Stats & Info: Terry Labonte


Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesDenny Hamlin has already won the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel this year.
The most important part of SpeedWeeks, the three points races for the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, are still yet to come, but the past week of action at Daytona has already made an impression.

Who has already made an impact, and who in line to make even more history?

It’s Denny Hamlin’s Week
Denny Hamlin put a bright spin on a largely downer 2013 season by winning the season finale at Homestead last year, and he carried that momentum into 2014, starting by winning last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, along with his Budweiser Duel race on Thursday.

Winning both of those races in a single season is not an unusual feat. In fact, it’s now happened in three of the last four years (2013: Kevin Harvick, 2011: Kurt Busch).

What would be unusual is if he went on to win Sunday’s Daytona 500. This is the 14th time a driver has won both the Unlimited and his qualifying race in the same season. None of the previous 13 went on to win the 500 that same year.

In fact, since 2000 it’s been done five other times, and more often than not the driver has finished outside the top 35 in the Daytona 500.

Due for a Second?
The 1993 Daytona 500 was one of the most memorable in event history. Dale Jarrett won in an upset, holding off Dale Earnhardt by 0.16 seconds for his second career Cup Series win, and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing, with his father Ned cheering him on from the broadcast booth.

Twenty years later, and Joe Gibbs Racing has grown to become one of the premier NASCAR teams, but it still has just the one Daytona 500 victory.

SpeedWeeks has gone excellently for Gibbs so far, as Hamlin won the Unlimited and his Duel, and Matt Kenseth won the first Duel race.

According to Racing Resources, JGR is the first team to sweep both Duel races in the same season.

Got a Second?
The theme with many drivers' Daytona histories focuses around second place.

Terry Labonte: the last-lap wreck in the second Duel race helped him get in. It’s his 32nd Daytona 500 start, second all-time to Dave Marcis (33). His best finish? Second.

• Kurt Busch: He’s a three-time Daytona 500 runner-up. That ties him with Terry Labonte for the most second-place finishes in the Daytona 500 without a win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He’s finished second in three of the last four 500’s. His four career second-place finishes in the Daytona 500 are tied for second all-time behind Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Tony Stewart: A win in the 500 would not only give him a long-awaited victory in the Great American Race, but would make him the second driver with 20 career Daytona wins (in all major races, points and non-points). He’d be second to Dale Earnhardt (34).

Keselowski cools off after hot start

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
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Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBrad Keselowski has struggled after winning the 2012 NSCS points title.
Maybe Brad Keselowski has a championship hangover. With six races to go before the Chase for the Cup, Keselowski is 13th in points and has only two top-five finishes in the past 16 races.

Hot Start

Keselowski finished fourth or better in his first four races, becoming the first Sprint Cup driver to do so since Dale Earnhardt in 1995.

The defending Sprint Cup Series champion was the first NSCS driver to start a season with four consecutive top-five finishes since Jimmie Johnson in 2005. That hot start might have been a harbinger of Keselowski’s later struggles as each of the previous five drivers to achieve that failed to win the Cup that season.

In early March, Keselowski looked in line to duplicate the success of Jimmie Johnson in 2007, when he repeated as champion after winning his first NSCS title in 2006. Before Johnson, no driver had finished higher than sixth in the season after winning his first championship since 2000. Now, Keselowski would be happy to be in the top 10 in points.

Cooling off

Among drivers to run a full season the year after winning a championship, no driver has finished worse than 12th in points the year after winning a title. A full season is classified as one in which the defending champion ran in at least 75 percent of the races. Keselowski is currently in 13th.

Keselowski has failed to win any of his 20 races this season. No defending series champion has gone this far into a season without a win since Jeff Gordon got his first win in the 24th race in 2002.

In the last 20 seasons, the most races a defending champion went into a season before recording a win was Terry Labonte in 1997 (29 races).

Despite not winning any races this season, only Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart have more wins since the start of 2011 than Keselowski.

For this season, he just hopes to avoid being the second driver since the Chase for the Cup began in 2004 to miss the Chase the following season (Tony Stewart, 2006).

Matt Kenseth's road to Victory Lane

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
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ESPN Stats & InformationAfter languishing near the back of the pack in the early laps, Matt Kenseth led the final 38 laps on the way to his second career Daytona 500 win.
Matt Kenseth overcame overheating problems early in the race to win the Daytona 500 for the second time in the past four years. Here’s a look at the road he took to Victory Lane.

Lap 2
Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne and Jimmie Johnson are involved in a wreck in Turn 1. It’s the earliest accident in the Great American Race since 1990, as there hadn’t been a wreck before Lap 5 in the previous 22 Daytona 500s. It was Johnson’s fifth accident in the past six 500s, the second-most among drivers over that span.

Lap 43
Kenseth turns a blistering lap of 44.861 seconds, which remains his fastest time until he tops it with a time of 44.746 with six laps to go.

Lap 81
Jeff Gordon’s engine explodes and catches fire. With teammate Jimmie Johnson in the garage after completing only one lap, Hendrick Motorsports is having a 500 to forget. Gordon and Johnson combine to record 82 laps and only seven points.

Lap 92
In the 12 laps following Gordon’s engine failure, Kenseth trims a whopping 55-second deficit to a 0.1650 one, moving from 32nd to fifth in the process. Kenseth takes advantage of Terry Labonte’s caution on Lap 88 (spun by Marcos Ambrose), entering the pits in 10th place and leaving them in fifth.

Lap 142
Kenseth chases down leader Denny Hamlin and passes him three laps later. Running ninth on Lap 137, Kenseth charges through the field and takes the lead on Lap 146. Following a pit stop for David Stremme’s blown engine (and a 2-hour, 5-minute red flag after Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet-dryer truck under caution), Kenseth retakes the lead for good on Lap 165.

Lap 201
Kenseth holds off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and teammate Greg Biffle by hundredths of a second on the race’s final restart to claim the checkered flag.

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