Chase Analytics: Road to Miami tough to forecast after Carl Edwards’ win

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Carl Edwards’ rain-shortened win at Texas guaranteed our second title contender, but it made the overall Chase picture for Homestead even more confusing.

That’s because Edwards was a dark horse to make it in. He’s reduced the opportunity for a stronger driver to advance, leaving a lot of good guys on the outside looking in.

We know that only two of these five top-quality drivers can transfer after this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth. Three of them are definitely going to be out. The computer model is leaning slightly toward Busch and Logano. Busch is the only one with a chance above 50 percent. Nobody in this group is a guarantee – not even close.

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Consider this fact to see how up-for-grabs these last two spots are: There is only a 25 percent chance that Busch and Logano will be the two who actually make it. That means there’s a 75 percent chance somebody from the lower group is going to break in.

Harvick in particular is intriguing. He’s way behind on points (17 behind the cut line), but his 29 percent chance to advance is almost entirely due to a 28 percent chance of winning Phoenix. Harvick only has a 1 percent chance to get in on points, effectively putting him in a win-or-bust scenario.

“There’s no doubt Harvick goes into Phoenix as the favorite,” said Josh Browne, former Sprint Cup crew chief and current co-founder at Pit Rho. “We don’t need advanced analytics to tell us Harvick has dominated at this track. Unfortunately, our model also doesn’t yet account for driver paybacks – and I would be surprised to see Harvick make it through Phoenix without a bump or two from the 3 car” because of an incident last week at Texas.   

The one driver we haven’t yet mentioned: Kurt Busch. He’s truly an outlier. He’s far back on points and isn’t considered as much of a threat to win. That’s why he only has a 2 percent chance to advance. If you are Jimmie Johnson or Edwards, he’s the guy you want to somehow get in, because you’d hope he’d be less of a threat at Homestead than anybody else.

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.

NASCAR America: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. talks Phoenix finish, racing roots

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins NASCAR America to go over his fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver also shares his racing origins in Mississippi and the hobbies he and girlfriend Danica Patrick share with each other.

Stenhouse is in his fifth full-time year competing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: Alaska

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NASCAR America continues its journey through the United States with the second chapter in “50 States in 50 Shows.”

Following South Alabama Speedway, the show features Capitol Speedway and Alaska Raceway Park in Alaska.

Owned by Nancy and Wes Wallace, Capitol Speedway is a 3/8th-mile oval and features sprint car racing and demolition derbies.

 

Kevin Harvick crew chief fined, suspended one race for encumbered finish

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Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, has been suspended for one NASCAR Cup Series race and fined $25,000 for an unapproved track bar slider assembly last weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

The penalty, a L1 infraction, results in an encumbered finish. Harvick placed sixth in the Camping World 500.

The No. 4 team has also been docked 10 driver and owner points. Harvick was seventh in the standings after four races. He trailed leader Kyle Larson by 61 points. The loss of points drops Harvick one spot to eighth behind Jamie McMurray.

Harvick has not won a race yet, which would qualify him for the playoffs.

MORE: Brad Keselowski closes crew chief for three races, team docked 35 driver points

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NASCAR docks Brad Keselowski, Team Penske 35 points; suspends crew chief Paul Wolfe

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NASCAR docked Brad Keselowski 35 points, suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined Wolfe $65,000 because Keselowski’s car failed inspection after finishing fifth in last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR also docked the team 35 owner points for the L1 infraction. NASCAR stated that Keselowski’s result is an encumbered finish.

NASCAR cited Keselowski’s car for failing weights and measurements on the laser platform. NASCAR stated in Wednesday’s penalty report that the team failed the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station. 

MORE: NASCAR suspends crew chief Rodney Childers one race

Team Penske issued a statement Wednesday:

“We have acknowledged the penalties levied against the No. 2 team following last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The race cars returned to the race shop today and we are in the process of evaluating the area in question. In the meantime, we have decided Brian Wilson will serve as Brad Keselowski’s crew chief at Auto Club Speedway while we evaluate our approach relative to today’s penalties.”

The penalty drops Keselowski from second in the standings to fourth heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

The more significant issue is how this could impact Keselowski, who already has a win, in the playoffs.

The top 10 in points before the playoffs begin earn additional points. The points leader earns 15 playoff points. The driver second in the standings earns 10 playoff points, the driver third in the standings earns eight playoff points, the driver fourth in the standings earns seven playoff points. It goes down to the driver 10th in the standings earning one playoff point.

Those playoff points carry through the first three rounds, which is different from last year. Falling behind in the regular season – or losing points because of a penalty – could have ramifications in the playoffs. 

“I think it’s real important to explain why points matter this year,” Keselowski said on Fox Sports 1’s “Race Hub” on Wednesday night. “Last year, you got a win and you locked in and you got to the next round. This year with points, you still lock in with wins. The difference is there’s a huge points bonus for having the most points at the end of the season that carries all the way through the playoffs, and you only get that bonus if you’re one of the best cars and leading up front at the end of the regular season, which requires having a lot of points. Thirty-five points is a pretty big deal, and so is 10 points for Kevin (Harvick) and his team.”

 

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