It’s a logical conclusion that NASCAR drivers become champions because they perform better than their peers across a wide spectrum of racetracks.
Some perfect examples are drivers who have won Sprint Cup championships since 2002: six-time champ Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, three-time champ Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth.
While they may like certain types of tracks, be they short, mid-range or superspeedways, their overall performance suggests superiority on tracks of all sizes.
To become a champion, they have to – and typically do – perform equally well across the board, whether it’s at this week’s venue, Richmond International Raceway, or next week’s, Talladega Superspeedway.
“It appears that champion-winning drivers perform about the same on a short track (under 1 mile) as they do on longer tracks. For non-champion drivers, the effect is much more pronounced, as their performance is more track-dependent.
“For every driver that has won a championship since 2002, their average finish on long tracks and short tracks is basically the same—either zero or one position different.”
But with other drivers, there can be notable differences.
For example, Kyle Larson, who grew up racing on short tracks, actually has performed better on longer tracks (1.5 miles or more) thus far than on NASCAR short tracks.
Then there are drivers such as Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin. They, too, grew up on short-track racing, and their NASCAR statistics indicate that they perform better overall on a short track than a 1.5 miler or larger.
“It’s an interesting way to try to delineate between the elites and the next level down: What makes a champion?” PitRho co-founder and former NASCAR crew chief Josh Browne told CNBC. “Track length DOES matter for some drivers—but the elite guys like Harvick and Johnson are just good everywhere.”
The cars of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones will start at the rear after each car failed inspection twice before Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Busch enters the race 18 points above the cutline to transfer to the second round of the Cup playoffs. Saturday’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Busch was to have started ninth.
This is the second playoff race in a row that Busch’s team has failed inspection twice before the race and had to start at the rear. Busch started at the rear last weekend at Richmond. He finished sixth.
Hamlin has already advanced to the second round via points. He was to have started seventh.
“We’ve got 500 laps,” he said. “If we’re good enough, we’ll get to the front. Not really too worried about it in that sense.”
Jones is not in the playoffs. He would have started 20th.
NASCAR also announced that the cars of Corey LaJoie and Bubba Wallace will start at the rear for unapproved adjustments. JJ Yeley will go to the rear for a driver change since he was not listed on the preliminary entry list for the No. 15 car.
Wallace was to have started 27th. LaJoie was to have started 30th. The No. 15 was to have started 32nd with Brennan Poole as the driver.
Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, TV channel
Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Bristol:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines is at 7:38 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:45 p.m.
PRERACE: Cup haulers enter the garage (screening and equipment unload) at 10:30 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 12:30 p.m. Garage opens at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:10 p.m. Driver introductions will be at 7:15 p.m. The invocation is at 7:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Joe Nichols, three-time Grammy nominee, at 7:31 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.
That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.
If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.
– Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.
– Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.
– Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.
– Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.
– Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.
– Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.
– Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.
– Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.
– Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.
– William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.
Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.
Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.
Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.