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We're officially 17 of 36 points races into the 2012 season, and this weekend's race at Daytona will be the half-way point. For teams, however, this is not just any other race. Restrictor-plate events always bring more wrecked cars, damaged points days, and mad drivers than any other type of track on the circuit. Thus, being one of the "wild card" tracks on the schedule, you can't blame teams for being a little antsy of one of the largest, fastest, and most unforgiving tracks we visit. Since everyone is on equal horsepower at these restrictor-plate races, anyone can pounce on the opportunity of a possible victory. After all, who could have predicted Dave Blaney's 3rd-place run last fall, or NASCAR newcomer Brad Keselowski grabbing victory in 2009? Regardless of whether it's underdogs or favorites leading the field, the Coke Zero 400 is bound to be full of pure excitement every lap.

Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, is simply known as the "World Center of Racing". It was built to replace the defunct Beach Course by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. over 50 years ago, 1959 to be exact. It has featured the same dimensions since it was originally paved, which is an uncommon sight in the Cup Series today. Daytona has held more races in the Cup series than any other track at 130, but of the 5 tracks that come closest to that number, 4 of them have been reconfigured to different lengths in their lifetime. The speedway located here is 2.5 miles long, with a steep 31 degrees of banking in the turns. It has long been one of the fastest tracks in the world because of that. The tri-oval and back straightaway is 18 and 3 degrees, respectively, while the short straightaways (the straight areas linking the tri-oval with turns 1 and 4) are slightly steeper, at 6 degrees. As with the sport's only other superspeedway, Talladega Superspeedway, pit road speed limit is 55mph.

One of the headlining stories the past year and a half or so has been the actual method of racing here and at Talladega. For the past 2 decades, the racing was dominated by large packs running from twenty to thirty cars, inches apart and 3 wide. But a change was sparked in late 2010. What caused it, no one is sure. There were no major aerodynamic changes, no new parts, nothing. But during the Talladega fall race of that year, drivers started running in a two-by-two form, one steering and another pushing. It was a form of racing still using drafting, but with only two drivers instead of 30. This new type of competition was hated by the fans, being dubbed the "two-car tango." Attendance and TV ratings plummeted for all restrictor-plate events, and NASCAR was stuck in desperation mode trying to rid of this racing technique. As it is well-known by now, the sport accomplished what it set out to do earlier this year, breaking up the two-car tandem and bringing back pack racing just in time for the Daytona 500. It returned at Talladega later in the year, so it is safe to say that this type of racing is back (to the relief of me and many other fans). Look for pack racing to dominate the large portion of the 400 miles on Saturday night, but watch in the closing laps how drivers will likely draft in pairs again.

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