Analytics: Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. face long odds at Talladega

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Obviously, the big story coming out of Kansas was Matt Kenseth‘s spin and Joey Logano‘s second win in a row.

It’s easy to see how the numbers would have played out if Kenseth had won instead of Logano. Kenseth would be in the next round rather than the furthest driver from it. We already had shown a week ago that his only way into the next round was to win at Kansas or Talladega. He missed his best shot.

Logano’s second win hasn’t changed much for him. He and Harvick still basically are neck and neck in the overall title hunt. Harvick’s 16th-place finish actually was the second-worst among the 12 remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers. Harvick’s odds to advance to Round 3 actually dipped to 84 percent from 88 percent last week. Logano now leads the title odds 26-24 percent over Harvick, reversing their numbers from last week.

Here are all the probabilities for making it to Round 3 and beyond.

title chances

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

All of that can wait until we see who makes it past Talladega. While many drivers do get random finishes at plate races, a few names stand out on the list as having a better-than-expected chance of finishing up front.

It’s well known that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the best plate racer in the field, and he will need a win. He currently is 11th in the standings and 31 points behind the eighth-place cutoff. There’s only a 5 percent chance he can make it to the third round on points (which could happen if a lot of drivers ahead of him crash or have other problems), but there’s a substantial 18 percent chance of him winning on Sunday and advancing.

These are the career finishing positions at plate races for the 12 drivers, provided by Maness at Pit Rho. They are ranked by average finish. Earnhardt is the best, and Martin Truex Jr. is at the bottom.

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Earnhardt has strong performances on plate tracks with many top-five and top-10 finishes along with random results outside the top 10. Harvick is similar, except he doesn’t have as many top fives.

What might stand out most to casual observers is the strength of Kurt Busch. He has done extremely well on plate tracks in his career with a very strong average finish, including a huge portion of them right up front. Busch hasn’t won a Cup race at Daytona or Talladega.

You’ll notice the bottom two rows of drivers (from Brad Keselowski to Truex) show finishes that look almost entirely random. They are just as likely to finish up front as they are in the middle or the back.

Kyle Busch is among those drivers, and he’s below the Chase cutoff line. Count that as two problems. Busch has not done all that well on plate tracks in his career, and he’ll need to perform better than average to make it to the next round. That’s why his chance of advancing is only 55 percent, or barely better than a coin flip.

A lot of these drivers, such as Kyle Busch, don’t have to win to advance because much of the probability of advancing could come from simply finishing anywhere in the middle of the pack while other Chasers get caught in wrecks.

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