GOTD: Daytona Pole Speeds 1959-2020

Daytona pole speeds tell you something about the raw power of each car. Given that less than a third of the races this year will have qualifying, this is a rare chance to get data that might help you with your fantasy racing picks.

This assumes of course, that drivers aren’t sandbagging. There’s no penalty for doing so because starting position at superspeedways has very little to do with finishing position.

A graph showing Daytona pole speeds from 1959-2020
I’ve used a suppressed zero here to give you a better view of the changes after the first big leap in Daytona pole speeds.

Focus first on the rapid increase in Daytona pole speeds between 1959 and 1968, when car builder’s focused mostly on making bigger, more efficient engines.

The next rise, during the 70s, is when NASCAR discovered aerodynamics. Car builders and manufacturers decreased drag and increased downforce.

In 1987, Nature pointed out that our understanding of aerodynamics was much better than out understanding of motorsports safety. Bobby Allison’s flip at Talladega introduced the words ‘restrictor plate’ to the NASCAR vocabulary.

Of course, we don’t have restrictor plates anymore. The tapered spacer has taken that role now.

We also don’t have a multi-week lead up to Daytona anymore. January testing was eliminated in 2015 as NASCAR tried to cut costs for teams by cutting testing. IN 2021, Cup teams are at the track Tuesday through Sunday only. During that time, they’ll run qualifying, a qualifying race, two practices and the Daytona 500 itself. They’ll be back the next week to run the Road Course, but that’ll only be a one-day event.

In 2021, the preseason non-points race (The Busch Clash) will be held at the Daytona Road Course, which means that the drivers who qualified for that race aren’t getting additional practice for the 500.

But that also means the teams might not be bringing home as many torn up racecars.

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