Numbers Game: Analyzing The Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2007) -- Finally, it's here. More than three months have passed without points racing in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, but the wait is over. And clearly, the old adage "good things come to those who wait" has never...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2007) -- Finally, it's here.

More than three months have passed without points racing in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, but the wait is over. And clearly, the old adage "good things come to those who wait" has never rung truer than this time of year.

The reward is the Daytona 500 -- the pinnacle of auto racing.

The 200-lap spectacle of speed and sound is the highlight of every driver's resume. Just running it is an honor. Winning it? Euphoria.

But who will be the next to join the list of greats, a list which includes Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt? Here is a glimpse at crucial statistical information for "The Great American Race" which may provide some insight.

Driver Rating at Daytona
Tony Stewart - 127.5
Jimmie Johnson - 106.2
Ryan Newman - 97.6
Jeff Gordon - 97.2
Jamie McMurray - 95.6
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 95.1
Matt Kenseth - 90.3
Rusty Wallace - 89.4
Kurt Busch - 88.2
Elliott Sadler - 87.4

Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005 and 2006 races (4 total) at Daytona.

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Selected Driver Highlights

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)
Defending Daytona 500 champion; reigning series champion.
Average finish of 5.8 in the Daytona 500.
Average finish of 8.6 in 10 Daytona starts, the best average among all active drivers.
Driver Rating of 106.2 at Daytona over the last two years, second only to Tony Stewart.
Second-fastest driver in Turn 2 and 3; third-fastest in Turn 4 at DIS.

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet)
Two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion and winner of Saturday's Budweiser Shootout.
Series-best Driver Rating of 127.5 at DIS.
Average finish of 18.125 in the Daytona 500.
Has two wins at Daytona International Speedway -- both in July's Pepsi 400 -- to go along with five Top 5s and nine Top 10s.
Has an average running position of 5.793.
Fastest speeds in Turn 2, 3 and 4 at Daytona.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
Three Daytona 500 wins, tied with Dale Jarrett for the most among active drivers.
Six wins at Daytona, the most among active drivers.
Ranked fifth all-time in wins at DIS, trailing only Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Fireball Roberts.
Ten Top 5s, 15 top 10s and an average finish of 14.4 at Daytona.
Fourth-best Driver Rating of 97.2.
546 laps in the Top 15 over the past four Daytona races (fourth-best).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet)
Two wins, six top 5s, nine top 10s and an average finish of 11.429 at Daytona.
Driver Rating over the past four years at Daytona is 95.1, which is sixth best.
Average running position of 12.449 over the last four Daytona races (fifth-best).

Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet)
In just two starts at Daytona, has finished 6th and 10th. 11th-best Driver Rating of 85.4.
Second-fastest driver on the Backstretch.

Ricky Rudd (No. 88 Snickers Ford)
Has 58 career starts at Daytona, more than any other active driver.
Has 21 top-10 finishes (tied with Sterling Marlin), behind only Bill Elliott (24) and Ken Schrader (22) among active drivers.
This will be his sixth front-row start at Daytona and his third front-row start in the Daytona 500.
Best finish in the Daytona 500 is third (1981).

Sterling Marlin (No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet)
Was the last driver to win back-to-back Daytona 500s (1994-95).
In 49 starts at Daytona, Marlin has racked up three wins, 12 Top 5s and 21 Top 10s.
186 passes on the Backstretch over the past four Daytona races (tied for fourth-most).
Most passes on Turn 4 over the past four DIS races (106).

Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota)
Has a guaranteed starting position (will rely on a past champion's provisional if necessary).
Four wins, nine Top 5s and 17 Top 10s in 39 starts at Daytona.
Improved 35 positions over the last four Daytona races, second most over that span.

Bill Elliott (No. 37 Dodge)
55 starts and four wins at DIS -- two in the Daytona 500.

James Hylton (No. 58 Retirement Living TV Chevrolet)
The 72-year-old competitor has had past success at Daytona, finishing third in the 1967 Daytona 500 and notching three Top 5s and 16 Top 10s at DIS.
Most recent DIS start was the 1983 Daytona 500.
Has led 28 laps at Daytona.

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Qualifying/Race Data

This year's pole winner: David Gilliland (186.320 mph, 48.304 seconds, 2-11-07)

Last year's pole winner: Jeff Burton (189.151 mph, 47.581 seconds, 2-12-06)

Last year's race winner: Jimmie Johnson (142.667 mph, 3 hours, 33 minutes, 26 secs, 2-19-07)

Qualifying record: Bill Elliott (210.364 mph, 42.783 seconds, 2-9-87)

Race record: Buddy Baker (177.602 mph, 2 hours, 48 minutes, 55 secs, 2-17-80)

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History

Bob Welborn won the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (Grand National) race at Daytona International Speedway, the 100-mile qualifying race for the inaugural Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959.

Lee Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959.

Three drivers have won two straight Daytona 500s: Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84), Sterling Marlin (1994-95).

Drivers who have won two straight races at Daytona International Speedway: Fireball Roberts (1962); Cale Yarborough (1967-68; 1976-77); LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969); Bobby Allison (1982; 1987-88); Jeff Gordon (1998-99; 2004-05); Dale Jarrett (1999-2000); Michael Waltrip (2002-03).

Drivers who have won the Daytona 500 from the pole: Richard Petty (1966); Buddy Baker (1980); Cale Yarborough (1984); Bill Elliott (1985, 1987); Jeff Gordon (1999); Dale Jarrett (2000).

Active Drivers -- Wins At Daytona
Jeff Gordon -- 6
Bill Elliott -- 4
Dale Jarrett -- 4
Sterling Marlin -- 3
Michael Waltrip -- 3
Tony Stewart -- 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 2

Active Drivers -- Laps Led At Daytona
Bill Elliott -- 614
Sterling Marlin -- 589
Jeff Gordon -- 497
Tony Stewart -- 480
Michael Waltrip -- 347
Dale Jarrett -- 334
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 319
Ken Schrader -- 298
Mark Martin -- 215

Leader of the Pack

Thirty-nine drivers have led at least one lap at Daytona in the past three seasons. ... Tony Stewart is the only driver that has led in all six races, pacing 473 of the 1,086 laps raced there since 2003. ... Jeff Gordon is his closest competitor, with 126 laps. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only other driver to lead more than 100 laps at Daytona over the past three seasons.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Richard Petty , James Hylton , Junior Johnson , Bobby Allison , Clint Bowyer , David Gilliland , Elliott Sadler , Buddy Baker , Cale Yarborough , Mark Martin , David Pearson , Lee Petty