Crunching numbers: Who's due?

February, 18, 2011

The Daytona 500 is an absolute crapshoot that anyone can win.

And what other lies have they been feeding you?

The fact is, while the race will be tight, the leaders plentiful, and the lead changes numerous, this race has often been won by drivers who had either previous impressive accomplishments, or would go on to back up their win.

Jamie McMurray came out of nowhere to win last year, but he also had two more wins in his reclamation season. Michael Waltrip won a shocker in 2001, but would prove to be a great restrictor-plate driver. Sterling Marlin got his first career win there in 1994, but also won the 1995 version.

Of course there are exceptions (see Cope, Derrike), but occasionally you're going to get a surprise at any race.

So, what I'm saying is that there's a skill to this, and that the cream usually rises to the top. I say a big name will win at Daytona -- but more on that later.

Let's dip deep within the numbers to see who could be in line to win the 500, by looking at the pass differential at Daytona, going back since the start of the 2005 season. It's a simple stat that measures, simply, how many times you've passed a driver versus times you've been passed under the green flag.

Of the four in the acoompanying chart -- Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton -- none have previously won the Daytona 500, and Busch and Edwards have never won a Cup race at Daytona. Look for all four to be factors Sunday.

The Eliminator: Daytona 500

Maybe you begged for it back, maybe you didn't. The fact of the matter is that it is back, and better than ever.

I'll take the 49 entrants for the Daytona 500, and tell you why 48 of them can't win. By process of elimination (get it?), you have my pick. Here we go, in list style.

1) The last 19 Daytona 500 winners had a previous top-5 finish at Daytona. 23 drivers out, 26 remaining

2) The last nine, and 13 of the last 14 Daytona 500 winners finished in the top 15 in the last Daytona race. 17 drivers out, nine remaining

3) The last four Daytona 500 winners finished outside the top 10 in the previous year's 500. Five drivers out, four remaining

4) Three of the last four and 10 of the last 16 finished eighth or better in the last Talladega race. Three drivers out, one remaining

Your winner: Jeff Gordon

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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