Dr. Diandra: Which drivers are superspeedway specialists?


We often view superspeedway races as events anyone can win, but that’s not the case. It’s just that we remember surprise winners much more vividly. We also tend to lump Daytona and Talladega together despite being very different tracks. Most of the true underdog winners — the Trevor Baynes and Michael McDowells — win at Daytona.

Eleven drivers earned their first win at Talladega. For six of those 11, that win is their only Cup win. Some drivers in Sunday’s field have only won at superspeedways: David Ragan, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace and Justin Haley. Two out of three of Aric Almirola‘s wins are at superspeedways. Some drivers have developed unique skill set necessary to succeed Talladega, Daytona and the new Atlanta. This fast-paced form of racing requires drivers to rapidly process information, understand the draft, and avoid wrecks.

Who’s good at superspeedways?

I focused on the 2020-22 seasons to keep the results recent enough to be relevant to this weekend’s race. The trends observed, however, hold for other ranges of time as well.

I limited my analysis to Talladega and Daytona because we’ve had only one race at Atlanta in its superspeedway configuration.

I excluded drivers who ran fewer than three superspeedway races. That, unfortunately, eliminates rookie drivers. Don’t overlook Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

I also excluded drivers with an average finishing position higher than 25.

I plotted drivers’ average finishes below. We’ve had nine combined Cup Talladega and Daytona races between 2020-22. If a driver didn’t compete in all nine races, I noted the number of races run atop the bar. Drivers are ranked from left to right in order of best average finishing position.

A vertical bar graph showing the average finishing positions of drivers at superspeedways from 2020-2022

No one will be surprised by the first three names on the left side of the graph. A lot of pundits recommend Ryan Blaney and Wallace this weekend as winning picks. Despite a disappointing 2021, Kevin Harvick finished fourth, fourth, 15th and eighth at superspeedways last year.

You might not expect to find Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on the right side of the graph. His two superspeedway wins both occurred back in 2017. In the last two years, he finished second at Talladega in 2020, but every other finish was out of the top 15.

What’s more surprising are the last two names on the far right: Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch, two recent champions. We know they’re good drivers, but superspeedways seem to have been their Achilles heels recently.

Sussing out superspeedway skills

To separate out good drivers who aren’t so good at superspeedways from drivers who are mid-pack everywhere, I compared each driver’s average finishing position at superspeedways to their averages at all other types of tracks. I kept superspeedway data in green and added the non-superspeedway data in yellow. I again ordered the drivers with the best finishing average at superspeedways to the left.

A vertical column chart that compares average finishes on superspeedways to average finishes on all other types of tracks.

The graph shows that some drivers, like Hamlin and Chris Buescher, have relatively similar average finishes at superspeedways as they do at other tracks. But many drivers have big differences in their finishes at the two types of tracks.

I’ve dotted in the green bars for the seven drivers with the largest ratio of average superspeedway finish vs. other-track finish. Wallace’s superspeedway results are almost twice as good as at other types of tracks. The other six drivers are: Justin Haley, Corey LaJoie, Chase Briscoe, Ty Dillon, McDowell and Blaney. These drivers clearly have an edge at superspeedways that makes them better bests there than at other tracks.

On the other side, we have drivers who finish worse at superspeedways than at other types of tracks.

Kyle Larson’s average finish at superspeedways is about three times worse than elsewhere. His weakness seems to be not finishing races. Larson has 12 DNFs at the 30 Daytona and Talladega races he’s run. That’s a 40% DNF rate.

Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Martin Truex, Jr. also do much better at non-superspeedways. Logano and Truex finish about twice as far back at superspeedways compared to other tracks. Each of these drivers has a teammate at the other end of the graph. This looks like a driver issue and not an equipment/team issue.

Don’t base Talladega picks on Daytona results

Some drivers perform very differently at different short tracks. The same is true for superspeedways.

The graph below shows average finishing position for Talladega in red and Daytona in blue. Drivers with the best Talladega average finishes are to the left. I again shaded the red bars for drivers who perform much better at Talladega than Daytona.

A vertical bar chart that compares average finishing position for Talladega to average finishing position for Daytona


Wallace won the last fall’s Talladega race, but he didn’t finish within the top 10 at any other Talladega race from 2020-22. All but one of those finishes were out of the top 15. At Daytona, Wallace only has one finish out of the top 15 and two second-place finishes. He’s on many ‘recommend’ lists for Talladega. The numbers don’t seem to support that degree of enthusiasm.

Ty Dillon finishes three times better at Talladega than Daytona. This stat is based on only three Daytona and two Talladega races. I left him in because I think he’s a good underdog pick.

Brad Keselowski was undeniably good at Talladega with Penske. He won his Daytona Duel this year. But his new team is still struggling to get good finishes.

Erik Jones is about 2.5 times better at Talladega than Daytona. His stats are skewed by fifth- and second-place finishes in 2020 running for JGR. He did finish ninth in the last Talladega race, though.

Although Byron ranks low on the superspeedway finish graph, he’s eighth in Talladega ranking and the highest Hendrick car.

The news from this chart isn’t good for Kyle Larson fans. His average finish at Talladega is worse than at Daytona by a factor of two.

Chase Elliott has an even larger differential on the Daytona-favoring side. His average finish at Daytona is three times better than at Talladega.

Luck is necessary at Talladega. But drivers with better-developed superspeedway skills have a distinct edge on their competition. This isn’t a race just anyone can win.

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”