Analysis: The fastest cars in a given Cup race are winning less often


Having the fastest car in a NASCAR race does not guarantee victory. This has been especially true in 2021.

Generally, the fastest car in a given Cup Series race is victorious 40% of the time, a rule of thumb dating back to the inception of NASCAR Loop Data in 2005. Given the series, this rate makes sense. While a speed ranking is indeed the statistic most correlative with finishing position, Cup Series races often last 400 miles or longer, lending to positional jostles influenced by strategy, driver talent or culminating scenarios which might halt an obvious winner.

But this year, through 22 races, the fastest car in an individual race, based on its median lap rank, isn’t bringing home trophies at the usual clip.

The fastest car doubled as the winning car just six times — a rate of 27.3% — this season. Kyle Larson, whose Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 car ranks first overall in average median lap (averaging a team’s median lap rank for each race) — converted four races into wins with the fastest car, at Las Vegas, Charlotte, Sonoma and Nashville. Martin Truex Jr. (at Darlington) and Kurt Busch (two weeks ago at Atlanta) were the only other drivers to successfully navigate a race’s fastest car to victory lane.

Why is the rate lower than usual? On a macro scale, there’s a lot to which we can point, such as the lack of practice and use of the initial green-flag runs (toward the competition caution and the end of the first stage) as a de-facto feeling-out process, something James Small, Truex’s crew chief, alluded to after their win in Phoenix when their No. 19 car — ranked as the 12th-fastest through the first stage — fared as the fastest car during the final stage.

The lack of qualifying also tears this relationship asunder at times; to wit, William Byron won at Homestead with a car that ranked as the fastest by a wide margin in the race’s final stage. But he started 31st — thanks in part to his 33rd-place finish the week prior on the Daytona road course — buried in traffic and relegated to dirty-air laps during the initial runs. It was Kurt Busch, not Byron, who had the fastest median lap in the Homestead race, a possible harbinger for the former’s win on the 1.54-mile Atlanta track.

But last season’s slate, which utilized similar weekend procedures, saw the fastest cars win 36.1% of the time, a drop but one more in line with the modern average. On a micro scale, this year has seen its fair share of fluky moments involving a race’s fastest car, helping drive down the win percentage even further. Let’s consider some of these odd scenarios:

Chase Elliott, Daytona road course (Feb. 21)

Turning the best lap overall and the best median lap, Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car was the shining vehicle of February’s race on the Daytona road course. Elliott led nearly 63% of the event and held the lead until he pitted under caution in advance of the Lap 59 restart.

As other cars eschewed pit road, Elliott restarted 11th. The peloton pinched Elliott off the racing surface and onto the grass where he impressively avoided serious damage but lost positions:

And after climbing back into the top five with six laps to go, he aborted an attempt at a cross-over pass on Brad Keselowski and, when trying to blend back into the preferred line, Denny Hamlin’s trailing car didn’t relent:

Elliott, in the fastest car he’s had in any race this year relative to the rest of the field, finished 21st.

Kyle Larson, Atlanta (March 21)

In a race that saw Larson lap all but 13 cars, it concluded when high-falloff aficionado Ryan Blaney erased a three-second disadvantage to Larson on the final green-flag run and made the go-ahead pass with nine laps to go.

In the moment, it was unthinkable; Larson’s car was a juggernaut. But in hindsight, the No. 5 car was a sitting duck for a race ending in this exact scenario ahead of a driver who prides himself on his ability to nurse tires on tracks with heavy degradation.

Larson’s first lap clocking in at 33.5 seconds — representing a full 1.3 seconds worth of falloff — was lap 309; Blaney’s first lap at 33.5 came 12 laps later. Blaney may have been the only driver remaining in the race with speed (his median lap ranked as the third fastest) and good enough track position to rope in Larson. Kurt Busch turned the race’s second-fastest median lap but was involved in an accident on lap 113. Kyle Busch, ranked fourth, suffered a pit-road speeding penalty on lap 221. Elliott, ranked fifth, suffered an engine failure.

All but one of Larson’s most dangerous competitors that day remained, but that one proved one too many.

Christopher Bell, Bristol dirt (March 29)

In 54 laps, Christopher Bell produced lap times no other driver could duplicate with 253 laps on Bristol’s fickle dirt layout. The three-time Chili Bowl winner exited the race after a crash that additionally eliminated Larson and Chase Briscoe, also drivers with dirt racing origins and eyeballed as potential race winners.

Kyle Larson, first race of Pocono doubleheader (June 26)

Larson came into the Pocono weekend on a three-race streak (not including the All-Star Race at Texas) in which he had the fastest vehicle. His car during Pocono’s Saturday race was equally fast and despite a multitude of opposing pit strategies happening to spite him, no one could deny him a spot near the front of the field in the closing laps.

After breaking Alex Bowman’s aero-block with four laps to go, Larson’s one-second lead when taking the white flag evaporated with a left front tire blowout, a scene reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt’s last-lap loss in the 1990 Daytona 500.

Austin Cindric, Road America (July 4)

Team Penske’s Austin Cindric entered the Road America race weekend as a rare road course ringer with the speed and chops necessary to potentially win the race. In that regard, he didn’t disappoint.

After qualifying fifth, his No. 33 car turned the fastest median lap of the day and he eventually led two laps before breaking a rear gear. He was relegated to a 38th-place finish; however, his team made history, becoming the first part-time team to produce the fastest car (per timing and scoring data) in a Cup race since Wood Brothers Racing did it in the 2011 Daytona 500 with driver Trevor Bayne.

With 14 races remaining this season, there’s plenty of time for the win percentage of each race’s fastest car to progress towards the 40% average. Regardless, this year has witnessed some truly bizarre moments that impacted what, on paper, was the best car on its day.

NASCAR fines Daniel Suarez $50,000 for pit road incident


NASCAR fined Daniel Suarez $50,000 for running into the cars of Alex Bowman and teammate Ross Chastain on pit road after last weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas.

Suarez was upset after a potential top-five finish was lost in an incident in overtime.

MORE: Appeals Panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers 

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“It’s uncharacteristic of Daniel,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s no excuse for what happened.”

Appeals panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers


Alex Bowman is back leading the points after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team Wednesday. The Appeals Panel also rescinded the 10-point playoff to each Hendrick driver and team.

The Appeals Panel found that Hendrick violated the rule by modifying the hood louvers on the cars of Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Josh Berry at Phoenix. The louvers were taken after practice that weekend.

The Appeals Panel kept the $100,000 fine and four-race suspension to each Hendrick crew chief: Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris and Rudy Fugle. All four sat out the past two races, meaning they’ll miss this weekend’s race at Richmond and next weekend’s race on the dirt at Bristol before returning the following weekend at Martinsville.

The Appeals Panel did not give a reason for its decision.

Bowman had been 16th in the standings with the 100-point penalty. He now has a 15-point lead on Ross Chastain after getting all those points back.

Byron goes from 22nd to third after getting his points back. He’s 29 points behind Bowman, 14 points behind Chastain and five points ahead of Kyle Busch. Byron also gets his 10 playoff points back for his wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Larson goes from 27th to ninth with getting his points back.

“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond (Raceway).”

NASCAR stated its displeasure with part of the penalty being rescinded.

“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book. However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”

The panelists on the appeal were former driver Bill Lester, Kelly Housby and Dixon Johnston.

Here is the updated points

1. Alex Bowman       226 points

2. Ross Chastain      211

3. William Byron       197

4. Kyle Busch           192

5. Joey Logano        186

6. Kevin Harvick       186

7. Christopher Bell   184

8. Ryan Blaney         177

9. Kyle Larson          170

10. Austin Cindric     166

11. Martin Truex Jr.   165

12. Brad Keselowski 162

13. Tyler Reddick       161

14. Denny Hamlin      161

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 159

16. Chris Buescher     157

17. Daniel Suárez        144

18. Corey LaJoie         139

19. Michael McDowell 125

20. Ty Gibbs                 118

21. Bubba Wallace      103

22. AJ Allmendinger    103

23. Erik Jones                99

24. Chase Briscoe         96

25. Todd Gilliland          95

26. Austin Dillon            93

27. Noah Gragson        86

28. Aric Almirola            70

29. Ryan Preece           69

30. Harrison Burton      66

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 1st
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.