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Five drivers to watch this weekend at Daytona

Bill France and his family moved to Florida to escape the Great Depression and brought racing with them.

Keep an eye on these five drivers this weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its roots at Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin seeks to become only the sixth driver ever to win the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 in the same season, and he stands a good shot. Since 2014, Hamlin has recorded 7 Top-10 finishes in the 10 Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races, and his Daytona 500 win in February was also his fifth consecutive Daytona finish of sixth or better.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt has crashed out of this year’s 2 restrictor-plate races, with the latter wreck at Talladega putting an end to his hyper-successful superspeedway car, “Amelia.” But with 10 restrictor-plate wins to his credit, you can never count him out at Daytona. And with a chance lost last week at Sonoma to put ground between him and the other playoff bubble drivers, he’ll be especially motivated to win and end all questions about his post-season hopes.

Kevin Harvick

It’s been a while since Harvick last won a plate race – six years to be exact (July 2010 at Daytona). But with 5 Top-10 finishes in his last 7 plate races, he’s been getting closer to ending that drought. As the Sprint Cup points leader, a good jump on the Chase Grid (currently 5th) will be his if he earns a second 2016 win this weekend.

Austin Dillon

Austin has only led 10 laps over his six Sprint Cup starts at Daytona, but he’s also come away with 4 Top-10 finishes. That includes finishing 7th in this race a year ago, even as he was sent into the catch fence in one of NASCAR’s ugliest crashes in recent memory. He finished ninth in February’s Daytona 500, and another Top-10 run is critical for him as he tries to move up and out of the bubble from 14th on the Chase Grid (+18 above the cutoff).

Jamie McMurray

Four of McMurray’s 7 career Sprint Cup wins have come on plate tracks. But since his Oct. 2013 win at Talladega, he’s only had 1 Top-10 finish on a plate track – a 4th-place effort at Talladega this past May. Still, this “wild card” race is definitely an opportunity for McMurray to score a surprise win and enter the playoffs.