Teams put a lot of effort into winning the Daytona 500 pole. But does that have any impact on winning the race?
Where Do Daytona 500 Pole Winners Finish?
The graph below shows the finishing positions of all Daytona 500 pole winners from 1970-2020.
One problem is that the pole is determined by the fastest single-car qualifying runs and Daytona races are determined by drafting. Winning the pole may mean you have a fast car, but fast isn’t everything at Daytona.
But you would think that having the fastest car, even if alone, would still translate to a better finish. That’s not what the graph above shows.
The graph below is identical to the one above, except I’ve changed the bars:
- Cars that didn’t finish the race are now shown in dark grey
- Cars that were involved in accidents, but still managed to finish the race are shown in light grey.
In the early days, the most likely reason a polesitter didn’t finish well was that he didn’t finish the race. If he survived all 500 laps, then sitting on the pole gave him a much better chance of winning, or at least finishing in the top five or ten.
But we don’t see as much of that in later years. Both the number of accidents and the numbers of cars involved in accidents has gone up over the years. So you’re much more likely to be involved in a wreck these days.
David Smith has data to show that you are more likely to be in a wreck running up front than running in the back. I would need to go and look at where big crashes happen to see whether your chance of getting caught up in a wreck increases if you’re the polesitter.
If you’re placing bets, there’s no reason to choose the Daytona pole winner solely because he’s starting up front. Although there used to be a correlation between getting the pole and winning the Daytona 500, there isn’t any more.