Debate all you want but numbers show who are favorites to win Sprint Cup title

1 Comment

Last week I wrote the latest Chase prediction numbers, showing that Clint Bowyer – even on the 16th place bubble – has an 89 percent chance of making it into the Chase.

His closest competitor via simulation and historical driver performance, Kasey Kahne, has a 7 percent chance of getting in – because he is too far back on points and his limited number of wins in recent years.

However, that led to some healthy debate – including one example from the guys on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, claiming that the “numbers” would have given Ryan Newman no chance in the Chase last year. Some of the callers also claimed that the numbers were not as accurate as they would like.

Well here’s the thing, we ran the numbers for 2014, exactly as we have been running the 2015 numbers.

And Ryan Newman’s chance to make it into the championship round was a healthy 18 percent.


“Image source: Andrew Maness, Pit Rho”

The numbers gave him a 76 percent of making it past the first cutoff point, a 50 percent chance of making it past the second cutoff, and an 18 percent chance of getting into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At the start of the Chase, the model gave him a 2 percent chance to win the title – and obviously that number grew as the Chase continued.

In the same way, we know in 2015 which drivers have performed well – and which drivers have not. We know where they are in the points standings. We know how they have done in this equipment and at upcoming tracks. That’s where we get the numbers. Each new race gives us new information to adjust the numbers. But for now this is what we know.

And what the numbers say – based on everything we know right now – is that Kevin Harvick has the best shot to win the title – at 25 percent. Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the other drivers with at least a 10 percent chance of winning the title as well.

Contrast that to Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, and Paul Menard. Collectively, they have such a tiny chance of winning the title. It’s not zero – but it’s way less than 10 percent, that’s for sure.

Their chances definitely are lower than the first group. Part of the issue with the Tradin’ Paint analysis was claiming each driver in the Chase would have an equal 1-in-16 chance of winning it all.  In March Madness, a No. 1 seed is a much bigger favorite than a No. 16 seed. In the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks wouldn’t have 50-50 odds if they played each other. In the NBA, you almost never see a champion seeded outside the top three. These are real trends, backed by historical performance. Sixteen drivers might make the Chase, but they are certainly not equal.

Let’s face it: that first group is stronger than this second group. Drivers in the second group could technically still win it all, but it won’t be what people expect.

And that’s why they run the races. Each week we have new results, new performances to add to our knowledge, new changes in the points standings, new eliminations. All those things cause an adjustment to the models. Clearly there are more than 16 guys who could be in the Chase right now, but once the Chase starts, that number can only be 16 – and it only goes down. By the final race it can only be four. Until they’re eliminated, everybody is still in it. But some people have a better chance than others.

Eric Chemi runs data journalism for our sister network CNBC, including a heavy dose of sports analytics. Prior to that, his NASCAR analytics have been part of television broadcasts to predict race winners, and he consulted for Sprint Cup teams on their strategy, statistics, data, and analytics. He graduated with an engineering degree from MIT.

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.