Watching the Bud Shootout jump start the 2012 NASCAR season may have actually given the impression that where a driver begins the Daytona 500 is important.
Of the top-five finishers in that race, two of them actually started in the top five. Kyle Busch, the eventual winner, started second. This gives a false impression.
The other three top-five starters finished 16th or worse out of 25 total cars. Pole winner Martin Truex Jr. was caught up in an accident and finished in 19th, unable to complete the final 20 laps.
It should be noted that the starting positions were randomly drawn, and that the Bud Shootout was a severely truncated version of the Great American Race.
It did wet our appetites, though.
However, the Daytona 500 is a different beast altogether. Starting position, at least the first two spots, is determined strictly by speed. The rest is hashed out at the Gatorade Duel.
But, does the Gatorade Duel or qualifying prove anything? Statistics from the last five Daytona 500s say no. Winning the pole, even qualifying in the top five, seems to bear little semblance to where a driver will place.
In the last five Daytona 500s, only two drivers have had a top-five qualification and finished in the same spot. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started second in 2010 and finished in the same position, while Reed Sorenson translated a fifth place qualification into a fifth place at the 2008 edition of the race.
Where would you prefer your favorite driver to qualify?
As for the pole sitters, their numbers are fairly disappointing. Since 2007, only one pole sitter was able to achieve a top-10 finish: David Gilliland was able to place eighth after taking the pole position.
Other than that, the pole sitters' finishes have been fairly mediocre. In respective order, here are the following Daytona 500 pole sitters with their eventual finish in parentheses from 2008-2011: Jimmie Johnson (27th), Martin Truex Jr. (11th), Mark Martin (12th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (24th).
Therefore, winning a pole can help get a driver get a better finish, but it is certainly not a guarantee for anything.
Ironically, it seems almost better to qualify poorly at the Daytona 500. Of the last five winners, three have qualified below 30th place. Matt Kenseth was able to win the 2009 running of the race all the way back from 39th place.
That should solidify the answer to any question as it pertains to to the pertinence of gaining a pole at Daytona—if a driver can qualify 39th and win, while another driver can win the pole and finish 27th, there really exists no strong evidence to suggest that qualifying first has any true importance.
In other words, Carl Edwards' pole victory in 2012 should should make his fans nervous.