Despite win, Jimmie Johnson still has sixth-best chance to win the championship

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Yes, we know Jimmie Johnson got his win at Charlotte, and that locked him into the Round of 8. But that doesn’t make him the favorite to win the championship.

That position goes to Brad Keselowski, who has a 20 percent chance to win the championship. He’s ahead of four other drivers in the teens, including Matt Kenseth (16 percent), Kevin Harvick (13 percent), Kyle Busch (11.1 percent), and Martin Truex, Jr. (10.9 percent). It’s only after all of those drivers do we see Johnson come in at 9 percent.

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Johnson’s performance throughout the season hasn’t shown he’s up there with this year’s best cars – so even his recent performance notwithstanding, we’re still looking at the usual suspects.

Looking at the probability of who advances to the Round of 8, you’ll notice a big gap between Carl Edwards at 75 percent and Harvick at 51 percent, separating two packs of drivers. The five drivers who had problems last weekend really fell behind. In the case of Harvick, however, notice that his chances to advance to the Championship 4 and to be the champion are still very high relative to his 51 percent chance of advancing.

Basically what that means is if he can overcome the problems at Charlotte, he’s still a top threat to win the title. His bigger issue is actually right now, as opposed to the later rounds.

“A lot of Chasers had problems last weekend that had little to do with speed,” said Josh Browne, a former Sprint Cup crew chief and now co-founder at Pit Rho. “I’d expect to see the same cars up front this weekend at Kansas.”

Also interesting is how even Keselowski and Kenseth, the two top drivers beyond Johnson, only have 92-93 percent chances of advancing. Consider Kenseth: He’s up 31 points over ninth place. Typically we’d expect to see higher numbers here. The fact that he’s not closer to 100 percent is answered by one word: Talladega.

“We’ll surely see a mad scramble among the 12 Chase drivers to get a win before Talladega,” said Browne. “Everyone’s still got a decent shot at making it to the next round because of that dang track.”

HOW THE PREDICTIONS WORK

With the help of Andrew Maness from the racing analytics firm Pit Rho, we ran the numbers to show every driver’s shot of moving through each round of the Chase. The mathematical model was designed by both Maness and me, using past driver performance to predict future results. By running 100,000 simulations of how the rest of the season might play out, we see the most likely outcomes.

Eric Chemi runs data journalism for our sister network CNBC, including a heavy dose of sports analytics. Prior to that, his NASCAR forecasts have been on Sprint Cup television broadcasts, and he has consulted for Sprint Cup teams on strategy, statistics, data, and analytics. He graduated with an engineering degree from MIT.

Kyle Busch wins Stage 2 of Brickyard 400; Dale Earnhardt Jr. out after accident on restart

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Kyle Busch continued his domination of the Brickyard 400 by winning Stage 2 of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Busch, who has led 85 of the race’s 160 laps, led the final 13 laps of the stage. Busch also won Stage 1.

Busch restarted ninth on Lap 75 after eight cars stayed out of the pits during the preceding caution. He passed Ryan Blaney to return to the lead on Lap 87.

The top 10 after 100 laps were Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Blaney, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s final Brickyard 400 ended early when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne on the Lap 75 restart. The collision smashed in the front of his No. 88 Chevrolet and damaged the radiator, which began trailing smoke and brought the caution back out. Earnhardt went to the garage with his sixth DNF through the first 20 races of the year.

“We had a great car, I was having a lot of fun, the car was fast, we had a top-10 car for sure,” Earnhardt told NBCSN. “It’s frustrating because I really enjoyed being out there.

“Hopefully, our luck’s going to turn around. It’s been pretty tough and this is a difficult one to put up with.”

The race’s second caution for an accident occurred on Lap 57 when David Ragan spun in Turn 1 and collected Jeffrey Earnhardt and JJ Yeley. Earnhardt and Yeley were able to continue, but the severe damage to Ragan’s No. 38 Ford ended his day.

Yeley’s day ended when he brought out another caution on Lap 70 when his No. 7 Chevrolet lost his right-front tire and hit the outside wall.

The Brickyard 400 is scheduled to end on Lap 160.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last Brickyard 400 ends early after making contact

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s hopes of finally winning a Brickyard 400 in his final career appearance in the mid-summer classic ended abruptly on Lap 77 of Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt made contact with the rear of the No. 6 of Trevor Bayne, causing significant damage to the front end and radiator of Earnhardt’s No. 88.

Shortly after that, smoke began to billow from the rear of Earnhardt’s car. He didn’t take the car to pit road, going straight to the garage instead, his day officially over.

“There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping and caused a chain reaction,” Earnhardt told NBC. “I got into the back of the 6 car (Trevor Bayne), they were all getting into each other, and just knocked the radiator out of it.

“We had a great car, I was having a lot of fun, the car was fast, we had a top-10 car for sure. It’s frustrating because I really enjoyed being out there.”

Earnhardt now has just six races to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs. He’s pretty much in a must-win situation if he hopes to make the 10-race playoffs.

“Hopefully, our luck’s going to turn around,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been pretty tough and this is a difficult one to put up with.”

Earnhardt is the second Hendrick Motorsports driver to see his day come to an early end. Chase Elliott suffered engine failure on Lap 45.

 

Engine issue ends Chase Elliott’s Brickyard 400 hopes early

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Chase Elliott‘s hope of winning the Brickyard 400 went up in smoke about one-quarter of the way through Sunday’s 24th edition of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Elliott had some issues with his engine that brought him to pit road. After his team looked over the car, it sent him back out on the racetrack and shortly after, smoke began coming out of the rear of his Chevrolet on Lap 44. Elliott took his car to the garage, his day officially over.

“We don’t know, it was some type of motor issue,” Elliott told NBC of the apparent cause of the engine failure. “We went down a cylinder and then started blowing smoke out of the pipes. I’ve been racing Hendrick engines since 2013 and this is the first engine problem I’ve ever had. … We’ll move on to next week and see what we have there.”

Elliott came into the race hoping to repeat what his father did in the latter’s win in the 2002 Brickyard 400.

 

Kyle Busch leads Brickyard 400 at end of Stage 1; Chase Elliott out due to engine problems

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Pole-sitter Kyle Busch led all 50 laps to win the first stage of the Brickyard 400.

Busch is seeking to win his first Cup race in his last 36 starts since capturing last year’s Brickyard 400.

The top 10 after 50 laps were Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Denny Hamlin finished the stage in 24th after he pitted twice under the competition caution to fix damage from contact with Ryan Newman on his first trip down pit road.

Chase Elliott is out of the race after his No. 24 Chevrolet blew an engine on Lap 45. Elliott had begun dropping off the pace around Lap 20 and he was a lap down after an extended stop during the competition caution.

It is the first time Elliott has lost an engine in his Cup career.

The first caution of the race occurred on Lap 9 when Corey LaJoie hit the wall in Turn 3. During the caution the field was brought to pit road on Lap 12 ahead of severe weather.

The race was red flagged for lightning before it began raining. The red flag lasted one hour, 47 minutes and three seconds and was lifted at 4:47 p.m.

The race went back to green on Lap 18.

The competition caution originally scheduled for Lap 20 was pushed back to Lap 30.

Stage 2 will end on Lap 100 with the race scheduled to go 160 laps.