A ride in the pace car ahead of the Coke Zero Sugar 400

The NASCAR regular season concludes Saturday at Daytona

Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway (Alessandra Pontbriand, WJXT)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They say all roads lead to Daytona. That includes the NASCAR regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 that will be racing around the International Speedway on Saturday.

News4JAX had the chance to ride along in the pace car around the 2.5 mile tri-oval track while Daytona International Speedway president Frank Kelleher was driving to preview Saturday’s race.

“We are honored to have this race where it falls on the schedule of being the regular season finale,” Kelleher said. “In the world of motor sports, the Daytona 500 is the most famed and storied. It’s the biggest stock car race in the world. We kick the season off with the Super Bowl here in Daytona and now we end the regular season here in Daytona with the Coke Zero Sugar 400.”

Like the famous words from Ricky Bobby, this weekend “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”

“So much is on the line,” Kelleher said. “We got about 14 drivers that need to win the race if they want to keep their championship hopes alive. So it’s not about playing it safe maybe finishing third and getting in on points, they must win.”

The famed World Center of Racing will put the pedal to the metal and the skill of a driver to the front of stage.

“This is not a track where you can take it easy,” Kelleher said. “This is a track when wrecks happen, they happen in a big way.”

When drivers start their engines, it will be for the final time in the regular season. A last chance effort to earn a playoff spot.

“It’s game seven vibes,” Kelleher said. “I mean it is that level of intensity, seriousness. If you’re a fan and your driver is locked in, you’re just coming out here to have a good time and see your driver go around. But if you’re a fan of a driver that is not a guarantee lock in to the playoffs, this is all you’re talking about all week.”

Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are battling for the 2023 Regular Season Championship title. Both are vying for the crown heading into Daytona this weekend for the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

About the Author:

Alessandra Pontbriand joined WJXT4 as a sports anchor and reporter in May 2023. She is excited to join the extremely talented sports team and have the opportunity to tell stories across Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia from local high schools, universities, and pro teams!