The Daytona 500 – Some Pole Position Trivia For You

Earlier this afternoon, 21-year old Chase Elliott became the first back-to-back pole winner for the Daytona 500 since Ken Schrader accomplished that feat back in 1989-90. He edged teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was making a return to competition after a seven-month injury-induced break, by .008 mph at a lap speed of 192.872.

That puts him in a good position to lead the field to the green flag for the running of the 59th Daytona 500 next Sunday, but what does it mean for the outcome of the race? Well, not too much, according to the sport’s archives. In the 58 previous editions of the event, the 40 different drivers who have earned the pole position have recorded, on average, only a 16th place finishing position. In fact, only 20 previous pole winners were able to place in the top 5 at the end of the event, although half of these were winners of the prestigious event.

In history, three drivers have captured the Daytona 500 pole four times, while a trio of drivers have managed the feat three times. Here’s a breakdown of the multiple pole winners since the 1959 inaugural event:

  • Buddy Baker – 4 (1969, 1973, 1979, 1980)
  • Cale Yarborough – 4 (1968, 1970, 1978, 1984)
  • Bill Elliott – 4 (1985, 1986, 1987, 2001)
  • Glenn (Fireball) Roberts – 3 (1961, 1962, 1963)
  • Dale Jarrett – 3 (1995, 2000, 2005)
  • Ken Schrader – 3 (1988, 1989, 1990)
  • Donnie Allison – 2 (1975, 1977)
  • Jeff Gordon – 2 (1999, 2015)
  • Jimmie Johnson – 2 (2002, 2008)
  • Chase Elliott – 2 (2016, 2017)

Thirty drivers have won the pole a single time, and some of those were, quite frankly, surprises (e.g., Ramo Stott in 1976, Loy Allen Jr. in 1994, David Gilliland in 2007, Danica Patrick in 2013, and Austin Dillon in 2014, none of whom have ever won at the Cup level). Nevertheless, it proves that winning the pole is not necessarily a guarantee of winning the race (but of course it doesn’t hurt).

The speeds recorded in winning the pole have tracked closely with the evolution of the cars at the Cup level, from Bob Welborn’s 1959 inaugural pole speed of 140.121 mph to the all-time record pole speed of 210.364 set by Bill Elliott in 1987. Elliott’s mark, though, was set before restrictor plates were placed back into use at Daytona, so it’s a mark that will likely stand for a long time. But here’s how the speed progression has taken place:

  • 1959 – 1969 average pole speed: 167.622
  • 1970 – 1979 average pole speed: 188.579
  • 1980 – 1989 average pole speed: 199.698
  • 1990 – 1999 average pole speed: 192.457
  • 2000 – 2009 average pole speed: 187.439
  • 2010 – 2017 average pole speed: 194.368

The average pole speed in the 1980s was driven up by the lack of restrictor plates for most of the events, while the 1990s average shows the drop-off that took place with restricted engines. The further drop in the first decade of the 2000s is likely the result of changes in Cup car design, with the “Car of Tomorrow” experimentation, various changes to spoiler configurations, and the like. With more attention to downforce in the second decade of the 2000s, however, competitors are seeing a resurgence of qualifying speeds, with the average for the 2010-2017 period exceeding the prior decade’s average by almost 4%.

One final point on Daytona 500 pole trivia: there have been four father-son combinations who have won the coveted award.

  • Richard Petty and Kyle Petty
  • Bobby Allison and Davey Allison
  • Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Bill Elliott and Chase Elliott

So now, you’re well armed for any Daytona 500 pole trivia contests that may come up as you get set for next Sunday’s Daytona 500! For a complete schedule of everything happening at the Speedway during 2017 Speedweeks, visit their website’s schedule page.

 

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