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Statistically Speaking

Daytona 500 Stats

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

This week’s race: Daytona 500
Traditional Name: Daytona 500
Other Notable Names: None

There is nothing like Daytona International Speedway. No other sport kicks off its season with the biggest race of the year, but NASCAR has always been unique. Through the years, the track has undergone only minor changes in the form of repaving, but the show that rides on top of that asphalt is significantly different today than it was in 1959 when the inaugural Daytona 500 was won by Lee Petty over a field of 59 cars.

Speeds increased until they reached dangerous proportions, then decreased, and increased once more to keep them hovering around the 200-mph mark. The method of slowing the cars has been a restrictor-plate since 1987 when Bobby Allison punched a hole through the fence at Talladega SuperSpeedway and almost landed in the laps of unsuspecting spectators. NASCAR has played with different configurations, but artificially slowing the cars led to pack racing and a new era was born.

Statistically speaking, the difference before July 1987 and every Daytona race since belong in different categories, but Michael Waltrip is the only active driver to bridge that gap and he competed in only two unrestricted races. Once the plates went on, the statistical soup got stirred and Daytona has been one of the most democratic tracks since. Fourteen of the 49 drivers entered for qualification this week have won at least one race at Daytona; that equals 29 percent of the field. Thirty-five drivers have scored top-10s (71 percent) and the vast majority of them also have top-fives to their credit.

Anything can and often does happen at Daytona, so the best advice for fantasy players is to spread the wealth and hope for the best. Don’t count the points until the checkers wave and enjoy the show. Remember, there are 35 more races if all of your drivers get swept into a "Big One" crash.

10 best drivers at Daytona

Over the past six races, these drivers have the best average finish on this track.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 7.00
Career avg. finish: 13.4 in 30 attempts

In his heyday, Junior was considered the Pied Piper of Daytona. He perennially spends the most time at the head of the pack and everyone wanted to draft with him; in fact, they are so comfortable behind him, that few wanted to pass his iconic No. 8 or 88. That mystique faded somewhat in the early 2010s, but a victory in last year’s Daytona 500 and a second in 2013 quickly brightened his prospects.

Earnhardt’s victory in the Gatorade Duel in Daytona further underscores his status as a favorite.

2. Greg Biffle
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 14.00
Career avg. finish: 20.7 in 25 attempts

Biffle is not necessarily the first driver who springs to mind on plate tracks and that could be a good thing for fantasy owners if it causes the competition to overlook him. Better still, his best runs in the past three years have come in the Daytona 500 when the most prestige is on the line. Biffle finished third in the 2012 edition of this race, was sixth in 2013, and eighth in 2014. Consistency is just as important as raw speed.

3. Brad Keselowski
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 14.33
Career avg. finish: 22.1 in 12 attempts

If Keselowski survives this week’s Daytona 500, he could rival Earnhardt when the series returns in July. His third-best, three-year average is negatively skewed by a crash-induced 32nd in the 2012 Daytona 500, which gives him a five-race mark of 10.8. Two of his last four attempts have ended in top-fives and both of those came in the 500, so there is a reason to be optimistic about his odds this week.

4. Denny Hamlin (tied with Newman)
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 14.50
Career avg. finish: 19.6 in 18 attempts

Hamlin has finished sixth or better in three of the last six races. That is good enough to get him noticed by fantasy owners, but even better is the fact that he swept the top-six last year. He was dominant in Speedweeks with victories in the Sprint Unlimited and his Gatorade Duel, followed by a runner-up finish to the Pied Piper of Kannapolis.

4. Ryan Newman (tied with Hamlin)
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 14.50
Career avg. finish: 20.3 in 26 attempts

Newman’s place among the top 10 this week is even more remarkable because of the fact that nine of his last 11 attempts on this track have been marred by crash damage. NASCAR worked on making the new body durable and Newman is an example of their success. Three of the last six races on this track ended in the 20s after he sustained damage, but he also scored a fifth in the 2012 Coke Zero 400 with wrinkled quarter panels.

6. Austin Dillon
Last three races average finish at Daytona: 15.00 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish: 15.00 in 3 attempts

Running a part time schedule on the Childress-Plan—i.e. easing drivers into the national series—Dillon ran extremely well in the 2013 Gatorade Duel at Daytona. Well enough in fact, that he started eighth on the grid. He was also running strong during the 500 until crash damage sent him behind the wall. Last year, he avoided trouble and swept the top 10 with a fifth in Coke Zero 400. He will be one of the best values in most fantasy games.

7. Casey Mears
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 15.83
Career avg. finish: 23.1 in 23 attempts

While this race can be a nightmare to handicap, it is one of the best courses to employ an alternate strategy that might pay dividends later in the season. Dark horses abound, and Mears’ position in the top 10 along with the sophomore Dillon and part timer Bobby Labonte provide a way to differentiate one’s roster from the competition. Mears enters the Daytona 500 with a three-race, top-10 streak and should not be overlooked.

8. Matt Kenseth
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 16.67
Career avg. finish: 17.2 in 30 attempts

Kenseth has already won at Daytona this week. He scored a victory the Sprint Unlimited and the circumstances surrounding that win make him a good value. He led the second-most laps during an evening filled with fireworks and he owed new teammate Carl Edwards credit for not helping a competitor draft by in the final laps. He had such a remarkable lead under the white flag that a concerted effort might have been able to slip past.

8. Joey Logano
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 16.67
Career avg. finish: 19.8 in 12 attempts

Logano’s Daytona record resembles a bell curve with his best results coming at the end of his stint with Joe Gibbs Racing Since joining Penske Racing he has failed to crack the top 10, although he came close last year with an 11th. Offsetting that reasonably strong run is a crash-induced 40th in 2013. The two results counterbalance one another and make Logano a difficult driver to handicap this week; if he is priced right for salary cap considerations, he could be used—or a player might want to look further down the list for a better value.

10. Bobby Labonte
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 17.17
Career avg. finish: 21.3 in 44 attempts

Labonte is with a new team this year, but his most recent six efforts have been in similar equipment. Moreover, his brother Terry used this same machinery in the last couple of seasons and had strong runs at Daytona. Part timers always represent a risk, but a driver with this much experience is worth the gamble.

Others of Note

14. Jeff Gordon
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 20.33
Career avg. finish: 16.2 in 44 attempts

NASCAR has a tendency to create exceptional narratives. In his last full season—and reportedly the last time he will be part of the Daytona 500 weekend—it is not out of the question that Gordon could win on Sunday afternoon. In any event, he has made himself part of the story by winning the pole in the first application of NASCAR’s knockout-style qualification format for this legendary race.

15. Kevin Harvick (tied with Johnson and Jamie McMurray)
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 21.17
Career avg. finish: 16.7 in 27 attempts

For the Daytona 500, Harvick should be considered a victim of his own success. Winning the championship last year ensures that he will be one of the most expensive drivers in salary cap games and it is difficult to place him on one’s roster with the threat of a "Big One" crash looming on the horizon for every racer in the field.

15. Jimmie Johnson (tied with Harvick and McMurray)
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 21.17
Career avg. finish: 18.0 in 26 attempts

Johnson grabbed the outside pole for this year’s Daytona 500 to add his name to the record book alongside teammate Gordon. In some ways that makes him less useful for fantasy owners, however, especially in games that offer a place-differential bonus. Yes, he has won two of the last six races and finished fifth once. Yes, he won his Gatorade Duel, but he also has three DNFs with crash damage and all of these ended outside the top 35.

22. Kyle Busch
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 22.33
Career avg. finish: 19.1 in 20 attempts

Fantasy owners should get accustomed to hearing that Busch is an all or nothing driver because that statement will be made a number of times this year. Daytona is a perfect example because he has one victory, another two runner-up finishes there, and five total top-fives. He has also finished outside the top 25 with crash damage on six occasions and players need to decide how much they want to gamble.

40. Kyle Larson
Last six races average finish at Daytona: 37.00 in 2 attempts
Career avg. finish: 37.0 in 2 attempts

In terms of average finishes, Larson anchors the list this year and that could play into fantasy owners’ hands. He sustained crash damage in both Daytona starts last year and finished outside the top 35. The competition will be justifiably nervous about starting him, but Larson finished ninth and 17th in Talladega’s two races, so he knows how to hold a steady wheel in the multi-car draft.

 

Three-year average finish

Rank

Driver

3-Year Avg. Finish

Attempts

1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

7.00

6

2.

Greg Biffle

14.00

6

3.

Brad Keselowski

14.33

6

4.

Denny Hamlin

14.50

6

4.

Ryan Newman

14.50

6

6.

Austin Dillon

15.00

3

7.

Casey Mears

15.83

6

8.

Matt Kenseth

16.67

6

8.

Joey Logano

16.67

6

10.

Bobby Labonte

17.17

6

 

11.

Clint Bowyer

17.67

6

12.

Alex Bowman

18.00

2

13.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

18.20

5

14.

Jeff Gordon

20.33

6

15.

Kevin Harvick

21.17

6

15.

Jimmie Johnson

21.17

6

15.

Jamie McMurray

21.17

6

18.

Danica Patrick

21.60

5

19.

Carl Edwards

21.67

6

20.

Paul Menard

22.00

6

20.

Kurt Busch

22.00

6

22.

Kyle Busch

22.33

6

23.

Tony Stewart

22.50

6

24.

Michael Waltrip

23.33

6

25.

Aric Almirola

23.83

6

26.

Landon Cassill

24.20

5

27.

Reed Sorenson

24.50

2

28.

Martin Truex Jr.

25.33

6

29.

Justin Allgaier

26.00

2

30.

Kasey Kahne

27.00

6

31.

JJ Yeley

28.00

4

32.

Michael Annett

29.00

2

33.

Michael McDowell

29.33

6

34.

David Gilliland

29.67

6

35.

Trevor Bayne

30.00

6

35.

Josh Wise

30.00

5

37.

David Ragan

30.33

6

38.

Cole Whitt

31.00

2

39.

AJ Allmendinger

34.50

5

40.

Kyle Larson

37.00

2

 

Exercise Caution

Most caution flags: 16, 2011 Daytona 500
Fewest caution flags: 0 (six times), 1962 Daytona 500, 1961 Firecracker 250, 1961 Daytona 500, 1960 Firecracker 250, 1959 Firecracker 250, 1959 Daytona 500
Average number of caution flags per race: 4.7

Final Caution, last five races:
July 2014: lap 110 of 112: rain, shortened race from 160 laps
February 2014: lap 200 of 200: six-car accident on final lap (Reed Sorenson, Carl Edwards, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, and Kevin Harvick)
July 2013: lap 157 of 161 (two set up a green-white-checker): three-car accident (Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, and Jimmie Johnson). Johnson survived to win the race.
February 2013: lap 193 of 200 (debris)
July 2012: 160 of 160: 15-car accident on final lap (Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Kyle Busch, David Ragan, Kasey Kahne, Travis Kvapil, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Regan Smith, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Terry Labonte, and Jamie McMurray). Kenseth (third), Edwards (sixth), and Kahne (seventh) survived to score a top-10.

Most caution laps: 60 (two times): 2011 Daytona 500, 1968 Daytona 500
Fewest caution laps: 0 (six times), 1962 Daytona 500, 1961 Firecracker 250, 1961 Daytona 500, 1960 Firecracker 250, 1959 Firecracker 250, 1959 Daytona 500
Average number of caution laps per race: 23.3

Leading the way

Most leaders: 25, 2011 Coke Zero 400
Fewest leaders: 3 (3 times), 1972 Daytona 500, 1962 Firecracker 250, 1960 Firecracker 250
Average number of leaders: 8.5

Most lead changes: 74, 2011 Daytona 500
Fewest lead changes: 6 (two times), 2002 Pepsi 400, 1964 Daytona 500
Average number of lead changes: 22.6

Victory Lane

Last five winners (starting position):
July 2014: Aric Almirola (15th)
February 2014: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth)
July 2013: Jimmie Johnson (eighth)
February 2013: Jimmie Johnson (ninth)
July 2012: Tony Stewart (42nd)

Worst starting position for race winner: 42nd, Tony Stewart: 2012 Coke Zero 400

A race at Daytona has been won by the pole sitter 17 times and from the front row 31 times in 135 races.

Recent races won from the pole:
Kevin Harvick, 2010 Coke Zero 400*
Tony Stewart, 2009 Coke Zero 400*
Tony Stewart, 2005 Pepsi 400
Jeff Gordon, 2004 Pepsi 400
Dale Jarrett, 2000 Daytona 500
Jeff Gordon, 1999 Daytona 500
Bill Elliott, 1987 Daytona 500
Bill Elliott, 1985 Daytona 500
Cale Yarborough, 1984 Daytona 500
Cale Yarborough, 1981 Firecracker 400

Active winners at Daytona
Jeff Gordon: 6
Tony Stewart:    4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 3
Jimmie Johnson: 3
Michael Waltrip: 3
Kevin Harvick: 2
Matt Kenseth: 2
Jamie McMurray: 2
Aric Almirola: 1
Trevor Bayne: 1
Greg Biffle: 1
Kyle Busch: 1
Ryan Newman: 1
David Ragan: 1

First time winners at Daytona:
Aric Almirola, 2014 Coke Zero 400
David Ragan, 2011 Coke Zero 400
Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500
Greg Biffle, 2003 Pepsi 400
Michael Waltrip, 2001 Daytona 500
John Andretti, 1997 Pepsi 400
Jimmy Spencer, 1994 Pepsi 400
Sterling Marlin, 1994 Daytona 500
Derrike Cope, 1990 Daytona 500
Greg Sacks, 1985 Pepsi Firecracker 400
Pete Hamilton, 1970 Daytona 500
Mario Andretti, 1967 Daytona 500
Sam McQuagg, 1966 Firecracker 400
A J Foyt, 1964 Firecracker 400
Tiny Lund, 1963 Daytona 500

Running at the End

The following active drivers have been running at the end of every Daytona race they started:
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (5)
Johnny Sauter (5)
Austin Dillon (3)
Alex Bowman (2)
Ron Hornaday (1)
Brian Scott (1)

Reed Sorenson had been running at the end of 10 consecutive races until he crashed out of last year’s Coke Zero 400.
Landon Cassill had been running at the end of five consecutive races until he crashed out of last year’s Coke Zero 400.

Great Starts

Active drivers with top-10s in their first start on this track:
Trevor Bayne: first (2011)
David Ragan: fifth (2007)
Jeff Gordon: fifth (both 1993 races)
Clint Bowyer: sixth (2006)
Ryan Newman: seventh (2002)
David Gilliland: eighth (2007)
Matt Kenseth: 10th (2000)

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.