Daytona. For the casual fan, it’s the one time a year in which tuning in is a must, not an option. For the hardcore fans and industry veterans, it’s a spiritual revival. It suffices as the start of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when teams have spotless records and sky-high optimism.
For some drivers, there’s red still left over from the previous season’s ledger that they’re eager to erase. For a few, there are trends they’d like to keep on keepin’ on. This week’s batch of numbers shows those trends. Some of the metrics used are from my home site, MotorsportsAnalytics.com, but you’re encouraged to read a quick glossary of the terms .
3 and 2.3 Matt Kenseth has scored three victories and earned a 2.3 average finish across his last six restrictor plate races.
Kenseth, long lauded as an intuitive racer, has transformed himself into something of a restrictor plate racing stalwart. The 2.3-place average finish in that timeframe — and that includes a fifth-place run in last Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, his first outing for Joe Gibbs Racing — is easily the best among drivers in the Cup Series and his minuscule 1.6-position deviation for those six finishes indicates incredible consistency for races often dubbed “crapshoots.” His 7.853 PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) on plate tracks is not only the highest among 50 drivers from the 2012 season, but also pure statistical absurdity. Kenseth is ridiculously good at this style of racing.
-1.050 Danica Patrick’s replacement-level PEER ranked last in the Cup Series in 2012. PEER measures the on-track production of a race car driver in an “all equipment even” scenario. For perspective, Ken Schrader, in a 13-race S&P effort, registered at 49th, with a -.250 PEER. That’s a large gap.
Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole in the history of the Cup Series last weekend and the fourth rookie to win the pole for the Daytona 500 (following Loy Allen, Mike Skinner and Jimmie Johnson). Cue pandemonium.
But let’s be real for a sec; we’re discussing a rookie driver who amassed a negative replacement-level PEER across 10 races last season (translation: beyond bad). At Daytona specifically, she competed in two races — her qualifying Duel race and the 500 — and crashed out of both. If you’re a Danica fan, enjoy the moment. Eat, drink and be merry, but also, be realistic. It’s feasible she’ll lead laps on Sunday, but pump the brakes on the delusion of Chase-making grandeur.
3 Jimmie Johnson has crashed out in each of the last three races at Daytona; last year’s Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 and this year’s Sprint Unlimited.
Johnson Tweeted about his frustration following Saturday night’s race . Come on, Five-Time. Every chance you’ve had to get some drafting practice in (i.e. January testing, practice last Friday), you didn’t even attempt to take advantage. You need it; that 47th-best -0.167 plate track PEER you earned last year won’t get better without putting in the work.
3 of 5 Stewart-Haas Racing was the first organization to crack the code of Gen-6 restrictor plate speed after timing in first, fourth and fifth in Daytona 500 qualifying, or three cars in the top 5.
Danica Patrick is on the pole, but Ryan Newman (fourth) and Tony Stewart (fifth) have some fast Chevrolet’s underneath them as well. Take note of whatever Stewart is able to do in his Thursday qualifying race because he was a sight to behold in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited, winning the first segment and bouncing around the field in search of Gen-6 draft intel, you know, because he could.
-229 Ryan Newman’s abysmal pass differential from 2012 has to be corrected. What this stat tells us is that Newman — despite the “Rocketman” nickname, was passed 229 more times than he made a pass.
It’s something to monitor, considering Newman is on a one-year contract with Stewart-Haas Racing and Kevin Harvick has, reportedly, signed with the organization already in advance of 2014. Is Harvick heading to an additional car or is he Newman’s replacement? If Newman struggles navigating through traffic for a second full season in a row, he could make the decision really easy for Stewart and team vice president Brett Frood.
0.00 Greg Biffle’s Terminal Crash Frequency for 2012 was spotless. Simply put: Biffle was not involved in a single accident last season that ended his day. Pretty impressive, huh?
He was, however, involved in a total of five accidents last year (a Crash Frequency of 0.14), but his series-best DNF avoidance rate none of those incidents were terminal — helped turn his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team into one of the year’s most consistent forces and the top points earner after the 26-race regular season. His last DNF for any reason was in the 2011 season finale when his engine expired after 190 laps. His last DNF due to an accident came 71 races ago, in the 2011 Daytona 500.
3.333 That PEER mark is the ninth-best rating for Cup Series drivers on plate tracks and it belongs to … Travis Kvapil. Seriously.
Is Kvapil a race-win candidate for the Daytona 500? Probably not. He did yeoman’s work, though, in his three plate starts of 2012, finishing 12th, 12th and eighth (good for a 10.6-place average finish) while playing out a conservative game of runs in his BK Racing ride. He’ll likely pedal patiently again on Sunday in an attempt to wait out the inevitable high attrition until check-cashing time.