The superspeedways host the least predictable races on the schedule.
No matter how one parses the data, a 'Big One' crash can change the running order in the blink of an eye. Last week’s Busch clash was a harsh reminder of what can and often does happen in races at Daytona and Talladega.
The law of big numbers suggests that a driver will occasionally earn consecutive top-10s on even the most unpredictable courses. These strong runs move them to the top of the chart in terms of potential, but ultimately even that is a less than a perfect measuring tool. Last year three drivers earned top-10s in three of the four superspeedway races, but it is extremely rare for someone to sweep that mark in a given season.
Looking back on the most recent 18 superspeedway races, only one driver has earned top-fives in half of their attempts. Joey Logano had a strong run from the fall Talladega race through spring 2019 but that streak is bookended by results of 25th or worse.
One never knows what might happen on this course type.
1. Joey Logano
Logano was holding a steady wheel on the aero-restricted superspeedways until last summer's Coke Zero 400. Six of his previous seven attempts on this course type ended in top-fives.
2. Ryan Newman
If one goes strictly by the numbers, Newman has to be considered one of the favorites this week. He has not won a superspeedway race since 2008 but eight of his last 10 attempts ended in the single digits.
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
By winning the pole for Sunday's race, Stenhouse has already served notice that he must be taken seriously in his new JTG-Daugherty ride.
7. Denny Hamlin
For the past two seasons Hamlin has bookended his superspeedway with top-fives in the Daytona 500 and Talladega 2. Last year he won the season opener to become the first driver to punch his playoff ticket.
9. Alex Bowman
With the second-fastest time last Sunday, Bowman is one of two drivers who knows where he will start before the qualification races. His last two superspeedway attempts ended outside of the top 20.
10. Kyle Busch
Busch helped push his teammate Hamlin across the line last year, but he often runs into trouble on the big tracks. Play him in unlimited games if you wish, but avoid in in allocation management contests.
11. Kurt Busch
In the past two years on superspeedways, Busch has scored three top-10s and another top-15. His odds of being in the front half of the pack are about 50%.
13. Chase Elliott
Elliott's ill-advised move late in the Busch Clash indicates that he lacks the patience to be a good value on a plate track. His Talladega 1 win from last year tells a different story.
19. Michael McDowell
McDowell underscores how frustrating handicapping plate races can be. He has two top-fives in the last two years, but he also has two 40th-place finishes.
21. Ryan Blaney
In the past three seasons, Blaney has scored one top-15 each year. It's anyone's guess as to when that will happen in 2020. Last year he had to wait until Talladega 2. The good news is he won that event.
23. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto will probably end 2020 with a career-best average finish, but it's anyone's guess as to how it is going to start out.
24. William Byron
Byron is an example of how everyone eventually has a good finish on superspeedways if they run long enough. His second-place in Daytona 2 last year is his only top-15 and one of just two top-20s on plate tracks.
26. BJ McLeod
McLeod had a respectable finish in last year's 500. He was 19th. When the series returned in July, he fell to 28th, but that was acceptable in light of his cap value.
28. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski was livid after being involved in yet another accident on a superspeedway caused by blocking. He seems to forget that his 2017 Talladega 2 win was accomplished when teammate Logano impeded the field.
29. Brendan Gaughan
Gaughan will make one last circuit around the superspeedways this year. He has the right mix of aggression and patience to run well in the draft and is usually a great plate value.
30. David Ragan
Even though Ragan has retired, he couldn't resist the temptation to roll off the grid one last time on a track where scored his first Cup win in 2010.
31. Christopher Bell
In order to score a good finish, Bell will have to curb his enthusiasm and ride patiently in the draft. If he does that, he will log a lot of laps and bank some valuable experience.
32. Joey Gase
Gase made three superspeedway attempts last year and failed to finish in the top 25 a single time. One of these attempts was a failure to qualify through his 150-mile qualifier for the Daytona 500.
37. John Hunter Nemechek
This team finished 36th and 37th in the first two superspeedway races last year. There is not enough data to assume Nemechek will do much better in his first race of the rookie campaign.
39. Daniel Suarez
This is certainly not the position Suarez wanted to find himself in. He has to be the top-finishing non-chartered driver in his qualification race to insure he makes the 500, but he wrecked out of the majority of his plate starts last year.
40. JJ Yeley
Yeley is scheduled to run the rest of the races for Rick Ware this year, but his path to the Big Show has to go through the qualification race and that is always a crapshoot.
42. Timmy Hill
Hill will get some seat time behind the wheel of the No. 66, but without a charter and one of the two best speeds in time trials, he is unlikely to make it all the way to the Big Show.