Analytics: It’s Harvick and Logano vs. the field for title

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Joey Logano won Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and is moving to the next round. That’s the easy part.

Kevin Harvick finally had a drama-free race. He’s well ahead of the game with an 88 percent chance of making it to the third round.

Harvick and Logano are the two clear favorites in the Chase. Combined, they have a 50 percent chance of winning the title. To put it in other words, it’s Harvick and Logano vs. the field.

Much more interesting are two drivers below the cutoff line – Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. The two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers had fast cars but poor finishes at Charlotte.

Despite all that, Busch still has a 51 percent chance of advancing to the next round. Kenseth is in a worse spot – only a 25 percent chance of making it through.

chase odds 5

The numbers come from a prediction model designed by both myself and Andrew Maness at racing analytics firm Pit Rho.

When we break down those percentages, we can see that Busch’s path to advance is more likely to come from points – not from a win. He has a 29 percent chance of running well enough in the next two races to advance without winning. That’s higher than the 21 percent chance we give him to win either race (Kansas and Talladega). Despite how upset Busch was in his postrace interview, he shouldn’t make drastic strategy changes. A couple of his better-than-average finishes would suffice. He has a better bet to do that than gambling for a win.

Kenseth’s path is very different. He has a 20 percent chance to win a race, but only a 5 percent chance of making it on points. Kenseth’s team should be trying to gamble for wins. In fact, Kenseth is the only driver of the 12 who now has a lower chance of advancing on points rather than wins. He should be the biggest risk-taker.

To provide context. Kyle Busch is 10th in the standings – but he is virtually the same number of points behind first (23) as he is ahead of 12th (22). That’s how much Kenseth, ranked last among the 12 remaining Chase contenders, trails in points and why he needs to win.

On the other hand, Ryan Newman is six points behind the cutoff but has a 45 percent chance of making it on points – which is more than 10 times a better bet than his measly 4 percent chance of winning one of the next two races.  He didn’t win a race last year but was the runner-up in the championships finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the numbers suggest he has a shot of doing that again.

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, and he has consulted for Sprint Cup teams on strategy, statistics, data, and analytics. He graduated with an engineering degree from MIT. You can follow him on Twitter @ericchemi.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

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