Drivers To Watch In Sunday’s Clash, Why Winning The Race Doesn’t Necessarily Equate To Daytona 500 Success

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – The green flag drops on the NASCAR season this weekend as the 40th annual Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona (3 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be held on Sunday afternoon at the World Center of Racing, the Daytona International Speedway. The annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series all-star event, has been held every year on the high banks of Daytona since 1979. This season, 20 drivers are eligible to contend for the win, 17 will actually race (Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won’t race).

So, as far as who the favorites will be among those 17 drivers, it’s a hard one to predict.

But, if you were going to pick anyone, look no further than the Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske drivers. Out of those 17 drivers that will race on Sunday, eight of which come from those camps. The reason why they’re the favorites are simple, out of the last 20 Daytona Speedweeks races, they’ve combined to win 17 of them. 

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 19: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, races Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, Daniel Suarez, driver of the #19 ARRIS Toyota, and Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Chevrolet, during the weather delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

In fact, the last four winners of the Clash have come from those teams.

So, that means Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson from Hendrick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones from JGR or Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski from Penske will be your favorites on Sunday then.

Now, lets break it down from there, whom among those eight will shine?

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Logano, is the defending race winner and he’s been stellar in this race in previous years. Out of the last five Clashes, Logano has finished in the top six in all of them. His finishes are third, fourth, sixth, second and first respectively.

Keselowski, has also been strong. While he doesn’t have a Speedweeks win during his career yet, six of his 24 career Cup victories have come on restrictor plate tracks (5 at Talladega, 1 at Daytona). He’s finished fourth, second, 25th, ninth and sixth respectively in five career tries. He’s also led in the last four Clash races too, including leading 26 laps in 2016 and 18 last year.

The other Penske driver in Blaney has yet to race in this event before. The

Action during the weather delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

odds are against him though, as just five times in the 39 year history of the race has a rookie in the race gone on to win. The last time was in 2006 (Denny Hamlin). In fact, since 1981, a first time Clash starter has won just three times. If he can do so though, he’d join legends like Buddy Baker (1979), Dale Earnhardt (1980), Jeff Gordon (1994), Dale Jarrett (1996) and Hamlin as the only ones to accomplish that feat.

So, based off of Blaney’s stats, that means Jones (1st Time Clash Starter) has the same odds. But, what Jones does have going for him is that JGR has been the top dog in this race lately. They’ve won four of the last six overall. That’s why they’re the favorites, because Busch has four top eight finishes, three of which in the top three, in the last six years, including a win in 2012, while Hamlin is a three-time winner of this race and has four top five finishes in the last eight races. He led 27 laps in 2014, 39 in 2016 and 48 more in 2017.

 

 

Action during the weather delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The two Hendrick drivers don’t have as good as a chance as the others. The last Hendrick driver to win the Clash was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008. Elliott, has made just one start and he came home seventh last year. Johnson, has struggled mightily in this race. He has one top 10 finish in his last nine tries and that came all the way back in 2011. His last six Clash finishes are 14th, 14th, 17th, 22nd, 22nd and 16th respectively. He crashed out in all of them.

So, based off those stats, Logano, Keselowski, Hamlin and Busch are your favorites.

But, don’t sleep on a few more drivers though.

Ford has been so strong on restrictor plate tracks lately, winning seven straight points paying races on them, including 11 of the last 14. I’d throw Kevin Harvick into the mix because of that stat. Furthermore, Harvick has three top five finishes in his last five Clash starts and seven of the last 10. His teammate and defending Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch hasn’t had as good of luck as Harvick in this race. Yes, he won in 2011, but his finishes since are 17th, 13th, 14th, 15th, seventh and 17th respectively. He’s crashed out in six of his last eight Clash starts as well. So, put Busch in the Johnson category, put Harvick in the favorite one.

I’d also put Kyle Larson in that favorite category too. He has two top five finishes in three Clash starts and his manufacturer Chevrolet has a race record 20 trips to victory lane in the Clash. No one has has double digit wins in the race.

So, my favorites would be Logano, Keselowski, Hamlin, Busch, Harvick and Larson.

But, if anyone of them were to win, or anyone for that matter, don’t expect them to automatically be the Daytona 500 favorite. While this race translates well over to the Daytona 500, just six times has the Clash winner gone on to win the Daytona 500 a week later. In fact, it’s happened just once since 1998 (Denny Hamlin – 2016). The only drivers to win the Clash/Daytona 500 double are Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1987), Dale Jarrett (1996/2000), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Hamlin.

Another odd stat is just four winners have come from the pole. That’s odd in the fact that most of the time the field is set by a draw. With limited cars in the field, you’d think the pole sitter would have the best odds. But, it’s happened just once since 1990 and that was Hamlin in 2014.

Here’s another odd factor, the Clash winner likely won’t win the 2018 Cup championship either. Just four drivers have ever done that and the last time it even happened was in 2002 (Tony Stewart).

Darrell Waltrip won the Clash and the season championship in 1981, Jeff Gordon and Stewart also accomplished that feat in 1997 and 2002 respectively. Dale Earnhardt is the only one to do so multiple times as he did it in 1980, 1986, 1991 and again in 1993).

So, as you see, the odds of winning the title in the same year you won the Clash is stacked against you.

This shows that the Clash winner likely won’t win the Daytona 500 or championship this year, so while you may be on the highest of highs as the first Speedweeks winner of 2018 on Sunday, it may not bode well for the rest of their 2018 season.

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