled in three of his last five starts at DIS. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's Coke Zero 400: "This hasn't been normal for us, but the superspeedways have been our Achilles' heel throughout the first part of the season. Hopefully we've gotten that bad luck out of the way, because I always look forward to the superspeedway races. There was a lot of talk about spoiler sizes back in the beginning of the season, but I haven't heard of any definite changes yet. It's going to be an interesting race. Obviously, it will be a lot hotter than it was in February, so that will make for some different racing conditions this time around. I'm looking forward to getting back to Daytona International Speedway. I always like our chances every time we go to a superspeedway. I just hope we have a little better luck this time around." LOOKING BACK: Harvick had a decent run at Kentucky, a place where he has a great track record, particularly in the Nationwide Series and Trucks series, finishing 10th in Sunday's rain-delayed Cup race. ETC.: Harvick has completed 90.3 percent (3,815) of the 4,225 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 15.2 and average finish is 16.5. He has three DNFs there. 20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Even with his win this past Sunday, Matt Kenseth remained in fifth place for the third straight week after Kentucky. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 82 points, is 16 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 16 points. DAYTONA RECORD: 27 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 13 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500. Finished third in this race last year. Was a disappointing 37th in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is having a spectacular season in his first year at Joe Gibbs Racing, with a series-leading four wins, including his triumph Sunday at Kentucky. When asked if he could have ever imagined he'd be where he's at at this point, Kenseth said: "I dreamed about it, but I probably didn't imagine that would be realistic. It's been incredible. We've had some moments that tested us this season already and obviously it's great to have the four wins. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling. It's been a lot of fun." LOOKING BACK: Crew chief Jason Ratcliff looked like a genius, making a late-race call for Kenseth to pit for fuel. He got just enough in the tank of his Toyota to go on to win the race. ETC.: Kenseth has completed 91.5 percent (4,378) of the 4,785 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 19.6 and average finish is 17.0. He has five DNFs there. 88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in sixth place for the second consecutive week after Kentucky. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 98 points, is 16 points behind fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads seventh-ranked Kyle Busch by 12 points. DAYTONA RECORD: 27 career starts, 2 wins, 10 top-fives, 15 top-10s and 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2001 summer race and 2004 Daytona 500. Finished 15th in this race last year and was runner-up in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has knocked on victory's door twice in his last three races at Daytona, finishing runner-up in the 2012 and 2013 Daytona 500. Here's his thoughts about racing at the big 2.5-mile, high-banked track: "I really enjoy racing at Daytona. I'm really excited about what the racing is going to be like. We saw a unique way the race played out at Daytona for the 500. I'm interested to go back and see what, if any differences there are or if we have a similar race. I love the racetrack and love going down there so I look forward to it." LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had a good race at Kentucky, leading 10 laps en route to a decent 12th-place finish. ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 96.8 percent (4,631) of the 4,785 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 11.1, while his average finish is 14.0. He has three DNFs there. 18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch moved up one spot, from eighth to seventh, after Sunday's race at Kentucky. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 110 points, is 12 points behind sixth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads eighth-ranked Martin Truex Jr. by 10 points. DAYTONA RECORD: 17 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in the summer 2008 race. Finished 24th in this race last year and was 34th in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: The younger Busch brother has hit somewhat of a dry spell at Daytona of late. In his last three starts there, he's finished 17th, 24th and 34th. He's looking for a strong comeback in Saturday's race: "Daytona is cool, a lot more in February than in the summer just because it is the Daytona 500 versus the Coke Zero 400. For us, you still want to win everywhere you go, every single week. To win at Daytona is always cool. It's definitely special. It's the birthplace of NASCAR, the superspeedway aspect of it. I definitely love going there. It's hot, it's slick, and you can make the most out of yourself as a driver and what you've got in the car. We won there in 2008, and I'm hoping we can get a win with our Interstate All Battery Center Camry this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Busch was part of a Toyota juggernaut that grabbed four of the top seven finishing positions at Kentucky. Busch himself finished a strong fifth. ETC.: Busch has completed 93.1 percent (2,865) of the 3,076 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 13.6, while his average finish is a much worse 18.9. He has four DNFs there. 56 MARTIN TRUEX, Jr., Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Martin Truex climbed two spots after Kentucky, from 10th to eighth, making it a five-position jump in the standings for Truex in his last two races. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 120 points, is 10 points behind seventh-ranked Kyle Busch and leads ninth-ranked Greg Biffle by one point. DAYTONA RECORD: 16 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-five, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Sixth in 2010 Daytona 500. Finished 17th in this race last year, and was 24th in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Without question, Daytona is Truex's worst track on the Sprint Cup circuit. He just can't seem to get the hang of the place. Could his luck finally turn for the good this Saturday? Here's his thoughts: "I honestly don't know what to expect right now. NASCAR is taking a different tire. TRD (Toyota Racing Development) has been working on the engine program to avoid the issues we experienced last time. It will be hot, but the track surface still is relatively new. The track has so much grip that everyone will be able to run wide open. I don't expect handling to be an issue. I know we'll have to race smart and work on putting the NAPA Batteries Toyota in the right position. This race is about being in the right position during the last couple of laps. You have to do what it takes to put yourself there." LOOKING BACK: After winning the week before at Sonoma, snapping a 218-race winless streak, Truex wound up with a strong seventh-place finish at Kentucky - on his 33rd birthday, too! ETC.: Truex has completed 98.0 percent (2,857) of the 2,916 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 19.5, while his average finish there is 21.4. He has two DNFs there. 16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: After gaining seven spots in the standings in the previous three races, Greg Biffle fell back three positions at Kentucky to ninth place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 121 points (a drop of 27 points from before Kentucky), is one point behind eighth-ranked Martin Truex Jr., and leads 10th-ranked Joey Logano by 10 points. DAYTONA RECORD: 21 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2003. Finished 21st in this race last year and was sixth in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has had finishes of third and sixth in two of his last three starts at Daytona. Given that he has just one win there - and it's been 10 years since that occurred - it's time for him to get win No. 2 at the most famous track in NASCAR. Here's his thoughts: "I'm looking forward to this weekend. Hopefully we can get a top-10 finish or a win and get the points going back the right way. Daytona under the lights is always exciting and was the site of my first win, a long time ago. I'm hoping to back it up with another this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Biffle had one of his worst finishes of the season, ending up a terrible 34th at Kentucky. ETC.: Biffle has completed 94.3 percent (3,493) of the 3,705 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Daytona. His average start is 17.2 and average finish is 19.8. He has two DNFs there. 22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: While teammate and defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski dropped from ninth to 13th after Kentucky, Joey Logano climbed four spots to 10th after Sunday's race. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 131 points, is 10 points behind ninth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads 11th-ranked Kasey Kahne by one point. DAYTONA RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in summer 2011 race. Finished fourth in this race last year and was 19th in this year's season-opening Daytona 500. LOOKING AHEAD: Logano did himself a great deed by climbing back into the top 10, particularly with just nine races left to finalize the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field. But he has to work on getting at least a couple of wins between now and the Chase cut-off after Richmond to assure himself a place in the 10-race playoff. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race at Daytona: "You can't say that it (making the top 10) hasn't given you a little added confidence, but you also know that you can never stop working. We are running really well right now, but we want to win races. We want to be a constant threat to be a top-five and top-10 car every single week. And we are working towards that. But you can't ever think you are running just well enough. I think we are just hitting the tip of what this team is capable of doing. We just need to keep it up and keep doing what we are doing each weekend. We ran really well at both Daytona and Talladega this year already. We were in the top five late at Daytona and just got shuffled out and at Talladega; we were third during the long red flag and once we started going again, the engine let go. So I don't think we really need to do anything different. We are running well. We just need to be there at the finish. And that is what we need to work on this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Logano ran a strong and smart race at Kentucky, ultimately finishing fourth, the highest-placing Ford driver (Marcos Ambrose was next at 13th place). ETC.: Logano has completed 94.3 percent (1,533) of the 1,626 total laps contested in nine starts at Daytona. His average start is 21.0, while his average finish is 18.8. He has two DNFs there. 5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only one point out of the top 10. Stands first in the wild card standings with one win. DAYTONA RECORD: Finished seventh a year ago for his seventh top-10 finish in 19 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne knows he will have a car capable of winning the race Saturday night. "The Hendrick cars are always strong at Daytona," said Kahne. "We just need to stay out of trouble and put ourselves in the right position at the end. That is a lot easier said than done, but if we can do that we will have a shot (at the victory)." LOOKING BACK: Kahne was running fifth with 25 laps to go, but he was caught speeding as he exited pit road following his final pit stop under the caution. He was forced to start at the end of the longest line. Kahne rallied in the final 20 laps to finish 11th, but he knew he had a car capable of challenging for the win. "I guess I was trying too hard to get a good starting spot for that final restart and ended up speeding as I left the pits," said Kahne. "We had such a great car. It's very frustrating." ETC.: When asked what it was like to be part of Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne said, "You don't have to worry about so many things. I just focus on myself, communicating with the team and how we can all pull together and get a win. We have everything it takes to win, and I get to drive them every week. As a driver, you don't get that very often. Mr. (Rick) Hendrick (the team owner) gives all of us that opportunity. There is nothing I have ever asked for because there is more than enough." 24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only two points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. DAYTONA RECORD: His six wins are the most among active drivers. Overall has 19 top-10 finishes including 12 top-five's in 41 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is not sure what to expect when the Cup series moves to Daytona this weekend. "It's a different aero package and this new Generation-6 car has a lot of drag but a lot of down force in it," said Gordon. "It's a little bit different in the draft. Earlier this year here we saw where you could upset the cars a little bit more when you got up close to them and outside of them. The big unknown is when that big wreck is going to happen and what is going to cause it. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it, but you can be assured that when you get a full group of cars in the closing laps racing for a win, it's going to happen." LOOKING BACK: On two different occasions Gordon was caught on pit road just as the yellow flag came out. Both times this resulted in Gordon being forced to start at the back of the pack. But he rallied to finish eighth. "We had an awesome fast Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, this is for sure," said a beaming Gordon. "I think we passed more cars than anybody. As for the cautions, you just to keep working and hope they fall your way eventually." ETC.: Gordon said he is "happy with the way we are running. The last two weeks have been very promising. That is going to help us as we move forward. We are doing the right things. We've got to continue to qualify better, execute better, and hope some things go out way (in his quest to make the Chase). I'm just happy with the way the car is working right now." 2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 14 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week to fall out of the top 10. DAYTONA RECORD: Finished fourth in the Daytona 500 following an eighth-place finish last July for his first two top-10 finishes in eight starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski said, "I always have a lot of confidence when we go to a restrictor-plate race because Penske Racing always builds cars capable of winning at those tracks. You always need luck, though, and that's something that has been in short supply for the Miller's Lite Ford team lately." LOOKING BACK: Keselowski was in the wrong place at the wrong time Sunday at Kentucky as he was clipped by Kurt Busch to trigger a seven-car accident that left Keselowski in 40th place. His crew worked long and hard to get him back on the track where he picked up seven spots and seven very important points. But Keselowski was still upset with Busch. "There is no reason to go down there (below the yellow line and on the apron), but he still did," said Keselowski. "We were trying to be patient and there's no reason to drive like an animal." When told Busch had apologized, Keselowski said, "I am still wrecked. He knows better than that." ETC.: Keselowski feels there is no need to panic just because he has fallen out of the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings. "I don't think we need to change our approach at all right now," said the defending Cup champion. "The incident at Kentucky was definitely a setback, but by no means are we hitting the panic button just yet. We still have a lot of racing left to get back in the top 10, and even pick up a couple of wins. If we focus on what we can control, we'll be fine." 78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet Team: Furniture Row Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. DAYTONA RECORD: 12 top-10 finishes in 25 starts including 10 top-five's. Has finished second three times. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "We've done our homework and will arrive at Daytona with the best package possible for raw speed. At the past two superspeedway races we've had good cars, but not much luck. We got in an early accident in the Daytona 500 that put us six laps back, and in Talladega, we were running fifth with six to go when I went airborne. Our Furniture Row/Beautyrest Chevrolet can be a contender Saturday night. A solid finish at Daytona will be a big boost in our quest of making the Chase." LOOKING BACK: Busch rallied in the final 20 laps to finish sixth at Kentucky. It was his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races. "We came through when we needed to and had another good points day," said Busch. "We're creeping up in the points and need to avoid any major slips in the next nine races. We got behind when that yellow came out (on lap 89) just after we had pitted. Nothing's easy, but this team keeps on battling back and never quits. It's been the story of our season so far." ETC.: Busch took full blame for running into Brad Keselowski and triggering a multi-car accident on lap 48 at Kentucky. "I feel bad about what happened early when the track threw me into the 2 car," said Busch, who had dived below the yellow line in an attempt to pass Keselowski. "It (the apron) just shot me into him. It was my fault." 27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 20 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week. DAYTONA RECORD: Three top-nine finishes in the last five races. LOOKING AHEAD: Menard believes the Daytona race Saturday night is "going to come down to how the car handles, a lot like it used to be before the repave. When we go back this weekend in the heat of the summer, I think the track will be even more slippery. Every time we go back, handling becomes more and more important and I don't see that changing this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Menard got caught up in a multi-car accident on lap 48. His car sustained significant right-front damage which resulted in a number of pit stops during the ensuing yellow flag to make repairs. He fell four laps down to the leader as he ended the day in 30th place to severely damage his hopes of making the Chase. "We've got to keep our heads up and hope our luck changes at Daytona," said Menard. ETC.: For the second time in four years, Richard Childress Racing will be part of England's Goodwood Festival of Speed. The event is scheduled for July 11-14 this year. It is one of world's premier historic auto shows. Kerry Earnhardt, the oldest son of Dale, will drive the No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo that the elder Earnhardt drove to victory in March 2000 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "Words can't express what I feel when I sit in dad's car, and I can't thank Richard enough for asking me to participate again," said Kerry. 14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 22 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. Stands second in the wild card standings with one win. DAYTONA RECORD: Won the July race a year ago for his fourth win in 29 starts. All four of his wins have come in the July event. Has finished in the top 10 13 times including eight in the top five. LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart is glad tandem racing is a thing of the past on the Sprint Cup Series. But he still knows that "you need some help at the end. We are still learning the Gen-6 cars when it comes to the draft, but it looked at Talladega (in May) that two guys hooked up is still the way to go." LOOKING BACK: Stewart struggled for most of the day as he finished 20th at Kentucky. "We made a bunch of changes to the car throughout the race," said Stewart. "When we started out, it felt like it was up on top of the race track. We needed to get it planted better. We made gains, but we eventually got it to where it was too tight into turns one and two. Not the greatest showing, but we did what we could with it." ETC.: In looking back at his win a year ago, Stewart said, "the biggest challenge was Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle because when they hooked up, I didn't think there was anybody that could beat them. But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me. We just had to try to separate Matt and Greg. Once we got them pulled apart, we carried enough momentum to get in front of him (Kenseth). They were coming on the outside in (turns) three and four and the last wreck happened, and we were just fortunate enough to be leading still." 43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 22 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. DAYTONA RECORD: Finished 13th in the Daytona 500 for his best finish in four starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola admits "We weren't really happy with our cars for the 500. We made some improvement on the car for Talladega and had a lot better car. Todd (Parrott, crew chief) and the 43 team have learned a lot about the bodies on these Gen-6 cars and what we can do to make our aero package better. I feel really good about the speedway car we are going to have this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final 20 laps to finish 15th at Kentucky. "We were pretty good, but the track really changed a lot," said Almirola. "Todd made some good adjustments and a good call to get four tires at the end. We got a lot of spots back and made the best out of it. We are still fighting for that Chase berth and we kept ourselves in the battle today." ETC.: Almirola gave Marine Corporal Sebastian Gallegos, a 23-year-old Purple Heart recipient, and his wife, Tracie, the ride of their life last week at Kentucky. Almirola took them around the 1.5-mile track in a Richard Petty Driving Experience Ford Fusion. "This is so awesome," said Gallegos. "To have this opportunity, we don't know what to say. We are really thankful for the race team, Eckrich and Operation Homefront for this experience." 39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 31 points out of the top 10. DAYTONA RECORD: Has finished fifth in last two races. Overall has one win and five top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 23 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "We definitely had speed in all three of the Stewart-Haas Chevrolets when we unloaded at Daytona in February. But, it doesn't mean that we'll be just as fast when we unload there this weekend. The other teams have likely done their homework to make their cars faster, just as we've done. I hope we'll be able to capitalize on what we accomplished in February, apply what we've learned about these cars since then, and have that same edge this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Newman was quite upset with how the final 20 laps went after ending the day in 14th place. "I really don't know what happened on that last restart," said Newman. "My spotter came over the radio and gave me the lineup. They had me scored behind several cars, one of them which was the 78 (Kurt Busch) car. I was ahead of him on the track, but they (NASCAR) had me lining up behind him. I had (crew chief) Matt (Borland) argue that with the officials, but they saw things differently. So, needless to say, I wasn't very happy with that. We know we had a better finish coming than we were left with." ETC.: Newman has begun the process of trying to find a new ride for 2014. "I just want to race some place where I'm wanted," said Newman. "There are only so many guys that don't have a contract for next year. At this point, I would entertain any possible opportunity. I don't think anyone in my position would do anything different. Of all the opportunities that are out there, he's (Richard Childress) got one of the best opportunities - as far as the 29 being vacated. But I don't know what the family tree is going to look like over there." Childress' grandson Austin is regarded as the favorite to be the third Cup driver for RCR in '14. 1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 19th. 42 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. DAYTONA RECORD: Two wins and four top-10 finishes in 21 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "Hopefully, we can carry the momentum of a strong run and a second-place finish at Kentucky to Daytona. Daytona is really a race that is about being lucky and staying out of trouble to be in contention at the end. Our team has been strong there in the past and I expect we will be the same this weekend, but we will still need to have some luck fall our way to bring home a good finish." LOOKING BACK: McMurray was all smiles after finishing second at Daytona for his best finish of the season and his first top-five finish since the Bristol race in August 2011. McMurray passed Clint Bowyer for second with only four laps to go and was gaining on leader Matt Kenseth but ran out of time in his bid to end a 93-race winless streak. "I didn't feel like we ran significantly better today than the past 10 or 12 weeks," said McMurray. "Today we didn't have any flat tires or radiators break or people's parts fall off their car and go through our radiator. It's nice to have some good luck, feel good about it (his finish)." ETC.: McMurray hopes his finish at Kentucky is a sign that his recent run of bad luck is over. "Our cars I feel like we are better than they were in 2010 when we were winning races (three)," said McMurray. "The 42 (teammate Juan Pablo Montoya) should have won Richmond this year. They have had some extremely quick cars, as well. The 1 team has had a lot of fifth to tenth-place cars, but since Richmond it has been a disaster. And it's not performance-wise. We've been really quick. Had really good cars. It's just every week it's been something (bad)." 17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 46 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. DAYTONA RECORD: Finished 12th in the Daytona 500 for his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "I can't believe we are already back racing in Daytona. The Coke Zero 400 is always a cool race because it's Saturday night racing under the lights and the celebration of the July 4th weekend. The key to plate racing is stay out of trouble and be in position at the end of the race to go for the win. I feel confident we can get a top-10 finish or even a win this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 17th at Kentucky. "I am really disappointed in that finish," said Stenhouse. "Our Fifth Third Ford Fusion just didn't have any grip the entire race. We threw a bunch of stuff at it but nothing seemed to work so we will have to take a look at everything when we get back to the shop. I was really hoping to get the race in last night (Saturday) because it is always cool to race under the lights. Racing during the day versus at night really affected our set-up." The race was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon because of rain. ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves said, "We had a solid finish in the Daytona 500 so I feel confident going into this weekend. We are bringing a new chassis so we will utilize both practices to find speed and work on drafting. You never know when the big one will happen so you've got to stay out of trouble and be in position at the end of the race." 31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 51 points out of the top 10, only five points out of the top 20. Lost one spot last week. DAYTONA RECORD: Finished second in last year's July race. Overall has one win and 11 top-10 finishes including nine top-five's in 39 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "I don't think of the Coke Zero 400 as being a hot race because it cools off so much when the sun goes down. There is a huge difference between day and night at Daytona, especially with the handling of the cars. Since the repave, that hasn't been a major issue. However, the track has been starting to lose some grip recently, and I think this will be the first race (since the repave) where handling becomes an issue during the race." LOOKING BACK: Despite two pit-road speeding penalties, Burton had rallied and was running the top 10 with 100 laps to go in the race. But he ran into major handing problems at this point in the race and faded to a 19th-place finish. "We were really good in the early part of the race, then got way too tight before the car went to loose," said Burton. "It was very frustrating. The last part of the race just didn't go the way we needed it to for this team." ETC.: Burton is getting a little tired of people saying he may be out of a ride in 2014. "My contract is not up," said Burton. "One of the things I find humorous at times with the media is that they assume facts. My contract is not up. I will be driving for RCR next year." Burton did say he was not sure who his new teammate will be once Kevin Harvick leaves RCR for Stewart-Haas Racing. "Austin (Dillon) has proven he is ready to make that step (up from the Nationwide Series)," said Burton. "He is the logical choice. He has proven he is ready to drive a Cup car." 9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 68 points out of the top 10, 22 points out of the top 20. DAYTONA RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in nine starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose has high hopes for this weekend after his run at Talladega in May. "At Talladega, I think we really showed how strong we are at the superspeedways," said Ambrose. "Our car has so much bare bond on it (after Ambrose was involved in an earlier wreck) that you could barely see the Stanley logos, and we still ran up front and finished 14th. I'm confident we will be strong again this weekend and will be able to run up front." LOOKING BACK: Crew chief Todd Blickensderfer decided to gamble on the final pit stop as he had Ambrose stop for gas only. This allowed Ambrose to start 10th on the restart with 20 laps to go. When Jimmie Johnson spun, Ambrose jumped to sixth and he got as high as third. "We were in position at the end of the race, but some of those other guys had new tires and just got us," said Ambrose, who ended the day in 13th place. "This finish is a lot better result than what we've had been on the mile-and-a-half tracks in a little while." ETC.: Ambrose believes the team is finally heading in the right direction. "We have started to see improvements in the results the past few weeks on two different tracks, the road course and the mile-and-a-half," said Ambrose. "We have shown speed, qualified well and raced up front during both events. But this weekend is a whole new animal. If you can avoid the wreck, your chances of a great finish dramatically improve in a matter of seconds." 42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd. 80 points out of the top 10, 34 points out of the top 20. DAYTONA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 13 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "Daytona is always so unpredictable and now that we're at the halfway point of the season, the Target team needs a good finish to help make up some ground. We've been stuck around 22nd in points and we need a good finish. You go out there on race day and try to play it safe but you just never know. We were running up with the lead pack at Daytona earlier this year and still got caught up in a mess." LOOKING BACK: Montoya finished 16th at Kentucky. "The Target team didn't get the finish we deserved," said Montoya. "We lost track position early as we got caught a lap down when that caution flag came out just after we had pitted and it was really hard to recover. The Target Chevy was a handful when we got back in traffic and we weren't able to break back into the top 10." ETC.: Montoya, like teammate Jamie McMurray, believes the whole EGR team has stepped it up several notches this year. "We have 100 percent more speed than last year," said Montoya. "We just need for all the bad things to stop happening. Our cars have been fast almost everywhere we've been this year. We could have won a couple of races. We just need to finish where we are running." 11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 150 points out of the top 10, 104 points out of the top 20. DAYTONA RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 15 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin believes "all three JGR cars are going to be strong at Daytona. Matt (Kenseth) dominated the 500 until he had engine problems. So I am looking forward to this weekend. We just need to miss all the accidents and get in position to go for the win in the final laps. Right now, all the 11 team is thinking about is winning races." LOOKING BACK: For the second time in the race, Hamlin had a right-front tire go flat on lap 148 of the 267-lap event. The first time it occurred on a restart and Hamlin had time to limp back to the pits to get it replaced. The second time it happened suddenly as he raced into turn four. The blown tire shot him hard into the wall forcing him to spend considerable time in the infield care center. Later, Hamlin told the media "I feel better now. It was a hard hit and I was a little shaken up. I hit my knee pretty good. Flat right-side hit, obviously when I lost the steering I hit flat. I feel pretty good about the way we were racing today." Hamlin ended the day in 35th place to all but end his hopes of making the Chase. ETC.: Hamlin missed four races early in the year with a compressed fracture in his back, and there have been reports that he will need back surgery at the end of the season. With his chances of making the Chase all but gone, Hamlin was asked if he planned to skip the rest of the season. "Definitely have to proceed on," replied Hamlin. "I have a test in Indy (this week) that we're going to do to try and get better and get to performing better. We're just going to try to win races and that's what my job is for the rest of the year is to try to win and do the best I can for my sponsors and my team." 55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 165 points out of the top 10, 119 point out of the top 20. DAYTONA RECORD: Martin will skip the race with car owner Michael Waltrip taking over the driving duties. Waltrip finished ninth in the July race a year ago. Overall has three wins and 14 top-10 finishes in 50 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Waltrip said, "My confidence heading into Daytona is really high. We are coming off a top-five finish at Talladega so I know we have a chance to win this weekend. We were competitive during the entire race at Talladega. We were also pretty good at Daytona in February. We led a few laps and ran in the top five until a mechanical failure took us out of contention. I am confident and looking forward to getting back in the car this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Brian Vickers drove the 55 car at Kentucky. Vickers was running in the top 10 with 25 laps to go when his right-front tire blew sending him hard into the third-turn wall. As a result, he ended up 31st. "Man, that was a hard hit," said Vickers. "We were running great right there - not really sure what happened, it just blew going into three. Really hard hit. We had a good car." ETC.: Crew chief Rodney Childers feels "Michael does a really good job at those places (Daytona and Talladega). He just really understands the draft and where he needs to be and where he doesn't need to be, really. I think sometimes it's as much not getting in a bad position as it is anything."