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Dr. Diandra: Chase Elliott good in the Duels — which is bad for the Daytona 500

Nate Ryan harkens back to the first NASCAR race that was broadcast in full, and a snowstorm that created a captive audience for Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough's Daytona fight.

Chase Elliott seems to be doing everything right in pursuit of winning his first Daytona 500.

He’s got three superspeedway wins: Talladega (twice) and 2022’s second race at the converted Atlanta Motor Speedway.

His team, Hendrick Motorsports, has won eight Daytona 500s. If Elliott or one of his teammates wins Sunday, HMS will tie Petty Enterprises for most Daytona 500 trophies.

In addition to those eight wins, the 132 drivers who have run the Daytona 500 in a Hendrick Motorsports car have:

  • Seven second-place finishes
  • 29 top-five finishes
  • 50 top-10 finishes
  • 30 front-row starting spots, 15 of those poles

MORE: Trackhouse Racing signs Daniel Suarez to contract extension

Elliott’s manufacturer, Chevrolet, has the most Daytona 500 wins of any make with 24.

But none of that has translated into a win for Elliott or his teammates Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron.

It’s all in the timing

Delving into the timeline shows the magnitude of Elliott’s challenges. The table below shows Hendrick Motorsports’ Daytona 500 wins.

A table showing the years and drivers who have won Daytona 500s for Hendrick Motorsports

HMS last won a Daytona 500 in 2014. The team has won only two of the last 16 Daytona 500s and the drivers who took home those trophies no longer race for the team.

Chevrolet has won only one of the last eight Daytona 500s — with Richard Childress Racing — and three of the last 12.

The current HMS drivers have 19 Daytona 500 starts without a win. Elliott came closest to winning with a second-place finish in 2021. The next-best results are 10th-place finishes by Elliott (2022) and Kyle Larson (2021).

Speed is a Hendrick Motorsports strength

The top two finishers in single-car qualifying secure the first and second starting spots for the Daytona 500. They also start from the pole in their respective Duels.

Hendrick Motorsports has 16 Duel wins, 14 second-position finishes, 10 third-place finishes and 11 fourth-places. Unlike wins, this stat has continued with the current generation of drivers.

  • Bowman is making his sixth start on the front row for the Duels (and thus the Daytona 500).
  • Bowman has six Duel poles in just eight races, giving him a pole rate of 75%. The second person on the frequency list, Byron, has a 33.3% pole rate.
  • Elliott has the highest win rate in the Duels of any active driver at 28.8%. He’s fourth on the all-time list, which Dale Earnhardt leads with an amazing 52.2% win rate.
  • An average finish position of 5.6 in the Duels ranks Elliott ranks fifth all-time. Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds the top spot with a 4.5 average finish.

This dominance in speed should be a positive, right?

It used to be. But not anymore.

Speed no longer wins the Daytona 500

The table below shows one aspect of how the fundamental nature of Daytona 500 racing has changed over time. Being in the front of the field may be an honor, but it’s no advantage when it comes to winning.

A table showing how, for the last 20 years, starting the Daytona 500 from the front of the field is NOT an advantage

  • The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
  • Dale Jarrett is also the last driver to win from the second starting position (in 1993).
  • The last driver to win from the third starting position was in 2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

HMS drivers have started the Daytona 500 from the front row for the last nine consecutive races. They haven’t won any of the previous eight races.

Chevrolet has won the last nine Daytona 500 poles but won only one of the last eight races — and the winner was not the polesitter.

MORE: Alex Bowman signs contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports

Toyota has never won a pole but has three Daytona 500 wins.

About the only conclusion one can draw is that a car capable of winning the Daytona 500 pole and/or a Duel is less likely to be competitive in the Daytona 500.

Winning teams focus on the race rather than qualifying or the pole. Two of the last six winners won after starting from the rear due to using a backup car or failing inspections.

What worked for Hendrick Motorsports in past Daytona 500s isn’t working for them now. It may be too late for Elliott to change his approach for this race. Perhaps next year. Remember that the great Dale Earnhardt didn’t win until his 20th attempt.