At most tracks, qualifying is as important as ever. With how close the cars have become, and now add to the fact of the new inspection process and stage points, it’s ever so critical to be up front in the starting lineup to begin a race. But, one discipline of tracks where starting position hasn’t mattered has been the two restrictor plate tracks.
These days, the talk is how you can win from any position at Daytona and Talladega. You can go from the front to the back and to the back to the front in a matter of a few laps.
But, if you glance at the starting spots of Daytona 500 winners over the years, it really shows that you may want to start up front for The Great American Race. Take this stat for what it’s worth, just four of the 59 Daytona 500’s, have seen someone win the race that started 20th or worse. Four winners ever. Granted, three of those four have come since 2007 (Kevin Harvick -34th in ’07, Matt Kenseth – 39th in ’09, Trevor Bayne – 32nd in ’11), but the last one to do so before them was way back in 1975.
The best odds say to actually win the pole, as nine races have been won the pole, most of any starting position. But, no pole winner has won the Daytona 500 in 18 years. Dale Jarrett in 2000 was the last to do so in fact. The last driver to win the pole and even score a top five finish at that was Bill Elliott in 2001. Since 2002, the pole winner has finished outside the top 10 in 13 of the 16 races. The best finish was eighth place run in 2007, 2012 and again in 2013.
The second place starter has won seven times, the second most of any starting spot. But, the last driver to win from second place?
Dale Jarrett again, this time in 1993.
So while qualifying on Sunday will let two drivers smile for the entire week build up to the Daytona 500, once the visor comes down and the green flag drops for the Daytona 500 itself, stats show that they and drivers starting 20th or worse have similar odds of winning the actual race.
The best odds are to start inside the top 10. 43 of the 59 Daytona 500 winners have had a starting spot inside the top 10 (73-percent). The last six winners have started 11th or better.
What about a top five starting spot?
47-percent of the time (28 of 59) the winner has come from there. But, just twice in the last 13 years has a top five starter won though.
The best odds seem to be sixth through 10th, but if you really are looking for a winner, go for drivers in starting spots from 3-10. Even further, go for Penske, Gibbs or Hendrick drivers from those spots. Those three teams have produced four of the last five Daytona 500 winners and have won 17 of the last 20 Daytona Speedweeks races since 2013.
While starting spot did used to matter for the Daytona 500, with 20 of the 21 winners from 1980-2000 coming from a top 10 starting spot, different numbers and metrics are used now to really further break this down.