Dr. Diandra: Sciencing Out Phoenix Raceway

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A deep dive into the track and stage points will help you finalize your fantasy lineup and get you ready for today’s race.

Meet the Track

Phoenix Raceway is designed to torture crew chiefs.

A sketch of the shape of Charlotte Motor Speedway, showing its symmetryMost oval and tri-oval tracks are symmetric: One side is the mirror image of the other. If you print out the diagram of Charlotte Motor Speedway and fold it along the red line, the right side of the track overlies the left side.

Crew chiefs love symmetry because it makes their jobs easier. If their car works in Turns 1 & 2 of a symmetric track, it should work well in Turns 3 & 4, too.

Now meet Phoenix Raceway.

Phoenix (along with its big cousin Pocono) is about as far from symmetric as it gets for non-road courses. Just try to find an axis about which you can fold this track and have it line up. (Spoiler: you can’t.)

The track’s shape isn’t its only asymmetry. The progressive banking is 8-9 degrees in Turns 1 & 2, and 10-11 degrees in Turns 3 & 4. While a two- or three-degree difference seems small, it’s enough to prevent crew chiefs from optimizing their cars for both sets of turns. The dogleg is almost a fifth turn, with banking that rises to 11 degrees.

Lower banking and a 1-mile length produce the lowest speeds of any track so far this year. Lower speeds mean less aerodynamic downforce, so the suspension setup becomes even more important. Crew chiefs can either make the car really good in one set of turns and not as good in the other, or choose a compromise setup that makes the car okay at both ends of the track. Then it’s up to the driver to find the line that best suits his driving strengths and style. Phoenix rewards teams that can adapt and improve their car during the race.

Stage Points Under the Microscope

Every season has its own quirks — new drivers, new teams, and drivers with new teams. But this year, there’s also a brand-new car. That doesn’t mean historical data is useless — but it can lead you in the wrong direction if you’re not careful. Here are a few hints on how to use the information we do have to make smart picks.

Don’t Rely Too Much on This Year’s Data – Yet

NASCAR statistics – everything from number of cautions to driver points – vary a lot over the first six to 10 races of a season. Consider Kyle Larson’s 2021 week-by-week ranking, as shown below. I’ve included his finishing position for each race in the lower graph.

Graphs showing the weekly rank and finishing position for Kyle Larson in 2021
Top graph: Kyle Larson’s weekly rank. Bottom graph: Larson’s finish for each race. Clear bars: DNF

When a driver’s only earned 100 points, 10 points represents a 10% change. Later in the season, when the same driver has 500 points, 10 points only represents 2% of the total. That’s why Larson’s rank bounces between 2nd and 12th in the first five races. Each race is 20% of his entire record. Note that, later in the season, finishes out of the top 15 at Road America and Atlanta barely move the needle.

Stage Points and Race Points

As Dustin Long noted, stage and Duel points comprise almost 30 percent of some drivers’ point totals. Points earned in Duels impact the overall standings even more than stage points. For example, Brad Keselowski earned 10 points for winning his Duel at Daytona International Speedway, the most of any driver in the race. At Auto Club Speedway, Tyler Reddick earned 20 stage points, but Kyle Larson earned 52 points for winning.

After three races, a single driver could have earned a maximum of 70 stage points: 20 points for each race, plus 10 points for winning one of the Duels. The graph below shows how they’re doing.

A vertical bar chart showing 2022 stage points for drivers

Kyle Larson and Joey Logano each have 33 stage points, or 47% of the maximum points possible. Martin Truex, Jr. trails in third with 30 stage points.

Now let’s look at stage points (in yellow) relative to race points (in green).

A vertical bar chart showing total points as of week #3 of the 2022 NASCAR season

Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Austin Cindric have earned the most race points in the season but not many stage points. The combination of two strong race finishes and 33 stage points has Larson leading the standings. But those stage points are also why Martin Truex, Jr. is in second place despite an average finish of 11.3, and Brad Keselowski is in 12th place with average finish of 20. This anomaly will fade away as they run more races. Early in the season, it’s worth considering stage points and race points separately.

Previous Trends That Continue This Season

You might think previous seasons shouldn’t matter because of the new car, but good drivers will always rise to the top. Since we’re talking stage points, let’s use them as an example.

Out of the 183 races in the stage-racing era (2017-present), a different driver has won each stage and the race 76 times (41.5%). That means a driver who wins stage 1 has a better than 50:50 chance of winning stage 2 and/or the race. Knowing these stats (summarized in the graphic below) can help you tweak your fantasy lineup before you have to finalize it.

A Block graphic showing the percentage of drivers that winning different configurations of stages and wins

Which Drivers Excel at Winning Multiple Stages?

The top drivers for winning more than one stage and/or the race are:

Truex is at the top of the list with 18. Although most of his numbers come from 2017 and 2018, he’s already won two stages in one race in 2022. If Truex wins either stage 1 or stage 2, he would be a good bet for the win.

Harvick is second on the list but the last time he won more than one stage and/or the race was 2020. Keep in mind, though, that Harvick is good at Phoenix. If Harvick wins stages 1 and 2, he’s worth risking a bet for the win.

The two Kyles have asterisks because they achieved their numbers running fewer races than everyone else on the list. Kyle Busch has accomplished the multi-stage/race win feat every year since stages started. Kyle Larson did it 10 times in 2021 alone.

Busch and Larson are two of the three drivers who’ve won Phoenix after winning one stage. The third is Hamlin. Although he’s fifth on this  list, all those races were 2019 and later. Hamlin was the only driver last year not to have a DNF all season and he’s already had two this year. He’s due for some luck.

Newer drivers have fewer races under their belt and thus don’t rank high on this list; however, Alex Bowman won stage 1 and the Las Vegas race last race. My only hesitance with him is that, in the last four races he ran at Phoenix, he has one DNF and an average finish of 13.3.

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky is the author of The Physics of NASCAR. She has undergraduate degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of North Texas and a Ph. D in condensed matter physics from Michigan State University. She spent most of her academic career in the Department of Physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her analysis will run twice a week throughout the NASCAR season.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

MORE: A better way to determine the Cup champion?

Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.