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Daytona International Speedway
AP
Statistically Speaking

Superspeedways: An Accident Waiting to Happen

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: February 10, 2020, 8:42 am ET

The off-season is nearly over and the Daytona 500 is just around the corner.

Despite a major overhaul to the series schedule, the Great American Race still kicks off the season. Throughout its history, it has always created an incredibly difficult scenario for fantasy owners. The biggest race of the year is the first race of the year. It is also one of the least predictable events faced by players who want to get off to a strong start in season-long games.

Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are subject to the whim of Fate. There is an ever-present threat of a 'Big One' crash as cars circle the course in drafting packs of 30 or more cars. It is not a matter of if a driver is going to be involved in an accident, but rather when that will happen during his career.

Even without the wild card of an accident, the four races per year on this course type are almost impossible to predict. The vagaries of the draft are such that a driver challenging for the lead on one lap could be at the tail-end of the draft in a minute or two. And while a driver can drop back in a heartbeat, getting to the front again takes a lot of patience and skill.


The difficulty of this track is seen in a quick glimpse at the chart below. No one has an average finish of better than 10th during the past three seasons and only three drivers have one greater than 15th.

Aric Almirola tops the chart with an average of 10.09 since the beginning of 2017. That was his best season on this track type with a sweep of the top five in three races. He missed the Coke Zero 400 that year because of an injury and one can only speculate as to how he would have fared. Bubba Wallace finished 15th that day – which was respectable for a pre-rookie.

In 2018, Almirola finished 11th or better in three of the four plate races. Last year he was in the top 10 in another three events. Still, the impossibility of predicting the aero-restricted superspeedways is evident in the fact that his other two races in the past three years landed outside the top 25. Both of those disappointments came at Daytona in the 2018 Coke Zero 400 and in last year’s Daytona 500.

Ryan Newman has a reputation for being bullheaded on most tracks. He’s hard to pass and seemingly relishes in making his competition’s life miserable. That irascible attitude makes it somewhat incongruous that he has excelled on plate tracks in the last three years.

With an average finish of 10.92, Newman is one of the biggest names at the front of the pack with an often moderate price tag. His average is actually skewed somewhat by a pair of 20-something results at the beginning of the 2017 season. In the 10 races since then, he has finished outside the top 10 only twice and the top 15 once. His average in the last 10 plate races is 8.5, which is the best in that span.

Joey Logano rounds out the list of drivers with a better-than 15th-place average finish on this track type in the past three seasons. He has been less than perfect with three 30-something results and a 25th in the last 12 races. The man behind the wheel of the No. 22 has been an all or nothing driver with top-six results in seven races in that span including an overtime win at Talladega in spring 2018.

Dark horses abound on plate tracks, but often they can be hard to identify. That makes Ty Dillon one of the most valuable commodities in the past three years. He has only one top-five in his last 12 attempts on this course type but he has made up for that with consistency. In 12 races, he’s been worse than 17th only twice. Unfortunately, both of those were in the 30s—and they both came in the Daytona 500 with a 30th in 2017 and a 39th in 2018. Expand the parameters a little and Dillon was 25th in the 2016 Daytona 500.

It’s too soon to make any firm predictions, but Ryan Preece came out of the gates strong on the plate tracks. Last year he finished eighth in the Daytona 500, third in the Geico 500 at Talladega, and was among the top 20 in the second race on that 2.66-mile superspeedway. He couldn't avoid trouble in Daytona 2, but if he finds a safe place to run in this year’s season opener, he could challenge for a top-10.

One of the reasons why dark horses run well on this track type is because the marquee teams have experienced their fair share of trouble.

In the last 12 races on the aero-restricted superspeedways, Martin Truex Jr. has been involved in an accident in all but one event. He managed to minimize the damage in the summer Daytona race of 2018 and finished second with a banged up car, but that is the only time in this span that he earned a top-10 and one of only two races with top-15s.

Truex’s average finish of 23.08 is the eighth-worst on the chart below.

Kevin Harvick is even worse. He has avoided accidents on two occasions in the past three years and finished fourth in one of those events; his other effort landed outside the top 25 even though his Ford was undented.

His single top-15 since the start of 2017 does not offset his six DNFs with crash damage in the last 12 races. His average finish of 24.17 is the fifth-worst on the chart and compounding the loss is the fact that he has an average starting position of 7.83. That is a detriment in all games because his solid starting position often raises expectations among owners and lulls them into a false sense of security.

 

3-Year Avg. Fin
Superspeedways

Driver

Avg. Fin

Avg. Start

Starts

Aric Almirola

10.09

17.64

11

Ryan Newman

10.92

17.25

12

Joey Logano

14.17

8.75

12

Ty Dillon

15.17

23.67

12

Denny Hamlin

15.25

13.33

12

Ryan Preece

15.25

26.75

4

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

15.33

8.83

12

Kurt Busch

17.33

11.42

12

Alex Bowman

17.38

5.38

8

Brendan Gaughan

17.83

30.25

12

Gray Gaulding

18.25

36.75

4

Chris Buescher

18.58

26.33

12

Kyle Busch

19.17

16.58

12

Jimmie Johnson

20.08

15.92

12

Bubba Wallace

20.22

21.00

9

Chase Elliott

20.33

5.42

12

Corey LaJoie

20.70

34.40

10

Austin Dillon

20.92

16.33

12

Matt DiBenedetto

20.92

27.42

12

Michael McDowell

21.08

21.50

12

Ross Chastain

21.14

35.14

7

Kyle Larson

21.25

19.92

12

Clint Bowyer

21.58

8.58

12

Ryan Blaney

21.83

13.92

12

JJ Yeley

22.00

36.33

3

Landon Cassill

22.10

30.00

10

William Byron

22.63

14.75

8

Martin Truex Jr.

23.08

16.58

12

Erik Jones

23.33

19.08

12

Brad Keselowski

23.58

10.75

12

Kevin Harvick

24.17

7.83

12

Daniel Suarez

24.58

17.42

12

Joey Gase

27.78

36.00

9

Reed Sorenson

31.33

36.60

6

Cody Ware

35.00

38.67

3

 

See Also:
Short, flat tracks
2-Mile Tracks
1.5-Mile Tracks
Short Tracks
Road Courses
Pocono and Indy

Dan Beaver
Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.