Equipment, Not Luck True Key to Daytona Success

Equipment, Not Luck True Key to Daytona Success

by July 2, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Daytona has always been considered a crapshoot, however, is that identification for the restrictor plate track no longer valid?

It has been said before that luck is needed in order the conquer this gargantuan superspeedway – and that is true to an extant, however, luck alone will no longer be enough to get to victory lane at the legendary circuit.

With the new drafting package NASCAR introduced with its Sprint Cup Series’ Sixth Generation vehicle in 2013 rendering the tandem style of drafting useless, drivers have gone back to the big packs that had dominated at the restrictor plate tracks since the introduction of the plates themselves. With the new aero package throwing the action back to a more retro style of drafting, the equipment the drivers have underneath them have become a much more important factor than it has been over the last several years with the tandem draft.

Not to say that luck doesn’t factor into any success at Daytona at all – after all, you do have to be in the right place at the right time to avoid being caught up in the big wreck that has become so common at the track. Not to forget, surrounding yourself with great drafting partners is also an important piece of completing the restrictor plate puzzle.

However, just having knowledgable friends on the race track and possessing a bit of luck on the side can only take you so far.

If we take a look at the three points races held at Daytona since the introduction of the new Sprint Cup chassis it is quite clear that Hendrick Motorsports have been the class of the field at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in recent history. Hendrick drivers have won all three points races at the track in the Sixth Generation car with Jimmie Johnson sweeping last year’s Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning this season’s Daytona 500.

It’s no coincidence that the three cars to pull into Daytona’s victory lane came out of the Hendrick camp. Both Earnhardt and Johnson in last year’s Coke Zero 400 led the most laps in both of their wins – Johnson led 94 of 161 laps last July while Earnhardt led 54 of 200 completed laps this February to claim his second career Daytona 500. While Johnson did not lead the most laps in his Daytona 500 victory last February, another Sprint Cup super-team, Joe Gibbs Racing, combined to lead 119 of the 200 laps completed in that race.

We can conclude there’s strength in numbers if we take a look at the highest-finishing single-car teams in each of these three races. A single-car team has never placed one of their drivers in the top-five in any of the Sixth Generation vehicle’s points races at Daytona – Kurt Busch was the highest finishing driver for a single-car team when he finished sixth in last year’s Coke Zero 400 for the Furniture Row Racing team.

But, of the multi-car teams in the garage area, the teams that have consistently finished in the top-five at Daytona have been the teams that have been consistently fighting for championships year in and year out. Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Michael Waltrip Racing have all finished at or near the front of the field.Smaller teams such as Front Row Motorsports (who’ve had plenty of success at Talladega with the new car) and Richard Petty Motorsports have been unable to replicate the success that the teams with larger budgets have had at Daytona.

With the larger teams having all of the success at Daytona as of late, I believe that – for now – the era of surprise winners at Daytona may be over. I don’t believe that we will see any more surprise Trevor Bayne/Bobby Labonte runs to the front like we saw in the 2011 Daytona 500 during the tandem/Car of Tomorrow era of the series, however, that doesn’t mean that these lesser-funded teams have impossible odds stacked against them. The teams who we may not see run consistently well throughout a season certainly could pull off an upset, but when you take a look at how strong the teams with the exceptional equipment have been, that may be an incredibly tall order to fill.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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