Exactly. Come in late, you miss nutrition, hydration, maintenance, roadbook quality time, etc. You get less sleep, you get less to eat, and you leave when you'll be in more dust, on a more torn up track, and get caught by the cars sooner.
Toby Younger is my hero- he made that race as hard as it could be made and still grinned every time I saw him.
The easiest Dakars are for the guys like me that rode fast-ish but not actually fast. The guys at the front have the wear and tear of wanting it every foot and holding it wide all the time. The guys in back never get a break.
While I'm holding forth on my favorite subject in the world, a few notes on pace. IMO, the most dangerous riders in Dakar are the 10th-35th place guys, who all think they should be up front, and take chances to try to get there. The guys who actually are up front belong there, and the guys in ~40th-100th have most of the skills but probably a little more self-control. Some of the 100th and back guys are going to suffer amazingly and persevere regardless, and to me, that's a very beautiful thing too.
The top riders are on the same pace all over the world. Kurt was fast here, he was fast in Dakar. Same with Jonah, Quinn, Chris B, etc. The middle of the pack is more varied. There are guys with amazing skills (Chris Birch comes to mind) who struggle a little with the raw speed of the event, and guys with somewhat more mediocre skills who thrive on it- so you wind up with a crazy mixture of folks riding near each other, some of whom thrive when it gets nasty, some of whom thrive when it gets straight and pinned, but who nevertheless finish near each other on net time.
My eyes are on Mike Johnson. He's a super nice guy, legitimately fast, I think he had a bad day yesterday but I don't think they'll all be bad for him, he's got the pace to run quite a bit further forward.