Speedweeks notes from research

February, 10, 2009

It's Daytona 500 time, in case you're not over that Pro Bowl hangover from the weekend. That's right, the Pro Bowl happened.

It was fairly clear that drivers were trying in the Budweiser Shootout, which might not have been the case in the Pro Bowl. Still, I'll take the warmer weather of either Hawaii or Daytona Beach this time of year. (Something's wrong when I'm delighted with temperatures in the 40s.)

Anyway, I'm going to be with you throughout the NASCAR season, providing some of the finest NASCAR notes from the ESPN Research department, sharing some views and delighting readers with statistics. Maybe "delighting" isn't the best word, but I'll be delighted, that's for sure. Maybe even tickled.

Shootout more telling than Daytona 500?

This note is courtesy of ESPN Research's Tom McKean.

Kevin Harvick may be in better position for the 2009 season than whoever wins the Daytona 500. That's despite the fact that he earned exactly as many points for winning the Bud Shootout as Joey Logano, who finished last and completed only three of the 78 laps. That number would be zero.

Since 1979, when the Shootout began running, seven drivers who won the competition have gone on to win the season championship -- compared to just three Daytona 500 winners.

Trivia break! Can you name the three drivers since '79 who won the Daytona 500, then went on to win the season championship? Trivia break answers are available later on in the blog.

Of the 30 Bud Shootout winners before Harvick, 27 have gone on to finish in the top 10 in points that season. The winners' average points finish: 4.9.

Meanwhile, in those same 30 seasons, 19 Daytona 500 winners finished in the top 10 in points. Their average final points position is 10.3, more than five spots lower than the Shootout winner's. Last year's Daytona 500 winner, Ryan Newman, finished the season 18th in points.

Qualifying was awesome

One of the pleasant surprises of Speedweeks so far has been the performance of "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," Bill Elliott.

Million Dollar Bill, the 1985 and 1987 Daytona 500 winner, paced both the first and second practices. He was the fastest non-top-35 qualifier Sunday and fifth-fastest overall, guaranteeing him a spot in the Great American Race.

Former champion's provisional? We don't need no stinkin' former champion's provisional. Besides, Elliott was third in line to get it among those who might have needed it. Tony Stewart also raced his way into the race Sunday, so Terry Labonte, the 50th-fastest qualifier, will be racing in the 500.

Trivia break! OK, Elliott won in 1985 and 1987, so let's test your memory: Who won the 1986 Daytona 500?

Elliott, who still holds the Daytona track qualifying record at more than 210 mph, can improve his starting spot with a good run in Thursday's duel. And with a strong run Sunday, Elliott can take over first place on a couple of notable all-time lists.

Most times completing all 500 miles in Daytona 500 history
Dale Earnhardt -- 14
Bill Elliott -- 14
Dale Jarrett -- 12
Terry Labonte -- 11
Ricky Rudd -- 11
Ken Schrader -- 11

Most laps run in Daytona 500 history
Terry Labonte -- 4,996
Dave Marcis -- 4,938
Ricky Rudd -- 4,861
Richard Petty -- 4,860
Bill Elliott -- 4,824

It's been a long time coming

Another feel-good story from the weekend's time trials was Mark Martin's locking himself into a front-row starting spot. He'll start alongside former DEI teammate Martin Truex Jr.

Mark Martin will hit the quarter century mark Sunday. No, not his age. (After hitting the half-century mark in January, he's still trying to blow out all the candles.) No, Martin will be starting his 25th Daytona 500.

If he pulls off the win, which he missed by .02 seconds two years ago, he'll earn the honor of owning the most Daytona 500 starts before his first victory in the race, moving ahead of Dale Earnhardt.

Most Daytona 500 starts before first win
Dale Earnhardt -- 20 (1998)
Buddy Baker -- 18 (1980)
Darrell Waltrip -- 17 (1989)
Michael Waltrip -- 15 (2001)
Bobby Allison -- 15 (1978)
David Pearson -- 15 (1976)

A piece of advice: If the Waltrip family puts another driver in the Daytona 500, a low number should be considered for the car.

That's because Darrell Waltrip won his first Daytona 500 in his 17th attempt in car No. 17. Michael Waltrip won his first Daytona 500 in his 15th attempt in car No. 15. Boogity, boogity, boogity, indeed.

Trivia break! Some drivers had to wait far longer than others to get their first Daytona 500 win. In the past 40 seasons, who had the fewest Daytona 500 starts before getting his first win in the Great American Race?

Answer time

1. Since the Bud Shootout first began running, the three drivers who won the Daytona 500 and the Cup series championship in the same season were Jimmie Johnson (2006), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Richard Petty (1979).

2. Geoff Bodine was the 1986 Daytona 500 winner, running in the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports. He started second. Sound familiar?

3. Pete Hamilton, driving for Petty Enterprises, won in his second Daytona 500 start back in 1970. The only driver to win a Daytona 500 in his first start in the race was Lee Petty. The asterisk: Petty won the first Daytona 500 ever run.



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