On a weekend rich in storylines, Kurt Busch has a chance to be the lead at Daytona International Speedway – again.
Having won the DAYTONA 500 in February, Busch comes into Saturday night’s 59th annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola looking to become the sixth driver to pull off a season sweep of the Speedway’s two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
This is no ordinary accomplishment, obviously. And calling it extraordinary seems appropriate considering the five guys who have achieved the sweep: Fireball Roberts (1962), Cale Yarborough (1968), LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969), Bobby Allison (1982) and Jimmie Johnson (2013).
"It feels great to have a DAYTONA 500 win and the ring, trophy and the prestige and the value of that win," Busch said. "And how I won the race is something you have in your back pocket in terms of the knowledge and understanding of what took place at the end – the draft and the move that I made, the handling characteristics with the car.
"But you can’t be too complacent. You have to find new things and put more tools in your toolbox to be able to have that advantage at the end of the race when it comes to mastering the draft.
"By no means do I think that I’ve mastered it."
At some point this weekend Busch will visit a good friend – the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford he drove to the DAYTONA 500 victory. It’s on display – and will be until the 2018 DAYTONA 500 – at the Speedway’s Ticket and Tours Building.
Friday seems like a prime time. At 3 p.m., Busch will join the DAYTONA 500 Champion’s Walk of Fame, located outside the Ticket and Tours Building. As part of the DAYTONA 500 champion’s celebration in February, every driver places their hands, right foot and autograph in a cement block that is officially installed during the Coke Zero 400 weekend.
"It’s so special coming back to Daytona," Busch said. "I can feel it. It’s helping me absorb what we did here back in February."
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Richard Petty will turn 80 years old on Sunday, but the celebrating will soon be underway at Daytona International
Speedway. It starts with a special birthday cake as part of a press conference on Friday. The cake’s design will be based on Petty’s famous 200th victory in the 1984 Coke Zero 400. In addition, Petty’s 1974 DAYTONA 500-winning
Dodge Charger is on display in the UNOH Fanzone, where there will be a "Richard Petty Tribute Wall" for fans to write birthday messages to "The King." Also, Petty will be introduced during pre-race ceremonies for the Coke Zero 400 and special birthday messages will be playing on the jumbotrons from drivers throughout the weekend.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) will make his final Daytona International Speedway start on Saturday, in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition. He has won the Coke Zero 400 twice (2001 and ’15).
"I guarantee he’s going to be elbows up, sleeves up, and he will be the car to beat this weekend," Busch said.
There were two practice sessions on Thursday. In the first, Earnhardt was 19th-fastest with his best lap of 195.313 mph on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Defending Coke Zero 400 champion Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford) was fastest in the session at 197.438.
In the second session, only 19 of the 40 cars entered ran laps. Earnhardt posted the fast lap – 193.328 mph – in his final Monster Energy Series practice at DIS.
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Tickets for the 59th annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 and other Daytona International Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.