What is defined as tradition when it comes to racing? It can take many forms from the smallest facilities that host weekly events to the big shows that my hold one or two races a year. But it's something that is constantly done every year, and fans know it as it's been around for sometimes decades.
It's the releasing of the balloons at Indianapolis while hearing "Back Home Again in Indiana," or seeing some of the great dirt racers in the country do a four-wide pace lap before taking the green flag. It's seeing the crowd stand as one while ceremonies are taking place, or hearing the playing of "Taps" on Memorial Day weekend.
In NASCAR, a great tradition that happens when America honors it's birthday is returning back to where the sport began. It has become the sports own version of a "Mid-Summer Classic" but instead of swinging for the fences, the drivers are chasing a trophy. This week, NASCAR makes it's first return trip of the season back to the Daytona International Speedway, for a race that in itself has seen many moments that stand out in history.
For years this was an event that no summer could be without, and became one that saw infamous moments. There was John Andretti getting his first career win in 1997, and no one will ever forget "The King" Richard Petty claiming his 200th win on Independence Day, as President Ronald Reagan flew in to see it happen. In 1998, this race was to take place on July 4, but wildfires pushed it back to October. It was also the first official night race at the speedway, changing the entire dynamic of how this track handled and appeared. It would be Jeff Gordon winning that race, but many moments have since become part of NASCAR's memories.
There's Tony Stewart climbing the fence in 2005 and 2007, Or Jamie McMurray barely edging out Kyle Busch in a photo finish. Then there's 2001, where one young man put NASCAR on his shoulders, to not just win a race, but to heal a nation.
Those moments are infamous, but this track still means restricted engines, and big packs. It is still anyone's race to win, and one minor glitch means a lot will lose. With this in mind, the writers have a lot of gambling to do this week, and they have decided who they will hope comes through after 160 laps.
Here's their picks for victory in the Coke Zero 400:
Misan Akuya: Denny Hamlin
Second in the Daytona 500. Won Talladega. Hamlin has dropped to 17th in points. He could use a win.
Rob Blount: Kevin Harvick
James Broomhead: NO PICK
No driver submitted by deadline.
Billy Fellin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why not? He won in February to kick the NASCAR season off and Hendrick has been hot as of late. No reason the 88 can't win under the lights.
Michael Hirshbein: Kyle Busch
Kara Martin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For nostalgia's sake!!
Ryan O'Hara: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dustin Parks: Jeff Gordon
I'll admit I bounced between three picks this week, all with Hendrick power. Earnhardt Jr. is the big pick in my eyes because of his win, but then again Smoke has made this his go-to race to get himself rolling. So why exactly would I decide on the No. 24? Well let's be honest, he's been on quite a roll since his Kansas win. Sure a few hiccups have occurred, but the team is still strong and is leading the points. But I cannot help but think back to 2004, a decade ago, when Gordon rolled out the Pepsi Billion Dollar car at this race when it was still sponsored by Pepsi. All those cars that had Coca-Cola C2 tried to take away focus on sponsors, but in the end Gordon put his in victory lane.
This year, those roles are reversed, as the Coke Zero product is the sponsor and the Coca-Cola Racing Family is an elite group. But, he's rolling out the Pepsi Real Big Summer SS to promote Pepsi with Real Sugar (also known as Pepsi Throwback for those history buffs), and it's time to make the real king of soft drinks stand tall in victory lane.
Patti Rodisch: Matt Kenseth
I was torn this week as really anyone can win but Kenseth's recent runs at plate tracks put him as the favorite. Looking for his first win of 2014, Kenseth gets it done.
Aaron Rosser: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Sal Sigala Jr: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hopefully he doesn't use the same strategy he used at Dega.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon
Because it's a crap shoot and for some reason, I'm thinking he wants a sixth Daytona victory. Jeff Gordon and Team 24 are looking to kick off the second half of 2014 in style.
Standings after Kentucky:
Kara Martin (642) Kevin Harvick finished 7th - 3
Sal Sigala Jr. (617) Jimmie Johnson finished 10th - 5
Ryan O'Hara (588) Jamie McMurray finished 37th - 4
Patti Rodisch (584) Jeff Gordon finished 6th - 2
Rob Tiongson (581) Jeff Gordon finished 6th - 2
Rob Blount (543) Matt Kenseth finished 4th - 1
Billy Fellin (539) Matt Kenseth finished 4th - 1
Dustin Parks (533) Matt Kenseth finished 4th - 2
Michael Hirshbein (526) Kyle Busch finished 2nd - 1
Aaron Rosser (499) Joey Logano finished 9th - 1
Misan Akuya (490) Jamie McMurray finished 37th - 1
James Broomhead (468) NO PICK SENT - 2
Final Remarks: This weekend is meant to celebrate the birth of a nation, one that has remained free for over 200 years and continues to do so because of brave individuals. People will celebrate with cookouts of many types, while others will gaze up at the sky for fireworks shows that last for minutes on end. For folks at Daytona, it is simply home to them when NASCAR returns for the holiday weekend. For them, there's no other way they'd want to spend their time.
But, who will survive the fireworks on the track to bring home yet another victory, or who will emerge as a surprise winner to maybe take the Chase field and become a true wild card? Find out at 6:30 p.m. ET on TNT.
Summary of Picks:
Dale Earnhardt Jr-5