Chase Analytics: Toyotas strong pick to join Jimmie Johnson in Miami

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After a gutsy win by Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville Speedway, he’s locked into the championship round in Miami and shot up to the top of our title favorites.

The model didn’t fully believe in Johnson earlier this Chase, but his recent performance changed the computer’s mind. Johnson’s title chances have jumped from 9 to 10 to 23 percent in the last three weeks.

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Martinsville’s biggest loser was Kevin Harvick. Finishing 20th, Harvick’s title chances fell to 15 percent compared to 31 percent last week. He’s had four finishes of 20th or worse in the past 10 races. His 41 percent chance of advancing to the final four is mostly due to his ability to win in this round. Because of his recent inconsistency, he only has a 19 percent chance to get in on points.

You can think of the eight drivers in three groups: There’s Johnson by himself in the first group. Then you have five drivers, all with similar title odds between 13 and 17 percent.

Behind Johnson, we still see the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing: Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch are the three favorites to join Johnson at Homestead. In fact, all the Toyotas combined have a 47 percent chance of winning the title.

“The Hendrick stable seems to have found some recent speed at the 1.5-mile tracks,” said Josh Browne, former Sprint Cup crew chief and co-founder at Pit Rho. “With the 48’s recent finishes at Kansas and Charlotte in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go back-to-back this weekend. It’s tough to count out Harvick and his team – however, the mathematical model is not necessarily bullish on him.” 

Entering Martinsville, we discussed how Johnson and Hamlin needed this race as their best way to qualify for the final round. They combined to lead 140 laps. Unfortunately for Hamlin though, he didn’t win. He still has a good 62 percent chance of advancing, but that means there’s a 38 percent chance he won’t make it. A lot of risk for him.

At the bottom, there’s our final group: Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Each has about a 10 percent chance of advancing and a measly two percent title odds. The two are trailing in points. It’s going to be hard for them to come back.

Surprisingly, Harvick is only two points ahead of Kurt Busch in the actual standings. But their odds of advancing are very different from each other – a bigger gap than we’d typically see from just two points. That’s because of what we talked about earlier: Harvick has a good shot of winning an upcoming race; Busch does not.

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 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.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch questions Xfinity rules package at Indy

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Kyle Busch isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he certainly did so after Saturday’s  Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR implemented a number of changes to make the racing closer, tighter and more exciting — including restrictor plates, a larger rear spoiler, aero ducts, and a smaller splitter — and achieved all that on many fronts.

But not for the younger Busch brother, who wasn’t pleased with the rules package. Was it actually designed to specifically slow him down rather than to even out things for the entire field?

Or was he just simply upset because he didn’t win a third Xfinity race in a row at IMS?

Check out how our NASCAR America analysts gauged the Xfinity changes in the above video.

 

TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith passes away

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Mark Smith, owner of TriStar Motorsports, died Saturday at his home, after a long battle with cancer, the team announced Monday. He was 63.

He began his racing career building engines for his brother Jack’s drag car in the 1970s. He moved his family from the West Coast in the early 1990s to pursue a career in NASCAR. He was the owner of TriStar Motorsports and Pro Motor Engines.

TriStar Motorsports fields the No. 14 in the Xfinty Series with JJ Yeley and the No. 72 in the Cup Series with Cole Whitt. The team stated the team will continue operations under the management of Bryan Smith, son of Mark Smith.

“It was dad’s dream to own and operate a NASCAR team,” Bryan Smith said. “He devoted his life to that dream and his family plans to honor his wishes by continuing our efforts in his memory.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Victory Junction Gang victoryjunction.org or NOVA (National Organization for Vehicle Access, part of the BraunAbility) novafunding.org.

The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. ET, Aug. 1 at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home, Mooresville, North Carolina. They have created a Facebook page where you are encouraged to leave a story for the family to enjoy. (facebook.com/Remembering-Mark-Smith-301261653675224)

NASCAR America: Analysts break down Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. wreck (video)

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Given how wild the Brickyard 400 played out, the big wreck between race leaders Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t exactly surprising.

Rather, with the way the race transpired from the opening lap, was the Busch/Truex wreck almost inevitable?

Truex got loose and washed up into the left rear of Busch’s car, sending both drivers and their respective cars into the outside retaining walls, hitting hard and ending their respective days.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about the wreck from Monday’s show in the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. recaps wild Brickyard 400 (video)

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — who will become part of our NBC Sports Group in 2018 — looked back on a wild and intense Brickyard 400.

Earnhardt was one of several drivers whose day came to an early ending — in Junior’s case when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne‘s car, destroying his radiator in the process.

All the mayhem and mishaps could be linked to over-aggressive driving, Earnhardt said, saying that every driver was in “attack mode,” especially on restarts.

Check out Junior in the video above.