Dr. Diandra: All-Star Race should favor drivers fast in short runs, good at restarts


Texas Motor Speedway hosts its second NASCAR All-Star Race this weekend and its first with the Next Gen car. That leaves us with little data to help identify the most likely winners.

Recent winners and current points standings have limited predictive value because the All-Star Race isn’t like other races. The main event features three 25-lap segments, followed by a 50-lap final segment. If a natural caution doesn’t occur between laps 15-25 of the last segment, NASCAR will issue a competition caution.

The Open — the race that gives drivers who didn’t qualify for the All-Star Race a chance to earn a starting spot — has two segments of 20 laps each. It ends with a 10-lap shootout.

Given the short segments, drivers who have proven fast early in green flag runs and those who are good on restarts might have an advantage this weekend.

Fastest drivers at 1.5-mile non-superspeedway tracks

I averaged NASCAR’s loop-data rankings of how fast each driver is early in green flag runs at Las Vegas and Kansas — the only two 1.5-mile, non-superspeedway tracks run so far. This metric measures speed during the first 25% of a green flag run.

In the graph below, drivers already qualified for the All-Star Race are shown in yellow and those running the Open in green.

A vertical bar chart showing the average rank of drivers early in green-flag runs at Las Vegas and Kansas
Drivers with only one race included: Hamlin, Blaney, Haley, Custer, Ware, Briscoe, McLeod.

NASCAR doesn’t rank drivers who crash, so some drivers’ numbers are based on only one race.

Some drivers have one very good and one not-so-good ranking, while others are more consistent. For example, Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano both have an average ranking of 13. Wallace gets to 13 with individual rankings of 14 and 12, while Logano gets the same average with rankings of 18 and 8.

Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch both have an average ranking of 4.0, with Larson ranked 4.0 for both races, and Busch ranked 1 for Kansas and 7 for Las Vegas. You may prioritize one driver over the other depending on whether you value consistency or recent results.

Picks based on early-in-run speed

  • Only one of the top-12-ranked drivers is not already in the All-Star Race.
  • Eight of those 12 drivers have won races this year.
  • For the All-Star Race:
  • For the Open:
    • Tyler Reddick, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chris Buescher and Justin Haley are the top-ranked drivers.
    • Stenhouse, Buescher and Haley are well out of the top 10, but everyone ahead of them (except Reddick) isn’t competing in the Open.
    • Although Reddick ranks highest, he’s had three finishes worse than 30th in the last four races.
    • Daniel Suárez is not shown because he crashed at both Las Vegas and Kansas.
    • Erik Jones also is not shown: He crashed at Las Vegas and finished laps down at Kansas because of an over-tightened lug nut.

Of the 20 drivers confirmed for the All-Star Race, there are six Chevys, all six Toyotas and eight Fords. The Open has 16 drivers on its preliminary entry list (nine Chevys and seven Fords).

  • Chevy drivers make up five of the top-six-rated drivers for speed early in a green-flag run.
  • The top 12 drivers are in Toyotas (five) or Chevys (seven).
  • All four Hendrick drivers fall within the top-eight ranked drivers.
  • All four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are in the top-11 ranked drivers.
  • The highest ranked Ford is Ryan Blaney at 12th.

Fastest early in a run at pavement ovals

Given that the above graph only represents two races, I expanded the analysis to include all pavement ovals run this year. We’re looking for confirmation that the drivers best at Las Vegas and Kansas are also good elsewhere. We’re not looking for drivers that move up in the rankings, because that means they’re better at other types of tracks than the one being contested this weekend.

I made separate graphs for those already in the All-Star Race and for those trying to race their way in. Here’s the graph for the All-Star Race drivers:

A vertical bar chart showing drivers fastest early in a run at pavement oval tracks so far in 2022

  • Larson, Kyle Busch, Chastain and Byron remain in the top five.
  • Bowman moves out of the top five, but given that he’s the only one of the top five in our prior graph who’s won a 1.5-mile track, you have to keep him in the mix.
  • Logano moves up quite a bit. But as I noted, that just tells us that he’s worse at tracks like Texas than other types of tracks.

Here’s the data for the those in the “hooligan’s race”:

A vertical bar chart showing drivers fastest early in a run at pavement oval tracks so far in 2022 for those drivers who must race their way into the All-Star race

The two stage winners and the overall race winner get into the All-Star race. The driver with the most fan votes who is not already in the All-Star Race also transfers. That means one-quarter of this field will move into the All-Star race. The much-higher-than-normal number of accidents, spins and stalls we’ve had this year could make this race a real wild card.

For this metric, Reddick, Buescher, Jones and Stenhouse are the strongest performers.


I examined speed on restarts for the two intermediate tracks using the same protocol. NASCAR ranks drivers according to their speed during the first two laps following a restart. I only show drivers with an average rank under 30.

A vertical bar chart showing how drivers rank on speed during restarts for intermediate tracks

  • The top 11 drivers on restart speed are already in the All-Star Race.
  • 16 out of the top 17 drivers are already in the All-Star Race.
  • Of drivers running the All-Star Race:
    • Chastain, Larson and Kyle Busch — the top-three fastest early-in-run drivers at intermediate tracks — are all within the top five for fastest on restarts at intermediate tracks.
    • Denny Hamlin is second on this graph. He’s got one win, but only one other top-10 finish out of 13 races.
    • Ryan Blaney is third fastest on restarts at the two intermediate tracks run so far; however, Blaney has yet to win and Ford drivers have earned only two of the 13 wins this year.
  • Of drivers running the Open:
    • Reddick, the best of the drivers in the Open in terms of speed at the start of runs, tied for fourth among Open drivers when it comes to restarts.
    • Stenhouse has the highest ranking on restarts at intermediate tracks. He’s earned three top-10 finishes in the last three races, which might make him strong competition for Reddick.
    • Jones ranks second. That’s useful given that we don’t have any early-in-run speed rankings for him.

Restarts are different with the Next Gen car because of its increased drag. Fanning out as soon as you can isn’t always the best move.

“I feel like you’ve got to stay in line a lot longer and then make your decision once you get into the corner and people start having to lift,” Stenhouse said. “You need a full lane of clear track to get your car to handle it the way you want it to.”

That forces drivers to consider all the possibilities before taking action.

“We used to just fan out and just take any lane we could and just roll with it,” Stenhouse said. “Now I feel like people are looking and almost playing chess instead of checkers on restarts.”

Making picks for NASCAR races is tough given all the variables — especially the ones we can’t control, like crashes, penalties, potential left-rear-tire problems and recalcitrant lug nuts. Good luck!

If you have a question about the technical or statistical side of NASCAR, send it to ask (at) buildingspeed (dot) com. Let us know what you’d like to know.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s new Cup Series aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses will be tested in competition on a road circuit for the first time this weekend as the tour stops at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

All three major national series will be in action at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn track this weekend. The schedule begins Friday with practice for all three series and qualifying for Xfinity and Trucks.

MORE: Drivers say North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will be challenging

The Friday practice was added for Cup teams because of the new competition package, providing 50 minutes of on-track time for adjustments. Teams also will be racing with a new tire compound this weekend.

Chase Elliott (2021) and Ross Chastain (2022) are winners from the previous Cup races at COTA. Elliott won the inaugural event in a race shortened by rain, and Chastain won after a last-lap battle with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. The victory was Chastain’s first in the series.

A look at Friday’s schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning. Mostly sunny later. High of 87 with an 80% chance of rain.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Friday 5: What to do about lack of respect on the track?


It’s no surprise that a lack of respect among drivers was brought up, as Kyle Busch did last week, with the changes NASCAR has enacted in recent years.

With a win earning a driver a playoff spot, the equality of the cars, the importance of track position and stage points awarded, there’s a greater emphasis on running toward the front.

For some, lose enough positions and they can lose their rides. For others, give up a few points and that might be what keeps them from advancing in the playoffs.

All that makes each lap more meaningful. That elevates the tension in the garage and the lack of patience on the track.

But how much longer should NASCAR allow the lack of respect continue before series officials intercede? How should they do so? When should they let drivers handle matters?

“It’s as simple as what does NASCAR want,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said in the video above. “If they want cleaner racing, if they want more respect, then I feel they now have an opportunity to now jump into the ring of refereeing these races. Whether they want to do that or not, we will see.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said that series officials viewed Denny Hamlin’s incident with Ross Chastain on the last lap at Phoenix as a “racing incident” until Hamlin stated on his podcast the next day he meant to do so.

NASCAR fined Hamlin 25 points and $50,000 for his actions. Hamlin is appealing.

NASCAR did nothing when Hamlin forced Chastain up the track and into the wall racing for the lead at Pocono last summer. Chastain’s car came down the track and was hit by Kevin Harvick’s car as Harvick ran fourth.

Asked about how much it bothered him that the feud between Hamlin and Chastain could impact him, Busch said: “It almost did last year when Denny did it at Pocono. It about caught us in it, but we were able to sneak through.

When it comes to the time it starts affecting other people’s races and such, again, I think it leaves the door open for you to go punch somebody in the face.”

Harvick didn’t punch anyone but he responded after that incident at Pocono.

“I voiced my opinion to the driver I was unhappy with,” Harvick said of that situation. “I did that privately and that’s the way I chose to handle it.”

Daniel Suarez, who is in his seventh season in Cup, has seen a difference in how drivers treat each other over his time in the series.

“I remember my first year in Cup,” Suarez said. “I remember drivers, we used to give the finger — not the middle finger — but the finger of, ‘Hey, you go ahead, you’re better than me right now.’

“You don’t see that anymore. Track position is so important. It’s so difficult to pass. I feel like it’s a combination of all those things, and I think that has made people not to respect each other.

“If you are a couple of tenths (of a second) faster than me and you’re catching me, I’m going to block you instead of letting you go. Those are things that we look like a**holes out there, but that’s what we have to do to keep track position and try to get some stage points.”

The emotions are building throughout the field.

“I see the frustration from some guys who probably race similar to me and feel like they get run over, there’s a handful of guys in the field that feel like that,” Erik Jones said. “It’s tough. It’s a tough balance.

“At some point, you’ve got to stand your ground and say you’re not going to take it anymore.”

That’s why NASCAR may need to play a bigger role in such situations.

“The drivers aren’t going to change,” Letarte said. “You can throw that out. If you think this is going to be changed from behind the steering wheel, you haven’t met enough race car drivers. … Some outside source, in my opinion, is going to have to change this mantra or opinion of what is acceptable on the racetrack.”

Harvick said he would be good with more from NASCAR on the matter. And he knows from first-hand experience.

“I like the iron fish,” Harvick said. “I think it’s important to have those guys (feuding) sit in the same room when you have instances like we’ve had several times.

“I think the important part of that process is to make them sit face-to-face, that was always the most effective for me, and have questions asked by whoever the leader is, in my case, it was Mike Helton, and voice their expectations of how they should handle it between themselves and how they would hope it would not get out of hand and not affect other people. … I’m of the opinion (NASCAR) should at least lead conversations in an in-person setting.”

2. Making an impact?

One of the intriguing storylines this weekend at Circuit of the Americas will be how Tyler Reddick and Toyota perform.

Reddick won a series-high two road course races last year (Road America and Indianapolis) in a Chevrolet with Richard Childress Racing, while Toyota struggled.

Toyota’s six drivers combined for an average finish of 20th or worse in four of the six Cup road course events last year. They led only 4.4% of the 529 laps run at those venues a year ago.

Reddick joined 23XI Racing and Toyota ahead of this season. A key question is how much of an impact can he make with Toyota’s road course program.

“I think a driver can come in and make an impact as far as not just on the racetrack, but also the culture,” said Austin Cindric, who drives a Ford for Team Penske. “As far as giving the team confidence, ‘Hey this is a somebody who’s clearly been able to make this work. We have to believe in how far off we are or aren’t.’”

Kaulig Racing ran AJ Allmendinger five of the six road course events in 2021 to develop its Cup program. Allmendinger won at Indianapolis for the Chevrolet team and scored top 10s at COTA and the Daytona road course.

In 2022, the first year of the Next Gen car, Allmendinger ran 18 Cup races, including all six road course events. He finished second at Watkins Glen and had top 10s at the Charlotte Roval, Indianapolis and Road America. He was battling for the win at COTA until contact from Ross Chastain knocked him out of the lead on the final lap.

Allmendinger says Reddick’s experience last year can carry over even with the the change in manufacturer and team.

“The biggest thing is Tyler, he’s got all the talent in the world,” Allmendinger said. “We’ve seen that, and we continually see that. … Winning those races, he can have the feel of the race car.

“He knows going into the racetrack and after a couple of laps like, ‘Hey, this is the feel that I felt last year and what I want.’ If it’s not, he can kind of lead off of what he felt last year and try to at least work toward that.”

Reddick already has run many laps at COTA this year. He was the Toyota driver at a Goodyear tire test there in January.

“Our tire test in January went pretty well,” Reddick said. “We were definitely wanting to make gains, but the knowledge that we gathered from that test gave us some things to work on and work through in the time that we’ve had since that test to when we race this weekend.

“We’re really anxious to see what that all means. We’re glad that we’ve got a 50-minute practice (Friday at COTA) to kind of shake things out. The whole Toyota camp is curious to see how their stuff stacks up and where we can make it better.”

3. No stage breaks

This weekend marks the first Cup race without stage breaks since they were instituted before the 2017 season.

NASCAR will award points for the end of each stage in the Cup, Xfinity and Craftsman Truck races this weekend at COTA, but the race will continue. There will be no caution specifically for the end of the stage.

That could alter strategies. Typically, top teams would pit before the end of the first stage, giving up stage points to get track position after the rest of the field pitted during the stage break. In last year’s six Cup road course races, 48.3% of the top-10 finishers did not score points in either of the first two stages.

“It will definitely change it to where the fast cars are going to score points,” Joey Logano said of the elimination of stage breaks at road courses. “You used to be able to leave a road course and even if you didn’t have a fast car, you could manipulate the stages to where you could have a decent day out of it.

“Now, the fast cars, they’ll score the most points, as it should be.”

At COTA last year, Ryan Blaney scored a race-high 47 points — four more than winner Ross Chastain and runner-up Alex Bowman — despite finishing sixth. The difference was that Blaney scored points in both stages, while Chastain and Bowman scored points in only one stage each.

At Indianapolis, Kyle Busch finished 11th and scored 38 points — two points less than winner Tyler Reddick and fifth-place finisher Bubba Wallace. Busch scored points in both stages, while Wallace scored points in one stage and Reddick did not score points in either stage.

“The road courses have been a big challenge since stage breaks became a thing,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “You kind of either had to pick, ‘Do we want stage points or do you want to go for the win?’

“It was really, really hard, and I think we’ve only seen maybe one instance of somebody getting both. (The rule change) puts strategy back into it. You can play your gameplan. You always always have those cautions that could mix up the strategy, but they’re not planned, so nobody knows when they’re coming, which I think is more exciting.”

4. Star-studded field

Two former world champions, a former IMSA champion and a seven-time Cup champion are among those entered this weekend at COTA.

Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One champion, and 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button are entered. Raikkonen returns to the Project 91 car at Trackhouse Racing that he drove at Watkins Glen last year before he was collected in a crash. He won the 2018 Formula One race at COTA driving for Ferrari. It was his final F1 victory.

Button will drive the No. 15 for Rick Ware Racing in partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing. Button also will drive the Garage 56 NASCAR entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

Ryan Blaney is looking forward to racing those drivers.

“I think it’s great that they want to try to their hand in our sport, two really incredible drivers of their series wanting to try something else,” Blaney told NBC Sports.

“That’s what racers do, right? They go and they want to try other race cars and other tracks and things like that. Those guys are the same way. I think it’s fantastic. I look forward to racing with Kimi again and getting to, hopefully, meet Jenson because I was a big fan of his as a kid.”

Also competing will Jordan Taylor, a multi-time IMSA champion, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and IndyCar driver Conor Daly.

Taylor will drive the No. 9 for Chase Elliott, who continues to recover from a broken leg suffered last month snowboarding. Taylor won the 2013 Grand Am DP title, 2017 IMSA Prototype championship and was the 2020-21 IMSA GTLM champion.

Johnson makes his first start in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club, the team he co-owns, since competing in the Daytona 500. Johnson will be a teammate to Button in the Garage 56 NASCAR effort at Le Mans.

“I think he’s going to go through a huge learning curve,” teammate Erik Jones said of Johnson running his first road course race in the Next Gen car. “This car, on the road course, is so different. … He has done a lot of work for this weekend from some schools and some sim stuff.”

Daly also is back with The Money Team Racing since making the Daytona 500.

5. All-Star Race format

The NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway is less than two months away. While no format has been announced for the May 21 event, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick offered their ideas after testing tires there this week.

“Don’t make it a short run,” Dillon said of the race’s final segment. “I think that if you want to see something fun, you’ve got to keep it at least 50 laps or more for that last run. I don’t think we should have short runs.

“If this is a throwback kind of All-Star Race classic, whatever you want to call it, you should have a long run to finish and just let the best car, best driver win it and don’t make it into a 10-lap shootout, wreckfest. You might get one of those, but the real racing here is who can take their stuff and be the one at the end. You might have some guys that struggle at the beginning of the run that finish the run really strong, which is exciting in my mind.”

Said Reddick: “I think after 10 laps, tires are important, probably even sooner than that, honestly. It’s pretty easy to abuse the tires here. I don’t know about format, honestly, but if there’s an opportunity to pit, I think people are going to take it and put tires on.

“I certainly think somewhere in that 50-75 lap range, it will be in the hands of drivers. Who is going to push at the beginning of the run, who is going to take care of their stuff and try to run them back down.”