Superspeedway courses are notorious for defying correlation. The likelihood of crashing is high. Good cars are eliminate by bad accidents. Cars that start in the back can win.
Even though Duel starting positions are determined by qualifying times, one would think the same randomness would apply.
One would be wrong.
Here’s a histogram of the starting positions of Duel winners from 1972 (when the Duels became non-points races) to 2019.
Clearly, starting toward the front is better.
- Out of 96 winners, 25 (26%) started on the pole.
- 18 (18.8%) started in the second position.
- 55% of the winners started no further back than 3rd.
- 80% of the winners started no further back than 6th.
- The further back anyone won from was 25th; that was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2015. He qualified in the 10th position, but then failed inspection and had to start at the back.
My hypothesis for the correlation between starting position and winning is twofold: 1) The Duels are shorter; 2) Drivers don’t want to have to start the Daytona 500 in a backup.
The Duels are shorter than the Daytona 500. There isn’t as much time to crash. One reason Daytona races have a high Diandra Danger Index is because they’re long. The Duels are shorter, bringing the danger down.
Winning a Duel gets you a good starting position for the 500, but a bad starting position doesn’t count you out. It’s a better strategy to drive a little more cautiously in the Duels and take big chances when points (and a win that gets you into the playoffs) are at stake..
What About Second Place in the Duels?
The results of the graph surprised me enough that I looked at where the second-place finishers started. There’s a broader distribution, but it’s certainly not random.
- 10 (10.4%) second-place finishers started on the pole. This is low, but expected because so many pole sitters finish first.
- 15.6% started and finished in the second position.
- 55% started no further back than 5th.
- 90% started no further back than 15th.
- The furthest back a second-place finisher started from is 26th. That was Jerry Nadeau, in the first Duel in 2001.