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Statistically Speaking

Weekend Update: Daytona 500

by Dan Beaver

During the past week, NASCAR executives intimated they may switch up the schedule in the coming years. The Daytona 500 might not be the opening race – and from the standpoint of fantasy players, that will be a good thing.

Very little is predictive of a driver’s odds to win races on a restrictor-plate, superspeedway and that might be never more certain than this week: the last time the current rules package and plate will be used at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

This is still the opening race of the season. Someone is going to win it and be locked into the playoffs for the next 25 weeks. Since the season is new, there is little incentive to not go for broke; after all, there is still plenty of time to overcome any points’ deficit that is suffered this week.

The Truck Series race was a wild affair. Saturday’s Xfinity show was mild. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the Cup race will play out.


Qualification

The Daytona 500’s unique qualification format sets only the front row through time trials. A lot of effort goes into seeing who will be the fastest for one lap with minimal impact on the odds of winning the 500. Last weekend, Hendrick Motorsports swept the top four spots, showing they have more single-lap power than the remainder of the field. Unfortunately, year after year, they keep winning poles for this race.

They are not nearly as consistent in race trim.

The two newest drivers to the organization grabbed the front row with William Byron and Alex Bowman sitting on the pole and outside of the front row. Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott qualified in the next two spots.

Bowman had the pole last year before sliding to 17th at the end of the race.

Two years ago Chase Elliott had the pole for the Daytona 500; he fell to 14th at the checkers. Second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th. Both drivers sustained crash damage during the race.

The remainder of the field is set by qualification races and these can be a little more predictive. Both events were sedate affairs with Kevin Harvick winning the first Gatorade Duel in Daytona over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. That race set the inside row for the big show, so Harvick starts third; Stenhouse is fifth. One may recall how much mayhem the No. 17 caused in last summer’s Coke Zero 400.

The year, the role of mayhem maker has shifted to Johnson. He wrecked Paul Menard in the Advance Auto Parts Clash as rain was beginning to fall on the track. Menard had the stronger car for most of the race and should be considered a favorite to run with the leaders again after finishing third in his Duel.

In Duel #1, Johnson turned Kyle Busch in an avoidable incident, which has many questioning whether he is losing his touch or if he is simply too aggressive this year.

The second Duel was won by Joey Logano with an impressive last-lap pass over Clint Bowyer.

Practice

NASCAR held five practices during the weekend. One supposes that the teams may have learned something with all that time on track – but none of that transfers to useful information for fantasy owners.

For the record, Martin Truex Jr. (195.920) won the first round back on Feb. 9, Bubba Wallace (195.020) won Practice 2, Kyle Busch (200.285) won Practice 3, Menard (200.758) won Practice 4, and Michael McDowell (191.440) won Final Practice. Only 20 cars took time in that final session.  

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 15 years with a little help from his >600,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.