Crunching numbers for Daytona

February, 13, 2010

Well, well, well. We've returned for another season. That means just one thing: Everybody doesn't object to me enough to make a formal request that I stop writing!

Either that or people enjoy me bringing the knowledge on a twice-weekly basis. For the sake of my ego, let's go with that last one. Truth be told, I did miss all of you, the only way a blogger can miss his eight or nine readers. Stay strong; your dedication more than makes up for your lack of numbers.

It being blog entry No. 1 of 2010, I think it's time to make some predictions; some bold, some not so bold. And if you want results, just check my record out from last year. For the love of God, check them out!

Bold predictions

• Jimmie Johnson will not win a fifth consecutive championship (in NASCAR, if you give me a choice of one driver or the field, I'm taking the field every time). All four Hendrick Motorsports cars will win races and make the Chase (receiving adoration from Junior fans).

• Drivers all the way down to 16th will have a chance to make the Chase come Richmond in September.

• A foreign-born driver will get a win at a road course, and that driver will be Marcos Ambrose.

• Expect four new faces in the Chase: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth. Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya will all be out.

Not-so-bold predictions

• Junior will go three to four days (wait, I mean weeks) between shaving. The ladies will still swoon.

• I will go three to four days without shaving. The ladies will not swoon.

• Kevin Harvick will leave Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season and will go to a third Stewart-Haas Racing team.

• Nobody will care about the rookie of the year race (Kevin Conway versus Terry Cook … get on board!).

• Somebody will say Pocono races are too long.

Now I'll turn the crystal ball off, because we're all about efficiency and going green at the Worldwide Leader. And speaking of green (hooray for segues!), let's drop the green flag on my statistical notes for the Daytona 500, the finest the ESPN Stats & Information department has to offer.

Curse of the Daytona 500

No, this isn't an episode of "Scooby Doo," although I did see the Harlem Globetrotters walking around tonight. I must make the case that even though a Daytona 500 win makes a career, it's not always the wisest career choice. Let's review.

2007: Kevin Harvick won the race; hasn't won a points-paying race since (although those two Shootout victories help pay the bills).

2008: Ryan Newman won the 500, but hasn't won since.

2009: Matt Kenseth won at Daytona. And even though he won the next week's race, he didn't win again for the rest of the season and went on to miss the Chase for the first time in his career.

Harvick and Newman's winless streaks after their Daytona 500 wins are the two longest immediately following a Daytona 500 win in series history.

Trivia break! Who are the only two drivers to have the Daytona 500 be their last career wins?

A favorite …

I could see why you'd label Tony Stewart a favorite for Sunday's race. His 14 career wins at Daytona (points and non-points races in any major series) tie him with Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip for the fourth most in track history.

Not only has he won there in every other stock car race he's run; he's won multiple times in each of those. Let's break it down:

Daytona race -- Starts-Wins
Daytona 500 -- 11-0
July Cup race -- 11-3
Gatorade Duels -- 11-2
Bud Shootout -- 11-3
Nationwide Series -- 9-4
IROC -- 6-2

Trivia break! Who holds the record with 34 wins at Daytona?

And a dark horse

So I gave you Stewart. Big deal; you know he's fast at Daytona and just needs a couple of breaks to go his way. Now I'll give you a driver who's been great in the Daytona 500, and nobody's talking about him as a contender this week. In fact, this driver was mere seconds from victory last season, and we still don't mention his name.

Give me Elliott Sadler!

That's right. Going back to 2002, Sadler has six finishes of seventh or better in the past eight Daytona 500s. Over the past four years, Sadler has finished fourth, fifth and sixth twice. And he was leading just seconds before the rain started last season, only to see Matt Kenseth go by and capture the glory.

Sadler's average finish in the past eight Daytona 500s is 8.0. Among drivers who have multiple Daytona 500 starts in that time, the next-best mark is Kevin Harvick's 12.9.

Trivia break! Among drivers with multiple Daytona 500 starts, who has the best career average finish?

Trivia break answers

1. Bobby Allison and Mario Andretti both won the Daytona 500 and then never again won in the NASCAR Cup Series.

2. Dale Earnhardt holds the record, with 34 Daytona wins in all races. Bobby Allison is next with 16.

3. Lee Petty holds the record with a 7.0 average finish in five races. But if AJ Allmendinger finishes in the top 10 on Sunday, he'll take over the top spot among drivers with at least two starts.



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