DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — It’s here. Four practice sessions are in the books. So is qualifying to set the front row for the 64th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN). Also are both Duels on Thursday night.
While we know this Next Gen car is going to race more like something we’ve seen in the 1990s here where you can lose the draft easier, pit sequences and how you get on and off pit road with drafting help is key and track position meaning more again.
Despite that, everyone seems happy.
All that talk this week about backup cars and spare parts is now negated. They’ve made it through. It’s time to race.
So, who wins when it’s all said and done on Sunday afternoon?
The Ford’s have topped every speed chart minus qualifying. That distinction went to an all Hendrick Motorsports front row.
But, Ford’s swept at least the top five in all four practices, went 1-2-3-4 in the first Duel and 1-2-3 in the second being led by RFK Racing who swept both Duels and will share Row 2.
Some may say, well it’s HMS vs. RFK right?
The pole winner hasn’t won this race in 22 years. In fact, 16 of the last 20 races have seen the pole winner finish outside of the top 10. The last four pole winners have failed to even get to 16th in the end with the best result since 2015 being 14th by Elliott in 2017. Furthermore, the last time the pole winner even finished in the top five was 2002 (Bill Elliott).
Kyle Larson starts first on Sunday but also has no career top five finishes in 29 superspeedway starts. He’s led 30 total laps in those 29 races at Daytona and Talladega.
Only five times has the reigning Cup Series champion also came down to Daytona the next February and actually won the Daytona 500. The last time that it actually happened was in the year 2000. Its only happened twice since 1978 overall.
The Clash has seen just one pole winner win in the last 31 years. The Duels have had just one pole winner in the last 31 races and the Daytona 500 pole winner is 0 for the last 21.
What about his teammate Alex Bowman. He lines up alongside of Larson on Sunday. This was his fifth straight front row starting spot. He’s been here before and has never delivered. On top of that, the last win for the second place starter came in 1993 (Dale Jarrett). They have only finished in the top 10 just four times since 2006. Just 5x in the last 26 years has the second place starter came home with a top five finish.
The Duel winners aren’t much better. The last driver to win a Duel and the Daytona 500 was Matt Kenseth in 2012. He’s the only one to do so in the last 17 years. It’s only happened five times since 1996 at that.
RFK Racing had two wins between 2015 and 2021. Thursday night was their first win since 2017.
Moral of the story here is, any Speedweeks success before the Daytona 500 really means a win isn’t coming in the biggest race of the week.
8 of the last 10 years the Daytona 500 winner has come from the first 7 Rows. But, with the top 4 starters already eliminated, we can now eliminate 15th-40th among the ones that have won a Cup race before too.
Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr.
Three Toyota’s are there and the Toyota’s have been quiet too. They also elected not to practice on Saturday due to how happy they were with their cars. That’s saying something.
The thing is, Busch is 0-for-16 in the Great American Race. Truex Jr. is 0-for-17. Can they get it done?
Jones won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 as well as the Clash before. All he’s missing is a ‘500. Bell is 0-for-2 but did win on the road course a year ago.
Elliott, was runner-up in this very race in 2021 while Blaney has been close.