Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: Lackluster Showing in Speedweeks? There’s No Need to Panic

Since its inception in 1959, the Daytona 500 has had a week of pre-race festivities and on-track activity. It may no longer be an entire week of racing, but Speedweeks gives the Daytona 500 the most preparation of any event on the calendar.

Aside from its role in amping up the excitement for the Great American Race, Speedweeks is also the first chance for NASCAR Cup Series teams to flex their muscle. The Busch Light Clash left Daytona International Speedway after 2020 and the amount of practice sessions have dwindled, but there’s still qualifying, the Bluegreen Vacation Duels and the remaining practice sessions to gauge the speed and race ability of the 40 cars lined up on Sunday (Feb. 18).

Since the removal of the Clash, the biggest prizes up for grabs prior to the 500 are the pole position, the outside pole and a victory in one of the two qualifying races; those four drivers will make up the first two rows on Sunday.

Accomplishing any of these would generate fanfare, but how often do they correlate to success on Sunday?

For the pole position, the answer is very little. Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 from the pole in 2000, and the inside of the front row has been 0-for-23 since.

The polesitter hasn’t even come close to winning either. Only two of the last 23 500’s saw the polesitter finish in the top five (two fifths), and only six of the last 23 finished in the top 10. The polesitter only led the most laps once (Jeff Gordon in 2015), and the polesitter has only led more than 20 laps on four occasions. Conversely, 11 polesitters led either one lap or no laps on Sunday.

YearPolesitterD500 FinishD500 Laps Led
2001Bill Elliott5th1
2002Jimmie Johnson15th0
2003Jeff Green39th (crash)0
2004Greg Biffle12th0
2005Dale Jarrett15th0
2006Jeff Burton32nd18
2007David Gilliland8th18
2008Jimmie Johnson27th1
2009Martin Truex Jr.11th1
2010Mark Martin12th11
2011Dale Earnhardt Jr.24th (crash)9
2012Carl Edwards8th0
2013Danica Patrick8th5
2014Austin Dillon9th1
2015Jeff Gordon33rd87
2016Chase Elliott37th3
2017Chase Elliott14th39
2018Dale Earnhardt Jr.17th13
2019William Byron21st (crash)44
2020Ricky Stenhouse Jr.20th24
2021Alex Bowman35th (crash)1
2022Kyle Larson32nd (crash)1
2023Alex Bowman5th12
2024Joey Logano??

The winner of the Duels have had much better luck on Sunday, but even then, only two Duel winners since 2001 have gone on to win the 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004 and Matt Kenseth in 2012.

See also
Tyler Reddick Wins 1st Daytona Duel, Jimmie Johnson Squeezes Into Daytona 500

Twelve of the 46 Duel winners scored a top five, 22 of the 46 earned a top 10 and 14 of the 46 failed to finish the race. Sixteen of the 46 went on to lead at least 20 laps, while four of the 46 led the most laps (in bold).

YearDuel 1 WinnerD500 FinishD500 Laps LedDuel 2 WinnerD500 FinishD500 Laps Led
2001Sterling Marlin7th39Mike Skinner2624
2002Jeff Gordon9th19Michael Waltrip5th20
2003Robby Gordon6th0Dale Earnhardt Jr.36th22
2004Dale Earnhardt Jr.1st58Elliott Sadler7th0
2005Michael Waltrip37th (engine)42Tony Stewart7th107
2006Elliott Sadler4th5Jeff Gordon26th1
2007Tony Stewart43rd (crash)35Jeff Gordon10th0
2008Dale Earnhardt Jr.9th12Denny Hamlin17th32
2009Jeff Gordon13th14Kyle Busch41st (crash)88
2010Jimmie Johnson35th (rear axle)0Kasey Kahne30th (crash)4
2011Kurt Busch5th19Jeff Burton36th (engine)5
2012Tony Stewart16th3Matt Kenseth1st50
2013Kevin Harvick42nd (crash)0Kyle Busch34th (engine)0
2014Matt Kenseth6th0Denny Hamlin2nd16
2015Dale Earnhardt Jr.3rd32Jimmie Johnson5th39
2016Dale Earnhardt Jr.36th15Kyle Busch3rd19
2017Chase Elliott14th39Denny Hamlin17th0
2018Ryan Blaney7th118Chase Elliott33rd (crash)4
2019Kevin Harvick26th (crash)0Joey Logano4th11
2020Joey Logano26th (crash)6William Byron40th (crash)0
2021Aric Almirola34th (crash)0Austin Dillon3rd7
2022Brad Keselowski9th67Chris Buescher16th0
2023Joey Logano2nd12Aric Almirola21st (crash)16
2024Tyler Reddick??Christopher Bell??

As pure speed and drafting speed are two entirely different variables, it’s not a surprise to see the Duel winners have significantly more success on Sunday than the polesitters. Still, winning a Duel does not automatically guarantee a winning car in the 500.

See also
Legacy Motor Club Addition Gives Toyota 'Strength in Numbers' for Daytona 500

As for the drivers that actually won the Daytona 500? Their qualifying speeds look like they were drawn out of a hat. Nine of the 23 won the 500 after qualifying outside the top 20, while only six qualified inside the top five.

It’s important to note that only the first two spots of the 500 are locked in by qualifying. Speeds from third on back only set the starting order for the Duels.

YearD500 WinnerD500 Laps ledD500 QualifyingDuel Finish
2001Michael Waltrip2713th9th
2002Ward Burton55th9th
2003Michael Waltrip684th2nd
2004Dale Earnhardt Jr.583rd1st
2005Jeff Gordon293rd7th
2006Jimmie Johnson245th (disallowed)4th
2007Kevin Harvick429th29th (rear end)
2008Ryan Newman823rd3rd
2009Matt Kenseth723rd26th (crash)
2010Jamie McMurray219th6th
2011Trevor Bayne63rd19th (crash)
2012Matt Kenseth5016th1st
2013Jimmie Johnson1721st4th
2014Dale Earnhardt Jr.547th4th
2015Joey Logano3121st3rd
2016Denny Hamlin9510th5th
2017Kurt Busch122nd3rd
2018Austin Dillon114th6th
2019Denny Hamlin3012th4th
2020Denny Hamlin795th11th
2021Michael McDowell127th9th
2022Austin Cindric2121st2nd
2023Ricky Stenhouse Jr.1035th16th

A team can have a fast or slow car in single-car qualifying thanks to the great equalizer of the draft. The Duels, however, paint a far different picture.

Eighteen of the last 23 500 winners finished top 10 in their qualifying race, and that includes 13 who finished in the top six. When excluding the three DNFs, a driver has only won the 500 in the 21st century after finishing 11th or worse in a Duel on two occasions: Denny Hamlin in 2020 (11th) and last year’s Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16th).

A driver doesn’t have to win a Duel, but the common denominator is having a car capable of contenting for the win by finishing in the highest third or quartile of the running order.

As the page turns toward the 66th running of the Great American Race, keep an eye on the top five and top 10 of each Duel. History says that Sunday’s winner will most likely hail from one of those groups.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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