Superspeedway racing is a lot like Texas Hold 'Em poker: It's not so much about how good you are as it is about how lucky you are.
Of course, there's a great level of skill in it too. Drivers who can master the bump draft are likely to find better drafting partners, bringing them up to the front. And some manufacturers have found an edge over others in recent years. Meanwhile, some drivers hang back and save their cars until the end of the race for a late charge.
But more often than not, late-race accidents ruin great finishes for a lot of drivers, and the driver who wins is the driver who avoids trouble the best. It's part of the reason why some names that don't normally run up front can score strong finishes at Daytona or Talladega and why an average finish of 15th or better—considered pedestrian at most tracks—is a huge indicator of both luck and talent at those tracks.
Simply put, it's all about managing your resources and avoiding trouble in order to be the last driver standing, much like poker. The following 20 drivers are the best in NASCAR at doing that.
The first few did their best work in previous eras, but remain in the conversation for rides every year, while many of these drivers only excel at one track or the other. Only the top few have done well at both tracks. But barring the major accidents that mark most restrictor-plate events, these are your best bets for a good finish at a big race.
All statistics via Racing-Reference.info.
Bill Elliott usually lands some sort of ride at Daytona, at least, because of his incredible superspeedway record.
With six wins, 46 top-10s and 13 poles in 117 starts at Daytona and Talladega, he's an obvious upgrade for low-budget teams.
Elliott will also hold the all-time NASCAR qualifying speed record of 212.809 mph at Talladega as long as restrictor plates exist. He set the record in 1987 without them, and chances are, they won't be phased out anytime soon.
Incredibly, despite never winning a points-paying race at Daytona (he did win the 1985 Busch Clash and a 1989 Daytona 500 qualifier), Terry Labonte's 15.4 average finish at the track is tied for second-best among active drivers. He has a combined 59 top-10s in 116 superspeedway starts, with wins at Talladega in July 1989 and October 1997.
He may only race a limited schedule, but Mark Martin is still a threat to run up front. He has six career superspeedway poles and two wins at Talladega, including a May 1997 victory in the fastest 500-mile race in NASCAR history.
Michael Waltrip's four career Cup victories all came on superspeedways, three at Daytona and one at Talladega. To this day, he remains a competitive driver on all of them.
If not for Tony Stewart's block on the final lap at Talladega last October, Waltrip, pushed by Casey Mears, may have scored a surprise victory that day. He'll run his own No. 55 Toyota in three restrictor-plate races this year, and he'll run the No. 30 Swan Racing Toyota at the Daytona 500.
Joey Logano's superspeedway resume isn't all that long, with only four years of Sprint Cup experience, but it's not bad by any means. He has 16 starts, four top-fives and seven top-10s, including three consecutive at Daytona.
After joining Penske Racing in the offseason, Logano will also benefit from moving to Ford. Unlike Toyota, which hasn't won a restrictor-plate race in Cup since 2008, Fords have won four of the past eight Daytona and Talladega events.
After struggling for much of his career on superspeedways, Kasey Kahne began to figure things out with Hendrick Motorsports last year.
Though he crashed out of the Daytona 500, Kahne finished fourth at Talladega in May, seventh at Daytona in July and won the pole for the October Talladega race. His average finish at Daytona is a respectable 17.3, and he's led laps in the past seven Talladega races.
Despite only leading four laps in 16 starts at Daytona, Carl Edwards is actually one of the best drivers in Sprint Cup at the track. His 16.6 average finish is seventh-best among full-time active drivers, and last year's Daytona 500 pole winner has eight top-10s in his past 11 starts there.
It's Talladega where Edwards struggles, with a 21.8 average finish and only four top-10s in 17 starts.
The younger Busch brother scored wins at both Daytona and Talladega in 2008, two of Toyota's only three superspeedway wins in Sprint Cup.
He's got a better average finish at Daytona (18.0 over 22.1 at Talladega), but last year, he ran better at Talladega, finishing second in the spring and third in the fall.
Jeff Burton is a consistent superspeedway driver who had a remarkable season last year on restrictor-plate tracks. He scored top-10s in all four races at Daytona and Talladega, including a second-place finish in the Coke Zero 400 that proved to be his best run of the year.
The 2006 Daytona 500 winner has actually been snakebitten in Florida ever since that victory, with only two top-10s in the subsequent 13 races there. His luck is somewhat better at Talladega, where he won the April 2011 race and qualified on the outside pole of both 2011 races.
But Jimmie Johnson hopes to redeem himself after being caught up in a second-lap accident at last year's Daytona 500.
David Ragan is one of the Ford drivers who has benefited from the brand's recent superspeedway successes.
He scored his first Cup win at Daytona in July 2011, and he would have swept both Daytona races if not for a penalty for crossing lanes before reaching the start-finish line on a late restart that dropped him back to 14th.
Ragan's average finish of 16.0 at Talladega is sixth-best among full-time Cup drivers.
Brad Keselowski took his first Sprint Cup victory at Talladega in April 2009 after spinning Carl Edwards on the last lap. Keselowski came back three years later to win there once again.
His average finish at Talladega is 12.2, with six top-10s in eight starts. But Keselowski hasn't had as much luck at Daytona, with only one top-10 in seven races and an average finish of 24.9—better than only a handful of other full-time Cup drivers.
With three superspeedway wins since 2007, Jamie McMurray is tied with Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart for most victories in that time. He won two in a row by scoring his last victory with Roush Fenway Racing at Talladega in October 2009 and his first with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in the 2010 Daytona 500.
It's true that Jeff Gordon hasn't scored a superspeedway win since 2007, when he swept both Talladega races. But he still has 12 wins at Daytona and Talladega, tops among active full-time drivers, including three Daytona 500s. Gordon also has 19 top-10s and three poles in 40 starts at each track.
If the benchmark for success at any track, or style of track, is a top-10 every two races, consider Kurt Busch a successful superspeedway driver.
He has 13 top-10s at Talladega and 12 top-10s, including 10 top-fives, at Daytona in 24 starts at each track. But three runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500, in 2003, 2005 and 2008, are as close as he's come to a points-paying restrictor-plate victory. Although, he did win the Budweiser Shootout and his Gatorade Duel with Penske Racing in 2011.
Tony Stewart is the king of Daytona's July race, taking victories in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012. He also added a win at Talladega in October 2008—his last before leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to buy into the former Haas CNC Racing.
He's posted average finishes of 15.8 at Talladega and 16.1 at Daytona, respectively, in 28 starts at each track.
Clint Bowyer won the last restrictor-plate races of the season at Talladega in 2010 and 2011 with Richard Childress Racing. He had a great shot at a third in a row last year until the race's final laps, eventually getting caught up in the 25-car pileup that ended the race.
His Daytona average finish of 15.8 is third-best among active full-time Sprint Cup drivers.
Matt Kenseth scored wins in the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500, as well as a win at Talladega last October when he avoided the massive 25-car pileup that took out most of the field on the last lap.
With finishes of first, third, third and first in the four restrictor-plate races last season, he was the best driver on those two tracks last season. And he will hope to carry on that success with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kevin Harvick has only three wins in 47 superspeedway starts, but he's usually close to the front when all is said and done. He has an average finish of 15.4 at both Daytona and Talladega, and one of those Daytona wins is the season-opening Daytona 500 in 2007.
With seven wins and 27 top-10s in a total of 52 superspeedway starts, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has an average finish of 14.5 at Daytona and 15.0 at Talladega. He's the only driver to have average finishes of 15.0 or less at both tracks over his career.
It'll be interesting to see how he rebounds from a concussion suffered at Talladega last October and an embarrassing testing incident at Daytona last month. But until somebody else proves otherwise, Earnhardt Jr. is the cream of the crop at restrictor-plate tracks.
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