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.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)


Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings



Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”