Dr. Diandra: Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez head-to-head by the numbers


Ross Chastain‘s last-lap pass at Talladega made him the second driver to win two races in 2022. That’s a significant accomplishment for Chastain and for Trackhouse Racing in only its second year of competition. Chastain’s Talladega win moves him to ninth place in the points standings. His teammate, Daniel Suárez, ranks 19th. These two drivers — competing for the same team with the same equipment — provide a case study in how close competition is in NASCAR this year.

Origin stories

Suárez and Chastain both drove their first Cup races in 2017, but they followed very different paths to the present.

Suárez, who won the 2016 Xfinity championship, moved up to the Cup level when Carl Edwards unexpectedly created an open seat at Joe Gibbs Racing. Suárez lost that ride two years later when JGR had the opportunity to snap up Martin Truex, Jr. in the wake of Furniture Row’s closing. Suárez spent one year with Stewart-Haas Racing and one with Gaunt Brothers Racing before securing Trackhouse’s first seat in 2021.

Chastain leveraged his connections within the watermelon farming industry to scrounge seat time and prove himself. He bounced between Xfinity and Cup rides, often running both — plus Truck races. His efforts paid off in 2021, when he earned a full-time Cup job with Chip Ganassi Racing. He joined Trackhouse when owner Justin Marks bought Ganassi’s NASCAR operation.

The drivers’ off-track stories produced two different on-track records, as the table below shows. Suárez has higher absolute numbers, but he’s run more races. That’s why I include percentages in the table. A table comparing the career records of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez Both driver are good at finishing races. Suárez has an edge on lead-lap finishes. But Chastain, who is having a breakout year, has two wins, while Suárez is yet to visit Victory Lane.

Chastain and Suárez: The present

To hold as many variables constant as we can, let’s focus on 2022. The next table shows many of the same metrics as the first, but I’ve added stage wins, and average starting/finishing positions.

A table comparing the 2022 season as of race #1 for Ross Chastain and Daniel SuárezTo put points in perspective, Chase Elliott leads the championship standings with 368 points after 10 races. Less than 50 points separates fourth and 10th place. Chastain is 76 points behind Elliott, and Suarez is 74 points behind Chastain.

Both drivers have two DNFs and four finishes off the lead lap. The DNFs were Atlanta and Bristol Dirt for Chastain, Las Vegas and Talladega for Suárez.

Both drivers have led laps in four different races, but Chastain has led 37 more laps than Suárez.

Although Suárez outqualifies Chastain on average, Suárez’s average finishing position is about five positions lower than Chastain’s. Even if we omit DNFs, Chastain’s average finishing position is 7.8 and Suarez’s is 14.5.

Digging down in the data

The keys to understanding the differences between the drivers’ success so far requires us to dig down into some less-familiar statistics.

The next table shows that, over 10 races, Chastain has made 51 more green-flag passes than Suárez. That’s an average of five per race. Suárez has been passed under the green flag 31 times more than Chastain. Chastain has made 84 more green-flag passes for position than Suárez. You have to be careful with green-flag passing stats, however. One reason for a driver making a lot of green-flag passes is that they’ve done something to end up in the back of the field.

A table summarizing some lesser-used statistics comparing Chastain and Suárez.
The tracks in green are where penalties were incurred under the green flag. The * by the number of penalties is because Chastain’s team incurred two penalties at the same stop.

Track position also impacts speed and restarts. You may argue that this reflects how a driver is running, which is true; however, I just want to point out how many statistics are dependent on each other. For example, Suárez is significantly slower on restarts (an average rank of 17.4) while Chastain comes in at 11.5. But that may be because Chastain has had more restarts from the front of the field

Penalties often put drivers down one or more laps. At Atlanta, Chastain sped on pit road under green and his crew was penalized for improper fueling, costing him two laps on one stop. But he went on to get the free pass twice and finished second.

Suárez’s team has four penalties this year and has not gotten any free passes. Last year, Suárez’s team incurred the second-largest number of penalties in the series at 13. This year, he’s got a 40% penalty rate so far, which puts him on the path to meet or beat last year’s total.

The difference in these drivers’ positions comes down to small things. It’s an indication of how competitive the series is right now. Every aspect of a team’s performance has to be spot on. Small mistakes are much more costly in this environment.

On the positive side, we’re not even a third of the way into the season yet. There’s time to catch up.

Following up on Talladega

Last week, I used drivers’ recent average finishing positions at Talladega to suggest who was likely to be good in the race. The three drivers with the worst average finishing positions at Talladega in 2020-2021 were Chastain, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Where did they finish?

First, third and fourth.

Below, I’ve plotted the average finishing positions for each driver, not including last Sunday’s race. In other words, the same numbers I had for my article. Rookies are not included because they don’t have enough prior data.

This time, though, I’ve ordered the drivers according to finishing position to show the relationship between past performance and the last Talladega finish. Except, as you can see from the graph, there is no relationship.

A vertical bar chart showing the average finishing positions of drivers at Talladega excluding the most recent race.

Martin Truex, Jr., with a recent Talladega average finishing position of 22.2 finished fifth. It is not until we get to Erik Jones, who finished sixth, that we reach a driver with an average finishing position under 15.

So what happened?

It may be the vagaries of superspeedway racing. NASCAR is, in general, difficult to predict because there are up to 40 drivers competing, not two teams. Add in the importance of drafting and higher-than-average numbers of drivers taken out by accidents, and superspeedways are more difficult to predict than other types of races.

At most tracks, qualifying gives us additional information to use in predictions. Superspeedway qualifying rarely correlates with outcomes. Chastain qualified 19th and finished first. Larson qualified fifth and finished fifth. Ty Dillon, the driver with the best Talladega average finishing position, got caught up in a crash and finished 33rd.

Another confounding result: Toyota, which has really struggled this year, had two top-10 finishes. That might have been three if Denny Hamlin hadn’t run out of gas. Christopher Bell won the pole and led laps. Bubba Wallace led laps before getting wrecked on the final lap. Was Talladega a repeat of Richmond, or has Toyota found something and turned a corner?

This year is proving fascinating from a statistics standpoint as we try to figure out just how much the Next Gen car has leveled the playing field.

More data, please!

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.

MORE: NASCAR’s $1 million question is can the culture change?

“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

1 Comment

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: 27th
  • 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.