Daytona, Bonus Points and The Myth of “Risk”

Denny Hamlin

This Sunday’s Daytona 500 will implement a new points format, one that distributes an in-race bonus to the top 10 drivers in the running order at the end of the first two stages. Naturally, this creates a new avenue for discussion surrounding risk versus reward, a debate whose chasm among racing intellectuals is often incorrectly calibrated. Especially at restrictor plate tracks like Daytona, the inherent risk in running up front in an attempt to collect those sweet, sweet bonus points — a stat-column distinction come playoff time of which an elusive millennial audience just won’t get enough — is atypically high. The threat of The Big One, a moniker bestowed upon pileups at very large racetracks, leaves even top contenders leery of trying to lead.

It’s a popular misconception, though.

A study of the last 19 Daytona accidents comprised of four or more cars, dating back to 2013, suggests that the strategy of lead-pack avoidance is largely based on a fallacy. In reality, there is no safer place on Daytona’s 2.5-mile surface than the front of the field.

Cars running sixth place or better in those 19 accidents were caught, at most, 15.79 percent of the time, with the top three runners crashing no more than in 5.26 percent of accidents. Cars with top-10 running positions saw crash participation rates no worse than 26.32 percent. The chart below depicts what is actually Daytona’s most ravaged territory … Read More

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