Dr. Diandra: For some drivers, Richmond is unique among short tracks


The NextGen racecar undertakes its first true short track points race today at Richmond Raceway. By ‘true’ short track, I mean oval tracks under 1 mile: Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. Although these three tracks have different degrees of banking and slightly different lengths, they share an important characteristic: speed.

Or rather, lack of speed. Take a look at the pole speeds from 2019, the last time we had qualifying at short tracks.

A vertical bar chart showing the average pole speed for races at Martinsville, Richmond,Bristol and Dover

Aside from the much-longer road courses (a class unto themselves), the true short tracks are the slowest tracks NASCAR runs. Dover, which my mind wants to make a short track, runs much faster than true short tracks. Because aerodynamic forces depend on speed squared, slower tracks make aerodynamics less significant.

A caveat: When I say Bristol, I mean pavement Bristol, not dirt Bristol. Although Bristol with dirt on it is still a short track, the dirt physics is significantly different than pavement physics. Also, with only one dirt race at Bristol, we don’t have enough data to determine how it compares to pavement Bristol, or to other short tracks.

Who are the best short-track drivers?

Given that the series heads for Martinsville next week, I thought maybe I could kill two races with one calculation by just figuring out which drivers are best on the three true short tracks.

I want to emphasize recent results, but I had to balance that with the fact that we have at most six short-track races a year. As a compromise, I’m using data from 2019-2021.

Let’s start by looking at drivers’ average finishes for short tracks.

A vertical bar chart showing the average finishes of Cup drivers at the three short tracks: Richmond, Martinsville and Bristol.

This looks like a promising start to picking winners: All the usual suspects surface. Kyle Busch has six career wins at Martinsville and eight at Bristol. Martin Truex, Jr. has gone from being the king of the mile-and-a-half tracks to mastering short-track racing. I was a little surprised to see Denny Hamlin so far back, but he’s had a lot of close races lately. My choices for Richmond seem pretty clear.

Then I reminded myself of the dangers of generalizing: it’s easy to find patterns where there are none.

And it’s a good thing for my fantasy team that I didn’t just stop there.


I decided to examine drivers’ performances at individual tracks, as well as their averages across tracks. It turns out not all the top drivers are uniformly good at short tracks.

In the graph below, I’ve left the overall average — over all three tracks — in red. The average finishes for Richmond are in yellow, Martinsville in green, and Bristol in blue.

A vertical bar graph that compares each driver's averge finish at each of the three tracks to the composite average

This graph paints a slightly different picture than the graph of overall short-track performance.

One thing doesn’t change: Kyle Busch is still a good bet at any short track.

  • Busch earns that title by having average finishes under 10 at all three short tracks.
  • Despite a 18.8% career win rate (six wins in 32 starts), Busch hasn’t won at Richmond since 2018.
  • That makes his average finish even more impressive because the data in the graph above don’t include 2018.

In contrast, Martin Truex, Jr. is strong at some tracks and not so strong at others.

  • Truex earns his second-place short-track racer title by being really, really good at Richmond.
  • His finishing average of 2.0 at Richmond over the last three years compensates for a finishing average of 16.2 at Bristol over the same time.
  • Here’s how good Truex is at Richmond: He won three of the last five Richmond races. When he didn’t win, he still finished in the top five.

If you only depended on overall short track numbers, you might be in for an unwelcome surprise at Bristol if you pick Truex.

Joey Logano (third best in overall short track finishes) and Denny Hamlin (fifth best) both have an average finish of 4.8 at Richmond — better than Kyle Busch’s 6.6 average.

Gibbs is strong at Richmond. Of the three drivers considered (Bell is too new to have enough data), Truex has three top 10s this year and stands seventh in points. He’s a good bet to give Toyota its first win of the year.

If you’re looking for a dark horse pick for a driver to run well at Richmond, check out the ‘A’-list drivers:

This graph also tells you that there are a few drivers you might want to avoid, even though they’re on the graph for having a decent overall short-track finishing average.

  • Despite having an average finish of 11.74 at short tracks, Ryan Blaney‘s performance at Richmond has produced only 16.40 average finish. Perhaps keep him in your garage until next week.
  • Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones are also drivers whose recent record at Richmond is worse than their overall short-track record suggests.

Laps led

Drivers who lead laps tend to win at Richmond. The graph below shows total laps led at each of the three short tracks. The drivers are arranged with the driver who has led the most total laps at the three tracks combined on the left.

This graph further reinforces the idea that even drivers who run well at short tracks run better at some short tracks than others. From 2019-2021:

  • Truex led 1293 laps between the three tracks, but 95.6% of his laps led were at Richmond or Martinsville.
  • Hamlin, on the other hand, has led at all three tracks, with a total of 1183 laps led.
  • Keselowski’s also been strong at all three short tracks — although with the usual caveat that he’s in different equipment this year.
  • Although Chase Elliott is fourth in laps led, only 60 of those were at Richmond.

What to expect from the track

While we often focus on drivers, understanding the track and the race rhythm can really help your prognostication skills. If the first two stages show that your driver’s car doesn’t get good until 70 laps into a run, you need to know how likely it is that there will be a long green-flag run in stage 3.

I think of short tracks as having lots of cautions, lots of accidents and lots of DNFs. That’s not Richmond these days. Look at the number of accidents and spins in the last 20 years.

A stacked vertical bar chart showing the numbers of accidents and spins at Richmond over time

In the 2000s, two accidents would have been considered abnormally low for a Richmond race. The spring 2003 race managed 12 accidents and two spins in 393 laps.

With a couple exceptions (the spring races in 2011 and 2013, and the fall race in 2016), drivers at Richmond experience many fewer accidents and spins these days. Not only did the fall race in 2020 go accident free, there were no breaks other thaxnn the planned competition and stage-break cautions. It’s possible that the NextGen car’s durability may encourage drivers to be a little more aggressive, but it’s also possible that the durability will allow more bumping without requiring cautions.

Fewer accidents usually means fewer DNFs. But fewer accidents also mean fewer cautions and fewer cautions mean longer green-flag runs.

  • In last year’s fall race, stage 2 was caution free (148  laps), and the race ended with a 146-lap green-flag run.
  • In the 2021 spring race, stage three featured a 134-lap green-flag run.

Long green-flag runs requires crew chiefs to tune the car for more than just the short term. Fewer cautions mean fewer opportunities for crew chiefs to adjust their cars. That, in turn, makes all those computer simulations and tests that help the crew chiefs decide how to adjust the car even more important. If you’re not close to dialed in when you unload, you may not have many chances to get there.

As recently as 2013, it was normal for nine or 10 cars to retires before the end of the race. More recently, only 2-3 cars fail to finish the race. That, in turn, has led to a smaller fraction of cars finishing on the lead lap. In the last five Richmond races, only about one-third of the cars finished on the lead lap.

Qualifying on the pole doesn’t have a big impact at Richmond. In the last 10 races, the polesitter won the race only once, in 2016.

One more tidbit from my analysis: If you’re limiting your choices to drivers who haven’t notched their first win yet, this might not be the track to do it. No drivers has gotten his or her first win at a short track since 2005, when Kasey Kahne accomplished that feat.


NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.