Dr. Diandra: Who are the best road course racers running COTA?


The NASCAR Cup Series has only raced COTA once, and that rain-drenched race ended 14 laps early. Without COTA-specific data, our best bet for making fantasy picks is examining driver performance over all road courses.

In 2021, the number of road courses on the Cup schedule jumped from the pre-pandemic two per year to seven. This year, there are six on the schedule. Road course fans, Chase Elliott, and geeks like me wanting more data on drivers going left and right applauded the change.

Do road course ringers challenge regulars?

Road course ringers — drivers from other series brought in to run road courses — are not so common anymore. The playoff structure requires drivers contending for the championship to run all the races. There’s even a road course in the playoffs now. But some teams are bringing skilled specialists like Boris Said, Loris Hezemans, and Andy Lally to COTA.

From 1980 to now, the top road course winners are Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Chase Elliott. You have to go down to 11th place to find Marcos Ambrose, with two Cup wins. And one can argue he’s not really a ‘ringer’ given that he ran full schedules. The same goes for Juan Pablo Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger (tied at 15th).

Road-course ringers rarely win Cup-level races. We tend to remember unusual events like underdog winners better than we remember expected finishes, but regular Cup drivers win almost all the road course races.

While winning a road course may win a spot in the playoffs, drivers who earn their way into the playoffs on only one superspeedway win or only one road course win are usually eliminated early.

Is Chase Elliott road course royalty?

Let’s start planning our COTA lineup by tallying the career average finish positions at road courses. I limited the graph to drivers with average finishes of 20 or under to keep it readable.

A vertical bar chart showing drivers' average finishes over their careers.

The above graph certainly argues in favor of crowning Chase Elliott as the ‘Current Cup King of Road Courses’. Not only does he have the lowest average finish, his closest challenger, Ryan Blaney, finishes five places behind him on average. The graph below, which details Elliott’s finishes on road courses, also supports awarding Elliott the crown.

showing all of Chase Elliott's finishes on road courses

Elliott entered Cup a strong road course racer and improved with time. He’s got only one career DNF in 19 races and no finish over P21 in the other 18 races. Remarkably, Elliott finishes in the top 10 at road courses almost 70% of the time — higher than any other driver in Sunday’s race.

Blaney shows flashes of strength on road courses, but a significant number of finishes outside the top 15 explains why he lags behind Elliott in average finish.

A vertical bar graph showing all of Ryan Blaney's finishes on road courses

The driver with the third-best finishing average, Kyle Larson, is a case study for how averages often hide important details. Here’s Larson’s history at road courses:

A vertical bar graph showing all of Kyle Larson's finishes on road courses

Although Larson struggled a bit early in his career, he’s been pretty darn good since running in Hendrick Motorsports equipment.

So even if Chase Elliott is the best road course racer, will he be the best at COTA?

History vs. recent history

Comparing drivers’ average finishes for just the last seven races gives us a better gauge of their current capabilities. This analysis shows a slightly different story.

A vertical bar chart showing drivers' average finishes for the last seven road course races.

Elliott is still on top, but his closest pursuer — now Kyle Larson — is behind him by less than half a position.

Which of the two graphs do we believe?

Both of ’em.

Overperforming drivers

Comparing two graphs is tricky, so here’s the shortcut I use to quickly spot drivers finishing above their weights. Each drivers’ finishing average for the last seven races is a red bar, and their career average finish is in yellow.

A double vertical bar graph comparing drivers' career average finishes with their average finishes over the last seven races a

A driver whose red bar is smaller than his yellow bar is doing better than his career average suggests. The bigger the gap between the two bars, the more the driver is overperforming. The converse holds true: Drivers whose red bars are above their yellow bars are doing worse now than they have throughout their whole career.

The first 10 drivers (Elliott to Allmendinger) are all on the correct side of the red/yellow balance.

  • All 10 have average finishes in the top 15 in the last seven road course races.
  • Elliott, Larson and Denny Hamlin have average finishes in the top 10 in the last seven road course races.
  • Kyle Busch hasn’t won much at road courses, but he’s finished in the top 10 almost 60% of his career.
  • Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano finish in the top 10 a little more than 50% of the time over their careers. And, of course, Blaney won the pole.
    • CAVEAT: Kurt Busch is in new equipment this year.
  • If you’re looking for longer odds, consider Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman or Christopher Bell.

This graph also highlights some drivers trending in the wrong direction.

  • Brad Keselowski‘s seven-race numbers reflect his time at Team Penske, where he drove well below his career average. He’s in new (arguably lesser) equipment this year, plus he’s coming off one of the biggest penalties in NASCAR history.
  • Kevin Harvick has an average career finish under 15 at road courses, but last year, his average was over 20.
  • William Byron had an average finish of 23.1 at road courses last year.

Best finishes

The last metric we’ll examine is each drivers’ best career finish at a road course, as shown below.

A vertical bar chart showing drivers' best career finishes on road courses

A driver who’s never finished in the top 10 at a road course isn’t the best bet to win at COTA. But just because a driver has a good finish doesn’t mean he’s a good bet.

For example, Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing have best finishes of third and fourth respectively. Both had great finishes last week.

But Atlanta is now a superspeedway, so its results don’t necessarily translate to other tracks. And we have to consider the circumstances of each driver’s best finish, which means going back to the race-by-race record.

showing all of Daniel Suarez's finishes on road coursesSuarez’s only top-five finishes came in 2017 and 2018 while at Joe Gibbs Racing. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2018. Of course, he also hasn’t had the chance to qualify since moving to Trackhouse. He starts Sunday’s race in P2.

Chastain’s road course graph is below. (I’ve done race-by-race summaries for all drivers. If I haven’t mentioned you driver, you can still check them out.)

showing all of Ross Chastain's finishes on road coursesHis best finishes are more recent (2021), but they came in Chip Ganassi Racing cars. Even so, he finished outside the top 20 in the last two road course races of the year.

These are the types of factors you have to weigh as you make your picks — which is what makes choosing winners a game of skill. Of course, once drivers are on the track, you’re subject to the same luck — or lack of luck — they are.

Even math is powerless against car crashes.


NASCAR weekend schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series head to Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the 1.99-mile road course.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will take the following weekend off before the season resumes at Nashville Superspeedway. NBC and USA will broadcast each series the rest of the year, beginning at Nashville.

Sonoma Raceway

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 73 degrees. Forecast is for a high of 70 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 67 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)

Saturday, June 10

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 11

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.