Five months ago, the 2018 NASCAR season dawned at Daytona as Austin Dillon wrecked Aric Almirola on the final lap to claim victory in the Daytona 500, 20 years after Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s first and only 500 triumph. Now, Dillon is poised to go for the Daytona sweep Saturday night in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 PM Eastern, NBC). Let it be known that while sweeping the season at Daytona can be done, it’s also a rare feat – only five drivers in NASCAR history have ever accomplished the task. The last time it happened was in 2013 when Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 in February, then came back in July to dominate the Coke Zero 400. Daytona and Talladega, the two restrictor plate tracks on the NASCAR schedule, are known for tight-knit, close-quarter racing and unpredictability. Who knows who’s going to win? Anyone has a chance! It’ll be 400 miles of mayhem to celebrate America’s birthday, so here’s what to watch for.
Can Dillion Do The Double?
When NASCAR was last at Daytona, it was for the biggest race of the year – the Daytona 500. On the final lap, in a move we’d see out of only The Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, Austin Dillon wrecked race leader Aric Almirola, who was starting his first points race for Stewart-Haas Racing. That move cost Almirola the race and allowed Dillon to bring the 3 back in Daytona Victory Lane 20 years after Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 victory. Now Dillon has a shot to pull off what has been done only five other times – sweeping the season at Daytona. All eyes will be on him as he attempts to pull off the improbable. All eyes will also be on the man who was on the receiving end of that last lap crash-and-win maneuver in the Daytona 500, Tampa native Aric Almirola.
Aric Almirola was in his first points-paying race for his new team – Stewart-Haas Racing – last time NASCAR was at Daytona. He came within a lap of claiming what would’ve been the biggest prize of his career, only to be thwarted by Austin Dillon as he claimed victory for RCR 20 years after the previous occupant of the 3 car, Dale Earnhardt, won his first and only 500, making for one of the sports world’s biggest stories thus far in 2018. Expect Almirola to look for payback against the North Carolina driver and this year’s 500 champion come Saturday night, possibly even take home the checkered flag at the end of 400 miles.
If there’s one thing that’s for sure at Daytona and Talladega, it’s that the winner won’t be decided until the last turn of the last lap and there’s always a chance of a stunning upset victory. Take a look at Trevor Bayne’s 2011 Daytona 500 win or when David Ragan won for Front Row Motorsports in the 2013 spring Talladega race. Bottom line – Daytona and Talladega are unpredictable to the max. Danger lurks around every corner and one mistake could end your night in a flash. Drivers, proceed with caution. Fantasy owners, exercise that same caution when picking your teams. And fans….get ready for a wild ride!
It’s Daytona, it’s wild and for all intents and purposes – it’s gonna be one exciting 400 mile thrill ride!