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: Tony Stewart on Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick’s future, Cole Custer (video)

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Tony Stewart was our special in-studio guest during Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

The former three-time NASCAR Cup champ spent the entire hour with Carolyn Manno, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton, giving his unique take on all things NASCAR.

Among the things Stewart talked about were:

The future of Stewart-Haas Racing: “We don’t know exactly who’s going to be in the 10 car, but we’re working on it. We’re excited about the partnership with Smithfield. The 41 car is still up in the air. We fully intend on having (Kurt Busch) there next year, but it’s dictated on sponsorship. We need to make sponsorship for that car before we commit to him next year.”

What will Danica Patrick do after she leaves SHR: “I see a lot of options, really. Danica is one of the few people that has the ability to stay in NASCAR if she wants, go back to IndyCar, or go road racing. There’s not a lot of drivers that have been released this year that have the option to go do so many things. It shows how versatile and talented she is, to have that many options. It’s a matter of  what does she want to do, where her heart and mind is and what does she want to do for the next five, 10, 15 years.”

The potential of SHR Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer: “I’m really proud of Cole. For the first two years I knew Cole, he never spoke to me. For about 75 percent of the time he was in front of me, he couldn’t look me in the eyes, that’s how shy of a kid he is. When he puts that helmet on, it’s amazing the transformation. This kid is a talented race car driver.”

Check out the full video above to get more of Stewart’s observations.

 

 

 

NASCAR America: Josef Newgarden celebrates IndyCar championship (video)

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On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, we checked in with the new king of IndyCar racing, 2017 season Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.

Among the things the Knoxville, Tennessee native spoke about was the help he got in his amazing first season with Team Penske from all his teammates.

“My teammates were great, letting me just being part of that group right from the beginning and trying to contribute and help me learn so I could contribute and help us be stronger overall,” Newgarden said.

He also talked about the surge in U.S. drivers in the series, much like NASCAR is enjoying with several young drivers including another teammate, Ryan Blaney, who texted Newgarden at length to offer him congratulations and compared the youth movement in both racing series.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent that’s trying to show the way and prove themselves against the already proven people in the sport,” Newgarden said. “It’s a fascinating thing to watch.”

NASCAR America: Tony Stewart on state of NASCAR, stage racing and more (video)

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It was Tony Stewart Day at the NBC Sports Group headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut on Tuesday.

The former three-time NASCAR Cup champ made the rounds of the complex, starting in the morning with an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, and wrapping up things with an hour-long visit on NASCAR America.

One of the first things Stewart talked about with Carolyn Manno, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton was how busy he is in “retirement.” He may not be racing in the Cup series anymore, but he’s still plenty busy, including racing sprint cars, taking a bigger managerial role over the four Cup teams and one Xfinity team at Stewart-Haas Racing and even how he’s breeding white tail deer at his farm in Indiana.

“To be honest, I have more fun doing that (things like signing autographs and making appearances) now than when I was a driver,” Stewart said. “Now, walking through the garage, you’re still busy because you’ve got to get to where you go. The best part is you can kind of enjoy walking around more and have time to visit with people you don’t get a chance to see all the time.”

Stewart also sat down with the “Mayor” of NASCAR, NBC analyst Jeff Burton, to talk about the state of the sport. One thing that some may find surprising is that the old school Stewart likes some of the new things the sport has, including stage racing.

“I like the stage racing,” Stewart said. “It’s added something that’s unique, especially a third of the way through the race. Before, in the first half of the race, we didn’t worry so much about racing each other. … I like it, I think we’ve seen some unique strategies. … It’s been pretty exciting. I’m a big fan of the stage part.”

Stewart also talked with Burton about keeping up with technology, aerodynamics, track position, rules and more.

Check out the following video to hear Stewart out:

Brendan Gaughan among Xfinity playoff drivers unsure of 2018 plans

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — There’s seven races left in the NASCAR Xfinity season and Brendan Gaughan hasn’t “started thinking about it too much yet” if he’ll continue competing full-time next year.

That’s OK with Gaughan, who went on to say “I hope I’m still racing full-time.”

The 42-year-old driver for Richard Childress Racing is one of the 12 in the Xfinity playoffs, which begin at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Kentucky Speedway on NBCSN.

“Normally we know what we’re doing by now,” Gaughan said Tuesday. “This year we probably don’t, which is a little odd for us. I told you last year, if I don’t come back, I’m happy. If I do come back, it’ll because I’m happy. It’s more just are we still having fun, are we still competitive? We’re in the playoffs, so we’re still competitive.”

Gaughan is in his fourth year with RCR since returning to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2014. He said he’s once again committed to competing in the four Cup Series restrictor-plate races next year for Beard Motorsports.

“When someone uses the word ‘retirement,’ people love to throw that out with me,” Gaughan said. “You can say that all you want. I will never be done racing. My father still races one race a year. We race because we love to race. If I don’t race full-time, I promise you’ll still find me behind the wheel.”

Gaughan’s No. 62 Chevrolet is one of five cars RCR has fielded this year, including the No. 21 driven by fellow playoff driver Daniel Hemric and the No. 33 of Brandon Jones.

“I have a feeling (Richard Childress) is not going to do five Xfinity cars probably ever again,” Gaughan said.

That possibility was further backed by Hemric, who said he’s not sure where he’ll be racing in 2018 following his rookie season.

“I don’t know how exactly it’s all going to shake out,” Hemric said. “Everybody’s constantly trying to evolve and make sure you’re making progress day-to-day and I can say that we’ve done that. It looks like I will be racing, I’m just not sure in what yet and where along those lines.”

Brennan Poole, who is nearing the end of his second full-time season with Chip Ganassi Racing, said he has some sort of indication of where he’ll be come February.

“So I don’t know what I’m going to do yet next year,” Poole said. “I have an idea of what I’m going to do. Really excited about my future and where I’m at. I’m in good spirits, I’m not worried about anything. Definitely just want to get through these playoffs and do a good job and prove that I’m capable of being a Sunday (Cup) guy.

Matt Tifft, Joe Gibbs Racing’s only full-time driver in the Xfinity Series and a rookie, also addressed his situation for 2018.

“You’re always trying to work on things for the future,” Tifft said. “We’re trying to figure those things out now. But at the same time, I’m absolutely trying to prove that I belong here. That first win is still looming. Everybody knows this sport is performance driven and I understand that. I know what we need to do. It’s just figuring out the ways of how to do that and how to get myself better. ”

When would the 21-year-old driver like to know what’s in store for him?

“I would have liked to yesterday,” Tifft said. “We’re working on that. It’ll all fall into place when it needs to. That’s not my main concern right now. My main concern is what’s coming up this weekend.”

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