When the month of July rolls around, it usually means it's beginning to hit the peak of summer.  The beginning of the season is in late June, as now the minutes tick away in the amount of daylight each day has.

But July also is a month of celebration, honoring the birthday of America.  And as has been tradition, NASCAR celebrates in it's own way, at the track that starts the season.

It's a season that has come full circle, as NASCAR heads back south to the track that started the season, the "Great American Speedway."  Daytona returns to the schedule, and this time it's no afternoon drive on a Sunday.  The heat is high, humidity even higher, but since 1998, this race has been held under the bright Musco Lighting, making it a go-to stop on the schedule.

Getting this track lit up had it's challenges, and even the first year it was to be done it was delayed because of wildfires in the area.

But since then, this race has seen many incredible memories and moments.  There are fireworks in the sky, and always fireworks on the track.

Knowing this, and how unpredictable restrictor plate races are, the 13 writers are hoping for the best in this one.

Take a look at their picks of who they think will survive and win the Coke Zero 400:

 

Misan Akuya:  Jamie McMurray

McMurray has been fast all year.  But last week almost showed just how far this team has come when he was catching Matt Kenseth in the late laps and had to settle for second.  Still that was his first top five since 2011 and best finish since 2010.

So they are pretty happy with that.  McMurray was 10th in points in April and with mechanical failures and flat tires dropped to 21st in points.  Now up to 19th in points, McMurray is in need of wins.

Daytona is a place that it could happen.  He has two wins there one in the 500, one in July.

Rob Blount:  Matt Kenseth

Daytona is still a crapshoot. I’m going with Kenseth who probably had the strongest car in February until TRD failed him.

James Broomhead:  NO PICK

No pick sent by the posting time.

Kelly Crandall:  Matt Kenseth

There's no explanation needed. There are a lot of drivers that could win this race for a lot of reasons. Hopefully it'll be this guy.

Author Note:  Kelly is in Daytona, as is her summer tradition since 2004, for this race as a media member representing Speedway Media.

Billy Fellin:  Kevin Harvick

This team is trying to debunk the whole "lame duck" premise. They've been strong all year long and per usual, always around come the closing laps.

Michael Hirshbein:  Kyle Busch

No reason.

Christopher Leone:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Just because.

Kara Martin:  Tony Stewart

No reason.

Ryan O'Hara:  Jeff Gordon

It's restrictor plate racing....who the hell knows what will happen.

Dustin Parks:  Danica Patrick

I really don't know why I'm going this way, nor do I have the best reason, but there is just something about this place and her.  Maybe it's to prove Kyle Petty wrong since he doesn't believe she's a driver, just a marketing machine.

Then again, she shocked the NASCAR world when she put her car on the pole to start the year, and actually led laps and kept out of trouble to finish in the top-10.

Maybe it's the fact that this is her best track, having come close to winning in Nationwide and Cup.  I don't know, but I've decided to take the chance, and pull for the bright neon green Chevrolet.

Patti Rodisch:  Jeff Gordon

No reason.

Sal Sigala Jr:  Jimmie Johnson

No reason.

Rob Tiongson:  Tony Stewart

If he apparently knows how to split while having "soda cookies," he can surely get his fifth win in the midsummer classic at Daytona.

 

Standings following Kentucky:

Patti Rodisch (598) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th (0)

Rob Tiongson (589) Carl Edwards finished 21st (1)

Kelly Crandall (574) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th (1)

Rob Blount (528) Kyle Busch finished 5th (1)

Michael Hirshbein (527) Kyle Busch finished 5th (2)

Sal Sigala Jr(526) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th (0)

Billy Fellin (526) Brad Keselowski finished 33rd (1)

James Broomhead (520) Kyle Busch finished 5th (1)

Dustin Parks (514) Brad Keselowski finished 33rd (0)

Ryan O'Hara (486) Jeff Gordon finished 8th (0)

Kara Martin (454) Brad Keselowski finished 33rd (0)

Misan Akuya (433) Matt Kenseth WON (1)

Christopher Leone (384) Martin Truex Jr. finished 7th (0)

 

Final Thoughts:  This race has seen many crazy finishes over the last few years.  There's the 2007 photo finish of Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray, which many considered the encore of when Kevin Harvick beat out Mark Martin in the Daytona 500.  Then there's Tony Stewart getting into Busch on the last lap while blocking, causing chaos at the finish.

There's David Ragan getting pushed to victory by Matt Kenseth in 2011, then who can ever forget Dale Jr. in 2001 returning to Daytona after his father's untimely passing.

Another one of those moments could happen Saturday night, making the hot summer heat up even more.  TNT goes WIDE OPEN once again this year beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.

 

Summary of Picks:

Jeff Gordon-2

Matt Kenseth-2

Tony Stewart-2

Kyle Busch-1

Dale Earnhardt Jr-1

Kevin Harvick-1

Jimmie Johnson-1

Jamie McMurray-1

Danica Patrick-1