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Friday, February 24, 2012
Allmendinger may break through


The Daytona 500 can be described with several words, words like prestigious, legendary and unpredictable.

Unfortunately for me, as a stats-minded blogger, the unpredictable part doesn't bode well for what I do, which is trying to find stats and trends to try to break down the race.

But while the winners might be predictable, there's one trend that's always brought about debate: whether it makes more sense to race up front or hang in the back and hope you miss the mayhem.

Kyle Busch ran up front throughout last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout and won despite a couple of wild saves. But drivers like Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman ended up with good finishes after hanging back. But they didn't win.

NASCAR keeps track of a stat called average running position, which is literally the average of where a driver is running every lap of the race. And at the Daytona 500, it helps to be one of those guys at the front of the pack.

Since 2005, when NASCAR began tracking loop data, every Daytona 500 winner has ranked in the top 10 in average running position during the race, and in three of those seven races, the winner had the best ARP during the race.

In those seven races, the driver with the best ARP has an 8.7 average finish in the race, with Clint Bowyer's 17th-place finish last year weighing it down.

It begs the question: Who's going to run up front this Sunday?

While it's impossible to know what drivers' strategies will be ahead of time (not nearly that sneaky), we can look at which drivers tend to be at the front of the field at Daytona.

From 2007-09, Kyle Busch had a top-two ARP in the Daytona 500, but it didn't pay off, with an average finish of 23.0 in those races. The past two years, his ARP was ninth and 18th, but he finished 14th and eighth in those races. His strategy might be changing toward being in the back.

Watch for Bowyer to be up front throughout the race, as each of the past two years he's been in the top two in ARP. Plus he's had Daytona 500 success, as he's finished in the top five in two of the past three 500s. Plus, he's won the last two fall Talladega races.

Maybe the mystical spirits that make their home in Daytona Beach reward the racers and risk takers. Or maybe it just pays to be racing all day and not have to turn on that switch down the stretch.

The Eliminator: Daytona

For those of you new to my blog, welcome! Also, I've come up with a method of picking race winners using statistics and history.

But instead of picking a winner, I'm going to tell you why all but one driver in the field cannot win. I call this The Eliminator.

1. Six of the past eight and 10 of the past 13 Daytona 500 winners ran in the first Duel race (24 drivers eliminated, 25 remaining).

2. Nine of the past 10 Daytona 500 winners finished 14th or better in the last Daytona race (18 eliminated, seven remaining).

3. The past four Daytona 500 winners finished outside the top 10 in points the previous season (three eliminated, four remaining).

4. Three of the past four Daytona 500 winners were winless the previous season (two eliminated, two remaining).

5. The past five Daytona 500 winners did not finish in the top 10 in the previous year's Daytona 500 (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: AJ Allmendinger