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Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Crunching numbers after Daytona


You probably haven't given potholes this much attention since … well, since your last morning commute when you hit one and flattened your tire, or got some coffee on your suit. It might've even made your CD skip.

Call me the eternal optimist, but I found the pothole delay an excellent time for a little 90-minute nap. I woke up, got a snack, refreshed my beverage, and was ready to go for Round 2. Then they threw another red flag my way. I grabbed the laptop and made some dinner plans with the lady friend.

It was Valentine's Day, after all, so there was no need to be angry. It was a time to rekindle love -- for NASCAR.

Rules changes in full swing made for some great racing. Bump-drafting added to the excitement, and they did it all without succumbing to the "big one." In my eyes, the key to that was the new restrictor plate. It meant the leader wasn't at a decided disadvantage and didn't have to block to maintain his position.

Say what you will about the freakish occurrence of potholes popping up between Turns 1 and 2, but I'm glad the racing was spectacular without a 20-car accident and that the race went at least 500 miles this year.

Now that I'm six paragraphs in, I'll mention what I think should be the headline story, instead of the potholes: Jamie McMurray's upset win. It's a great story for a guy who was out of a ride after 2009 and could've missed out on the No. 1 car this year because of sponsorship issues. The emotion was real and was fantastic to watch, no matter how long it took to get there.

Meanwhile, I don't know how I'm going to fit the best of our research notes from the Daytona 500, but let's start with McMurray.

McWinner

McMurray makes it nine different winners in the past nine Daytona 500s. And while some might think he's a fluke winner, partly because his two laps led were the fewest of any of the 52 Daytona 500 winners, I'll retort with this:

Over the last three seasons (and one race), nobody has won more at restrictor-plate tracks than McMurray. He's racked up three wins in plate races in that time, edging Kyle Busch by .005 of a second at Daytona in 2007 and then taking the last plate race before the 500 in Talladega at the end of last season.

On the other hand, fellow researcher Tom McKean did the legwork and found a situation very similar to McMurray's win: Ward Burton's 2002 win in the Great American Race.

Both Burton and McMurray won the 500 to start their ninth season, and both made the 500 their fourth career win. Both took the lead for the first time in the closing laps -- Burton led only the final five laps, McMurray the final two. Oh yeah, and both races had nine cautions, and both races were decided by less than two-tenths of a second.

Trivia break! What two drivers previously held the record for fewest laps led in a Daytona 500 win?

Charge to the front

Junior Nation is pumped today, to say the least. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 is a great way to start a possible rebound season. At least 88 fans should send some thank-you notes to David Reutimann for that push he gave Junior to help him cut between Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle.

How impressive was Junior's run through the field? Let's break down his last few laps:

Earnhardt's last seven laps of the 2010 Daytona 500
Lap 202 -- 15th
Lap 203 -- 10th
Laps 204-206 (under caution) -- 10th
Lap 207 -- fifth
Lap 208 -- second

Trivia break! One more Jamie McMurray note: Who was the last driver to win a Daytona 500 in his first race with a new team?

And all those other notes

Why even mess around? It's time for the lightning round! This one with help from NASCAR's Sultan of Stats, Mike Forde.

• There was a Daytona (not just Daytona 500) record 21 leaders.

• The 21 lead changes were a series record for any race not held at Talladega.

• Under the green flag, there were 170 passes for the lead, more than the previous three Daytona 500s combined.

• AJ Allmendinger looked strong early and led 11 laps. That's 11 more than he led all of last year.

• Kevin Harvick continued not to win -- his 108-race winless streak is the longest ever for a driver immediately after a Daytona 500 win.

• Tony Stewart stayed winless in the 500, but his Nationwide win gave him 15 victories at Daytona, tied for third all-time behind Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison.

• Mark Martin ran his 26th Daytona 500 and also remained winless.

Trivia break! Who has run in the most Daytona 500s without a win?

Trivia break answers

1. Kevin Harvick and Benny Parsons each led just four laps in winning the Daytona 500, the record before McMurray's two.

2. In 2001, Michael Waltrip won in his first race with Dale Earnhardt Inc.

3. Dave Marcis ran in 33 Daytona 500s, with a best finish of sixth in 1978.