Daytona 500 Handicaps

Editor’s Note: For the first four races of the 2004 season I’ll be reviewing the track records of the top 20 in final 2003 Winston Cup points.

Matt Kenseth- Kenseth has a pair of top 10 finishes at Daytona, neatly bookended by a tenth place finish here in his first Cup points start and a sixth place finish in his last outing at Daytona in July of 03. He’s only led 21 laps to date at Daytona in Cup races and his average finish is 19.5.

Jimmie Johnson- Johnson is batting .500 in four career points starts at Daytona with a pair of top 10s. He ran a strong third in last year’s Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.- Anytime the 8 team shows up at a plate track they are always a threat that borders on a prohibitive favorite. But to date Junior seems afflicted by the same curse that dogged his dad. He can win any race at Daytona except for the 500. (Earnhardt’s lone points paying victory at Daytona was a dominating performance in the July 2001 event.) His second place finish in the tragedy-marred 2001 Daytona 500 was in his only top 10 to date in the Great American Race.

Jeff Gordon- Gordon started out his full time Cup career with a win in one of the 1993 125 Qualifying races. He’s also won two Daytona 500s (1997 and 1999) but both wins were with daring passes below the yellow line which are no longer legal. Gordon has been in a bit of a slump at Daytona as of late with just one top 10 finish in his last six Cup points races here.

Kevin Harvick- Harvick struggled in his first two points races at Daytona but has finished eleventh, ninth and fourth in his last three points starts here. RCR cars are usually strong at the plate tracks.

Ryan Newman- Newman has struggled on the plate tracks and has wrecked out of two of his four points starts at Daytona. You’ll probably recall his violent accident in last year’s 500 that saw Newman barrel rolling into the tri-oval grass which left him dead last in the race. While Newman did have a good run at Talladega last fall, he’d probably be content to leave Daytona without making the crash highlight reels for the season again.

Tony Stewart- While he’s never won a points race at Daytona, Stewart did post a memorable Bud Shootout win here in 2001 beating the late Dale Earnhardt. While he’s run better at Talladega than at Daytona, Stewart seems to have figured out that if you hook up to the rear bumper of the red 8 car at a plate track you’re heading towards the front. That strategy should serve him well.

Bobby Labonte- While he’s never won at Daytona, Labonte did finish second in both points races here in 1998, starting from the pole in both races. As of late, Labonte has three fifth place finishes in his last ten points starts at Daytona and one additional top 10 finish in those ten races.

Bill Elliott- Elliott has cut back to a part-time schedule and will not be competing in the Daytona 500 for the first time since 1980.

Terry Labonte- Strange but true; in fifty career points starts at Daytona, Labonte has yet to win one. But he does have four second place Daytona points results on his resume. As far as top 10s here, Labonte is batting .500 with 25 such finishes including a fourth place result in last year’s Firecracker 400.

Kurt Busch- Busch finished second in last year’s rain shortened Daytona 500, and seems to be learning the art of drafting well.

Jeff Burton- Burton’s efforts this year are hampered by what may be a part-time team due to lack of sponsorship. That despite the fact he finished second in last year’s Firecracker 400. Burton’s only points win at Daytona was the 2000 Firecracker 400. That win was one of five top 5s in twenty points starts at Daytona for Burton.

Jamie McMurray- Daytona wasn’t too kind to McMurray last year with 31st and 37th place results in the two points races run here last year. He looked strong in Saturday night’s Bud Shootout before the wreck.

Rusty Wallace- In forty-one points starts at Daytona Wallace has yet to win one at Daytona and has more often made the crash highlight reels than the race highlights. Wallace did finish second in the 2002 Firecracker 400, one of six top 5 finishes in points races here during his career. Of note, if Wallace fails to win the 500 his winless streak will reach 99 races.

Michael Waltrip- The question isn’t whether Waltrip can win at Daytona but if he can win at a non-plate track. All four of Waltrip’s career Cup victories have been at plate tracks with three of them taking place at Daytona, including last year’s Daytona 500. Waltrip hasn’t finished worse than 11th in his six points starts with DEI at Daytona, and he has five top 5 finishes in those six races. If you’re sick of seeing Waltrip in commercials, think how sick the rest of the drivers are of seeing Waltrip in Daytona Victory Lane.

Robby Gordon: Pros: Richard Childress’s cars run well here. Cons: The driver. Prognosis- Slim to none.

Mark Martin- Martin is another member of the Oh-fer club with no points wins at Daytona in 37 starts here. He does have eight career top 5 points finishes at Daytona with a career best of third in the 1995 Daytona 500. Martin also has top 10 finishes in three of the last four Daytona points races.

Sterling Marlin- Marlin has won two Daytona 500s and was on his way to a third victory when he decided to do a little unauthorized bodywork under the red flag.

Jeremy Mayfield- In twenty career points starts at Daytona Mayfield has managed just top 5 finishes here, both in the Daytona races of 1998. He finished eighth in both Daytona points races last year.

Greg Biffle- Biffle won last year’s Firecracker 400 as a rookie. Starting from the pole can’t hurt.

Others To Watch

Dale Jarrett- Even with the wretched season the 88 team had last year there’s no overlooking the fact DJ has four Daytona points wins including three Daytona 500 victories. Jarrett won Saturday night’s Bud Shootout.

Elliott Sadler- Sadler has been strong since he arrived at Daytona for this year’s Speed Weeks and qualified on the outside pole for the 500. He finished second in the 2002 Daytona 500.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2004

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