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

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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.

Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.


Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.