Celebrate the Trophy and Money, Daytona Winner, but Don’t Count on Winning that Cup
Last February it was Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Ford (sponsored by Haas Automation and Monster Energy) washing the champagne out of everybody’s uniforms and clothing after the Daytona 500. This year it’s Austin Dillon and the Richard Childress Racing/Dow Chemical gang.
For Dillon, Grandpa Childress & Co., let’s hope that there’s more to celebrate at the end of the season than there was last year for Busch, who finished up in 14th place in the Monster/Cup standings, missed the playoffs and had to endure a lengthy contract squabble over the winter.
Since I’m expected to pick winners each week for this website, I thought it might be worth looking back to see just how much of a predictor winning at Daytona in February was for claiming the championship. Because my patience has limits, I only went back 12 years for my Racing-Reference.info research, and based on my findings, my answer is “not much”… unless your name is Johnson.
When you’re looking at records for the past dozen years, you’re going to see this guy and this car a LOT.
Here’s the story. I looked at the winners of the first 10 races each year for the past 12 years (with a couple of adjustments to be explained below), checked out how each of them subsequently did in the season’s standings and then averaged those results for each track.
Yeah, I know, it all sounds kind of goofy, but there’s not much more dangerous than somebody who likes history and math.
Anyway, what I found was that the Daytona 500 winner has gone on to win the championship twice in the last 12 years. Both times that driver was Jimmie Johnson (2006 & 2013), which shouldn’t be surprising, because he won seven of those 12 championships. Beyond Johnson, though, no Daytona winner in that period has even finished in the top five at the end of the year, and four have finished outside the top 10, not counting Trevor Bayne, who wasn’t running for points in 2011. (If you count him as the best of the drivers receiving no points, he would have finished 53rd.)
The average season-ending finish for 500 winners has been ninth, and that’s the worst among the tracks most often making up the first 10 stops on the tour. Bristol was almost as bad. Talladega also required a judgement call, because Brad Keselowski won there while driving part-time for James Finch, and David Ragan won in a year when he finished 28th in the overall Cup standings, by far the worst end-of-year performance of any full-timer who claimed a victory during my survey period. If you eliminate Kez (as I did with Bayne) but leave in Ragan, Talladega’s average is still closer to eighth than ninth.
Bad Brad celebrates his unlikely Talladega win in 2009 with car owner James Finch. NASCAR would be a much better place if guys like Finch still owned Cup cars.
The winner, if you want to factor this into your betting this year, is (appropriately) Las Vegas, where the last 12 seasons’ winners had an average end-of-year finish of fourth. Four times the Vegas winner has ended up as overall champ, including Martin Truex Jr last season and “JJ” three times. Only three times in 12 years has the Las Vegas winner finished the year outside the final top five.
If you plan to wager on who’s going to win the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship, keep a close eye on the winner of the season’s first race at Las Vegas.
The runners-up are California and Texas (although the latter had none of its winners during the last 12 years go on to become champ), with Martinsville next. The Virginia paper-clip, by the way, was the only other track to have had more than two of its winners take the season championship; all three times that racer was Jimmy Johnson.
I’m not a huge fan of restrictor plate racing and am one of those who tends to say, “Now the REAL season starts,” once the tour moves on to stop number two, which this year is Atlanta. Now I have a few simple statistics to back me up.
(NOTES: The other tracks in my “first 10” were Atlanta, Phoenix, Fontana/California and Richmond. This was based primarily on the 2017 and 2018 schedules. At one time both Darlington and Kansas were in the group and Atlanta and Texas were out, but things haven’t really changed that much over the years.)
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
This is appropriate of nothing in particular, but to me it’s a fun look into the past, especially with the level of complaints about the current NASCAR Monster/Cup schedule having too little variety. The 2018 schedule has six races on tracks of more than one mile in length, one on a track right at the one-mile “dividing” line, and three short-track events. All 10 are paved, of course.
That’s exactly how it was 10 years. A decade before that (1998), there were seven superspeedway (more than one mile) events and only two short tracks (and the one-mile track was Rockingham and not Phoenix). In 1988, there was one more short-track (North Wilkesboro) and only five “supers.”
In 1988, there was excitement here, not just weeds.
In 1978, the number of superspeedways was down to four, with the Riverside road course spicing up the mix, and in 1968, there was dirt (Remember dirt, boys and girls?). Fifty years ago, the first 10 races included two superspeedways, four paved short tracks, three dirt short tracks and the road course.
If you want Mr. Peabody to really put the Way-Back Machine to the test, try the first 10 races of the 1958 season:
- 1 mixed surface superspeedway (Daytona’s beach-road course)
- 1 race on a 1-mile dirt track (Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta)
- 5 dirt short tracks
- 3 paved short-track races, all on the same track (say WHAT?)
(Folks, in those days, Big Bill scheduled ‘em as he saw fit. Champion Speedway, a one-third mile track in Fayetteville, N.C., ran a 1958 season race in November 1957, then another in March 1958 and yet a third in April 1958. Three of the season’s first seven races were on the same little track, which also ran a 1959 season event in November 1958. It never appeared on the Grand National Schedule after that.)
Courtesy of TMC Chase, here’s an ad for the last of Champion Speedway’s three Grand National races at the beginning of the 1958 NASCAR season.
Of course, those 10 1958 events paid out a TOTAL of about $50,000 in prize money, far less than this year’s last-place finisher received (although NASCAR has decreed that we’re not supposed to know those things), but I’d give up some money and a lot of sophistication to see a little of the old mixed in with the slick-but-often-boring new.
Incidentally, while looking for info for this article, I came across a NASCAR ad for the 1954 season, listing all the weekly tracks with NASCAR sanction and the upcoming Grand National and Short Track Division races. It also included the five-race schedule for NASCAR Midgets, including two races at the former Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Va., one in Richmond, and one at the aforementioned Champion Speedway in Fayetteville. Optimistically, it noted that “more races” were to be added.
From what I can gather (thanks, Dave Fulton, for the Racers Reunion links), NASCAR stayed in the midget business for about a decade, although the last few years the “season” seemed to consist of events that were part of the area run-up to the Daytona 500. In any event, this seems just another of those less-successful chapters that don’t merit mention in any of the current NASCAR histories.