Who’s hot, who’s not in Cup Series heading to Daytona

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A look at some of the drivers who are streaking or reeling heading into Saturday’s Cup race at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC).

HOT

• Finished 3rd at Chicagoland (5th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 39 laps led)

• Finished 4th or better in four straight races

• In 17 races in 2018, 14 finishes of 7th or better (including five wins) & three finishes of 31st or worse

• Finished in the top five in 16 of the last 21 races, dating back to last season

• Finished 22nd or worse in four straight Daytona races

• DNF accident in three of the last four Daytona races

Denny Hamlin

• Finished 7th at Chicagoland (11th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2); started 37th after qualifying time disallowed in post-qualifying inspection; spun off Turn 2 on lap 177 while running 9th

• Finished in the Top 10 in five of the last seven races, including the last two 

• Finished 6th or better in six of last nine Daytona races, including win in 2016 Daytona 500

• Only two DNFs for accident in 25 career Daytona starts

Clint Bowyer

• Finished 5th at Chicagoland (30th in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 21 laps led); penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 39 (was leading before stops); penalized for speeding in pits on lap 43 while serving previous penalty; came in to serve stop-and-go penalty on lap 48, but did not stop and had to pit again

• Finished in the yop five in the last three races

• Led 329 laps in 2018, more than he had in the previous 4 seasons combined (145)

• Finished in the top 10 in six of the last 10 Daytona races

Kyle Busch

• Won at Chicagoland (12th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2, 59 laps led); made contact with Kyle Larson twice on final lap while battling for lead

• Won five of the last 11 races

• Finished in the top five in five straight races and in the Top 10 in six straight races

• Finished in the top five in 12 of 17 races this season

• Two top fives in the last 12 Daytona races, all other finishes have been 12th or worse

Erik Jones

• Finished 6th at Chicagoland (10th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2)

• Top 10 in the last two races of 2018

• Finished 7th or better in three of the last six races, but 13th or worse in seven of the last 10

• One top 10 in three career Daytona starts and two finishes of 36th or worse (two DNFs)

NOT

Jamie McMurray

• Finished 12th at Chicagoland (15th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2)

• Finished 15th or worse in 13 of 17 races this season

• 14th or worse in the last nine Daytona races

• One Top 10 in the last 16 Daytona races (7th – July 2013)

• DNF accident in two of the last four Daytona races

Austin Dillon

• Finished 37th at Chicagoland (19th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2, 13 laps led); DNF (wheel hub) – pit from 26th with brakes smoking on lap 190

• Finished 12th or worse in 12 straight races

• Finished outside Top 10 in 15 of 16 races since Daytona 500 win

• Won the Daytona 500 in February

• Finished in the Top 10 in six of 10 career starts at Daytona

Ryan Blaney

• Finished 18th at Chicagoland (7th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2, 19 laps led); pit from 14th with a loose wheel on lap 194

• Finished 18th or worse in last two races

• Won four stages in 17 races in 2018, one more than he had all of 2017

• Led 463 laps in 2018, more than he led from 2014-2017 combined (332)

• Top 10 in two of the last three Daytona races

• Led laps in three straight Daytona races, including 118 of 200 in the Daytona 500 this year

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 16th at Chicagoland (18th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2); started in the rear due to unapproved adjustments before the race

• Finished 11th or worse in six of the last seven races

• Has finished 14th or worse in 13 of 17 races in 2018

• Three top 10s in 12 career Daytona starts, two have come in the last four races

Dr. Diandra: Determining the 10 all-time best Cup drivers at Daytona

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Fourteen of the drivers competing for the 2023 championship have 17 Cup wins at Daytona between them. That total includes multiple winners Denny Hamlin (3), Kevin Harvick (2) and Austin Dillon (2).

How do these drivers stack up against the all-time best Daytona drivers?

The Data

I only include drivers with at least 10 races on the Daytona oval. If you’re going to be called an ‘all-time great’, you need enough races to prove it.

Between 1959-71, NASCAR counted some Daytona qualifiers as regular-season races. For example, while most record books assign David Pearson eight Daytona victories, two of those wins were qualifying races. But qualifier races, which are fewer laps and a smaller field, aren’t the same as 400- or 500-mile races.

I therefore don’t include any qualifying races in this analysis. Doing so creates a serious bias against recent drivers. So I credit Pearson with six win in this analysis.

Winning

It’s tempting to simply list the drivers with the most Daytona wins.

  • Richard Petty (10)
  • Cale Yarborough (eight)
  • Pearson, Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon (six each)
  • Fireball Roberts, Bill Elliott, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (four each)

But Petty needed 64 races to get those 10 wins. Yarborough won eight times in 48 races, so Yarborough’s 16.7%-win rate just edges out Petty’s 15.6%. Using numbers of wins disadvantages drivers with shorter careers, which is why I prefer win rate.

A table showing the 10 all-time best Daytona drivers in terms of winning percentageThe table shows that neither Petty nor Yarborough come close to Roberts’ 36.4% win rate. That’s four wins in just 11 attempts.

As far a current drivers go, Dillon takes 11th place with a win rate of 10.5%. The next active driver on the list is William Byron at 13th. Byron is also the last driver with a win rate at or above 10%.

But I want the best driver, not simply the winningest driver. Plenty of great NASCAR drivers never won at Daytona.

Average Finish Position

Luck plays more of a role at Daytona than at most other tracks. A driver can run a brilliant race but finish in the 30s after being taken out by a late crash. Average finishing position measures driving ability and ability to finish races.

Here’s a list of the best all-time drivers in terms of average finishes.

A table showing the 10 all-time best Daytona drivers in terms of average finish

Darel Dieringer raced in the Cup Series from 1957-69. He returned to run Daytona, Talladega and two Charlotte races in 1975.

Although Dieringer won 6 races, his only trip to Daytona’s Victory Lane was the first 1965 qualifier race. Nonetheless, he’s the only driver with an average finishing position below 10 at Daytona.

Fred Lorenzen, Ned Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt finished between 10th and 11th position on average.

Bubba Wallace ranks fifth in average finish at Daytona. He also ranks first among all drivers in percentage of second-place finishes with 27.3%, or a little more than one in four.

Only one driver — Pearson — appears on the top-10 lists for winning rate and average finishing position.

Top fives

Again, I’m using rates to account for different drivers having run different numbers of races. Here’s a list of the top-10 all-time best drivers for finishing in the top five.

A table showing the 10 all-time best Daytona drivers in terms of top-five finishes

Lorenzen comes in first with a 62.5%. No one else gets close. Second on the list is Jack Smith with a 50% top-five rate.

Hamlin comes in 15th on this list with a 32.4% top-five rate. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are right behind him with 31.6% and 31.0% rates respectively.

The all-time best Daytona drivers

My algorithm gives half of the emphasis to average finishing position, 35% to win rate and the remaining 15% to top fives. In all cases, I’m using their rank compares to other drivers. Thus, the driver with the smallest total is the best Daytona driver. A perfect score would be 1.

But no one’s perfect.

A table showing the final list of the top-10 all-time best Daytona driversOnly Pearson ranked in the top 10 in all three of my metrics. That lands him the title of all-time best Daytona driver. He didn’t win any of the categories, but posted strong numbers across the board.

Pearson and Smith are the only drivers with a final ranking below 10. Smith was hurt by his low win rate, as was Earnhardt. It’ll be interesting to see how Earnhardt fares when we do the same ranking for Talladega.

Dillon is the only current driver to make the final list. Here’s how some other recent drivers rank compared to the all-time greats:

  • Gordon (11th)
  • Hamlin (13th)
  • Wallace (18th)

Who do you rank best? Tell me in the comments.

Even more importantly, tell me what metrics you think are most important in determining the all-time best Daytona drivers.

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”