Based on recent history, one would think that Jamie McMurray is a solid candidate to win Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Sprint Cup race.
The race is being held on the Daytona International Speedway track where McMurray won the Daytona 500 five months ago. And McMurray will be in the same No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, or a reasonable facsimile of it.
But the truth is, the circumstances will be very different for McMurray than they were in February. And they will be different for the other drivers as well.
The track is always different in July than it is in February for the 500. The hot, humid Florida weather makes the surface slicker and trickier.
Then there are the cars.
When McMurray wheeled his into Victory Lane in February, it had a big wing sitting on the rear deck lid. For this race, NASCAR mandated the largest restrictor plate yet, authorizing plate openings of 11/32 inches that control the flow of air through the carburetor to the engine.
The change was needed because of the March switch from the wing back to the more traditional spoiler, which has more drag so the bigger plates offset the difference through increased speeds.
"It will be interesting to see how the cars react to the larger restrictor plate," McMurray said.
Thursday, it made for a difficult first day of practice for several drivers. David Ragan, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne needed backup cars after the first practice. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano damaged their cars in the second practice but were able to repair them.
Not so for Denny Hamlin, who wrecked after light contact with teammate Busch. The accident involved at least five cars and added Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and Red Bull Racing's latest substitute driver, Reed Sorenson, in need of backup cars.
Biffle likened the surface to "an old slip-and-slide" and wondered if NASCAR won't switch back to a smaller plate before Saturday night's race.
Logano paced the first practice at 193.932 mph, and Robby Gordon was fastest in second practice at 195.126.
"There's nothing easy about it, I promise you that," Logano said. "There's definitely a lot of guys sliding around, and with this new spoiler package, the cars drove a lot different than what they have in the previous years compared to the wing. We've been kind of fighting to kind of get a balance with that."
McMurray was 21st in the first practice at 192.119 mph and didn't take part in the second.
Overall, McMurray has had an up-and-down year, with good results mixed with wrecks, poor finishes and freak bad breaks. But he said he can't complain too much.
"I think at the beginning of the year if you had told me, 'You're going to win the Daytona 500 and win two poles and you're going to contend to win the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600,' I would have said 'That's going to be a great year,'" he told NASCAR.com.
"Unfortunately in racing, you always want more. It doesn't matter how well you do."
Reutimann contract update: David Reutimann said he has a "handshake deal" to remain at Michael Waltrip Racing. Reutimann, who has driven in Sprint Cup for the team since its arrival to the series in 2007, said it was a multiyear deal.
"I haven't signed anything," the Zephyrhills native said. "We've got a handshake deal basically, a verbal agreement, of what we're going to do.
"I feel pretty good of where we need to be, but I think we're in good shape."
Team general manager Ty Norris said they've been working on the contract for about a month.
Reutimann is 19th in the point standings and is 150 points out of the 12th and final Chase for the Championship spot with nine races left before the field is determined.
Hall of Fame nominees: Jerry Cook, Jack Ingram, Dale Inman, Fred Lorenzen and T. Wayne Robertson are the newest nominees for NASCAR's 2011 class. They are among 25 who will be considered for induction.
Cook is a six-time Modified champion. Ingram is a two-time Nationwide series champion. Inman is an eight-time Cup championship crew chief, seven times with Hall of Famer Richard Petty. Lorenzen has 26 career Cup wins, including the 1965 Daytona 500. Robertson helped raise NASCAR's profile as an R.J. Reynolds executive.
Five inductees will be chosen by a 53-member voting panel of media members, manufacturer representatives, retired owners, drivers and crew chiefs, and industry leaders. Fan voting will be the 54th and final ballot.
For the list of nominees, go to NASCAR.com.
Information from the Sporting News NASCAR wire service was used in this report.
Coke Zero 400
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Daytona International SpeedwayTV:TNT
Sprint Cup points
Through 17 of 36 races. The top 12 drivers through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
Kevin Harvick 2,489 -
Jimmie Johnson 2,384 105
Kyle Busch 2,328 161
Denny Hamlin 2,304 185
Jeff Gordon 2,302 187
Kurt Busch 2,288 201
Matt Kenseth 2,204 285
Jeff Burton 2,159 330
Tony Stewart 2,158 331
Greg Biffle 2,126 363
Mark Martin 2,047 442
Carl Edwards 2,020 469
Dale Earnhardt Jr.2,017 472
Ryan Newman 2,005 484
Clint Bowyer 2,004 485