Is a strong start at Daytona critical to a strong season?
With Daytona just around the corner, I know all the teams are gearing up for the start of a new season. Does how you finish in the Daytona 500 set the tone for your season? While it doesn’t hurt, I can tell you from personal experience the reality is it’s just one of 36 races.
The reason I say that is as a crew chief I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. In 1992, we won the Daytona 500 with Davey Allison. We left Daytona with such momentum that it seemed like we were bulletproof and couldn’t do anything wrong. I think it was Race Six or Race Seven that year before we had a finish outside the top five.
Now on the flipside, we won the 1998 Daytona 500 with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the very next week at Rockingham we had to use a provisional to get into the race after a pretty miserable qualifying run. So again, it certainly doesn’t hurt to leave Daytona with a good start to the season, but really it’s a single race that pays the same amount of points as all the others.
This year the other big difference is naturally the new rules package once you leave Daytona. Like I mentioned last week, the rules package for the restrictor-plate races in 2015 is the same as it was last year. It’s Race Two, Race Three and beyond where the rules package is different from 2014.
My other example is our 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick. While Kevin didn’t have a bad Speedweeks at Daytona last year, he didn’t have a great start to the season. Kevin started the race in 38th-place, didn’t lead a single lap and finished 13th.
Again, not bad but nothing like the rest of his season where he won five races, had 20 top-10 and 14 top-five finishes and, oh yes, won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship!