Does a Duel Win Mean an Advantage in the Daytona 500?

Winning one of the Duels tomorrow night puts you up front for the Daytona 500. But does a win in the Duels make you any more likely to win the Daytona 500?

Tomorrow night marks the second phase of qualifying. We set the starting lineup. Drivers battling for open spots learn if they’ll be racing or watching from the sidelines.

We know that there’s virtually no correlation between where you start a race at Daytona and where you finish. But the Daytona Duels are the closest thing to the actual race we run before the race. Does winning one of those mean you have a better chance of winning the 500?

Let’s look at the data.

This pie chart shows where each Duel winner from 2002-present finished in the Daytona 500.

A pie chart showing how winners of the Daytona Duels finished in the Daytona 500.

Winning one of the duels proves you’ve got a good car and you should be competitive in the Daytona 500. Unfortunately, you don’t also win immunity from being caught up in a crash.

Digging Into the Daytona Duels

Forty positions divide nicely into quartiles of ten positions. Let’s count 41st, 42nd and 43rd with the last quartile. A driver finishing in those positions probably crashed (or was crashed).

Looking at the four quartiles:

  • 47.3% of the Duel winners finished in the top 10
  • 11.2 % of the winners finished in positions 11 through 20
  • 13.9% of the drivers finished in positions 21-30
    • That’s not a mistake on my graph
    • No one finished from 21st-25th
  • 27.7% of the Duel winners finished in the 31st or worse.

That almost half the Duel winners ended up in the top ten for the 500 says something about the quality of the cars and the drivers. That a driver is just as likely to finish 31st or higher as he is to finish second through fifth says something about the nature of superspeedway racing.

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