NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Daytona. Sonoma. Talladega. Watkins Glen. Those four tracks, scattered across the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular-season schedule, offer a unique opportunity under the new "win-and-in" rules for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
They're all wild cards, with an almost unending list of potential winners.
That theory especially holds true at Daytona and Talladega -- the series' two restrictor plate superspeedways -- which boast an abundance of surprise winners (Trevor Bayne and David Ragan).
Tony Stewart explains, as the series heads to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT).
"Someone described racing on the superspeedways as being a combination of a science project and the luck of a casino, and it's exactly that way," Stewart said. "You do everything in your power to take care of the science or technology side. You do everything you can to build the fastest car. If you don't have the luck to go with it -- even if you don't have any drama with getting the car touched, nothing happens to the car -- if you're just in the wrong spot at the wrong time, it can take you out of the opportunity to take the best race car in the field and win."
Right place, right time. That's how Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. And how David Ragan nabbed the July Daytona victory a few months later.
This year, maybe more than any, it's exponentially more important to be in the right place at the right time. It will likely mean a spot in NASCAR's playoffs.
A win could belong to Ragan -- a winner at both Daytona and Talladega -- come Saturday night.
"It's been good to me over the years," Ragan said. "I go with an open attitude. I know that anything can happen. I know that you can get in a wreck early of someone else's making. But I also know that if you play your cards right and you have a good strategy, you have a shot to win."
Sadler bumps JRM boys from top spot, looks for more
It's been a long time coming, but Elliott Sadler is back on top.
Sadler took the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead last weekend at Kentucky, catapulting to the top of the standings for the first time since the fall of 2012 at Phoenix International Raceway.
And now, he looks to pad that cushion, a difficult feat considering the site of the Friday night's Subway Firecracker 250 -- Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
"Racing at Daytona is always a wild ride," Sadler said. "It really is a wild card track. Some drivers like to be in the back and avoid the early wrecks. While others think if you're up front, all the wrecks will happen behind you. Regardless, Daytona and Talladega are the two tracks which one little wrong move can take out half of the field. Earlier this year we had a fast car and battled in the top three spots for the majority of the race.
"Unfortunately with a few laps remaining, our car was shuffled back and we ended up finishing fifth. Fifth isn't a bad way to start the year, but it's frustrating when you know your car is faster than a fifth-place finish. On the positive note, we can use all our notes from the first race of the season and prepare a fast car for this upcoming weekend. I'm ready to throttle down and hopefully bring home the checkered at DIS to add to our win earlier this season at Talladega."
This is the first time someone outside the JR Motorsports camp has held the points lead; JRM teammates of Regan Smith and Chase Elliott have swapped the top spot over the course of the first 14 races. Now, Joe Gibbs Racing's Sadler is in command; four points ahead of Elliott and eight points ahead of Smith.
Statistically speaking, Sadler could very well expand on that lead this weekend. Not only does he have a win at a restrictor plate track this year (Talladega), but of the top three drivers in points, he has the best pre-race driver rating (98.6) and average finish (13.3) at Daytona.