Chase Analytics: Forecasting the unknown that is Talladega

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Kevin Harvick’s biggest challenge was simply advancing to the next round, and if he could do that, he would immediately go right back to being the title favorite. It’s what we talked about previously, and that’s what we did.

When the Chase started, Brad Keselowski had the second-best chance at the title. But now he finds himself on the outside looking in. The story is the same with him. He only has a 31 percent chance of advancing past Talladega, but if he can do it, his title odds will jump back up to double digits. His bottleneck right now is this weekend, not the future races.

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Look at Matt Kenseth. He’s well ahead on points, but he only has a 98.3 percent title chance of making it. It’s high, but it’s not 100 percent. Remember we saw Jimmie Johnson fail to advance in a round last year even with a 97 percent shot.

Most of the other drivers down the list are straightforward. Talladega is random, it’s crazy, and you really don’t know what’s going to happen. Anybody could win and advance. Anybody could crash and be eliminated.

Because it’s Talladega there’s at least a 70 percent chance that our current group of eight advancing drivers will not be what actually happens.

The one driver that we had hard a time figuring out: Chase Elliott. Because he has such a short Cup history, we had a few options for how to model it. Do we just focus on his own Cup plate career? Do we go with a combination of his Cup and Xfinity races? Or do we go with the fact that he’s taken over Jeff Gordon’s seat, which had top-notch equipment and solid plate results.

In the end, we decided to use Elliott’s combined Cup+Xfinity record. That gave him a 7 percent chance of advancing, but the other options could have either been 0 percent or 28 percent. He’s truly the wild card because we don’t know enough about him yet. In any case, he’s so far back in points that he’s going to have to win or hope that a lot of drivers not finish.

One minor note that hasn’t been mentioned much this season. There are only 40 cars competing each week, instead of 43. That means if you crash and finish dead last, you’re not as far back as you would be in the past. 40th place is only 30 spots behind the top 10, rather than 33 spots. That’s a slightly better cushion for bad days. And in the case of this weekend, it helps Kenseth and Kyle Busch (who are up 29 and 27 points from the cut off).

If you’re really interested, here’s a chart showing the history of each driver in plate races. In his limited career, Austin Dillon has the best average finish.

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HOW THE PREDICTIONS WORK

With the help of Andrew Maness from 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.