The Daytona 500 is coming up Sunday, and we know what that means.
Lots. Of. Crashes.
Any race fan intuitively knows that the Daytona 500 is famous for its numerous crashes, including the inevitable "Big One." Now we know EXACTLY how many, and which pit crews are most likely to need some extra hammers and duct tape. (We're looking at you, Brad Keselowski.)
According to 2001-14 race data, analyzed for CNBC by the engineers at PitRho.com, a leading NASCAR-data analysis firm, we know now that on average, 54 percent of drivers will be involved in a crash at a single restrictor plate race. That's over half the field!
Remember, this doesn't mean that half the field will necessarily drop out of the race. It does mean that over half the field will get into some form of caution-causing crash, most often requiring long repairs in the pits and/or garage.
The crash rate at Daytona (and Talladega, the only other restrictor plate track) is more than double—and almost triple—that of any other track. A restrictor plate is installed at the intake of an engine to curb its power. The plates limit top speeds and increase safety.
But not all drivers are equally crash worthy. Some get tangled up more than others:
Most drivers find themselves in the 40-60 percent range, just around the series average. At "almost 50 percent," it's basically a coin flip whether or not they can make it through the race unscathed. But some names stand out more than others—Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth tend to do a good job of staying safe, each with a crash rate at about 40 percent or less. Notice their names at the top of the chart, the good side to be on. Unsurprisingly, these drivers have won many plate races—and almost all of them have their own Daytona 500 victory.
My NBCSports colleague Dustin Long notices one driver in particular: Landon Cassill, an up-and-coming young driver. His crash rate is better than the stars we mentioned above. Last year, he finished in the top 12 three times out of the four plate races. He could be on his way to a future 500 win during his career. If you're looking for an undervalued bet, this might be the guy.
On the other hand, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are among the more well-known drivers who all crash out over 60 percent of the time, worse than the series average. It figures these guys don't have that many plate race wins—including a grand total of zero Daytona 500s. Maybe it's something about their temperament in the race car, balancing aggression with patience, or it could just be bad luck.
So if you're betting on who might make it to the checkered flag in one piece, these numbers should help guide you to make those picks.
Finally, we can see that some drivers tend to crash more—or less often—than we would expect based on their performance at regular race tracks. Drivers below the trendline do worse at plate races, and drivers above the line do better at plate races. This is a comparison to how they generally perform relative to everybody else at non-plate tracks. Consider Sam Hornish Jr. at the top of the grid, suggesting his crash rate at regular races is very high. Conversely, Austin Dillon is at the bottom, meaning that he rarely crashes in regular races—but does particularly poorly at Daytona and Talladega.