Dr. Diandra: Road courses aren’t shortcuts to playoffs for underdog drivers

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Eleven winners in the first 15 races have raised hopes that 2022 could be the season in which the NASCAR Cup Series has 16 (or more) winners. Two superspeedway races — the most likely track type for underdog wins — remain on the regular-season schedule.

Four road course races also stand between drivers and the playoffs. Could drivers who may not be able to point themselves into the playoffs earn a bracket slot via a road course win?

Solely Sonoma

NASCAR has run one race at Sonoma every year since 1989. The lone exception is 2020, when COVID forced NASCAR to skip the northern California track. That gives us 32 races in the dataset.

In looking for a simple way to graphically compare driver wins, I discovered treemaps. I think they’re clearer than bar charts for this purpose.

In the treemap below, the area of each rectangle is proportional to the driver’s number of wins. No number next to the name means that the driver won only one race.

A tree map showing all winners at Sonoma from 1989-2021

The biggest boxes correspond to familiar names. Jeff Gordon leads Sonoma wins with five. He’s followed by Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. with three each.

One way to define Sonoma underdogs is drivers ranked outside the top 15 coming into the race. Only four drivers in our dataset satisfy that criterion.

  • Robby Gordon ranked 16th in 2003
  • Juan Pablo Montoya ranked 23rd in 2007
  • Stewart was ranked 35th when he won Sonoma; however, that was in 2016, after he’d missed the first eight races of the season due to a back injury.
  • Kyle Busch sat in 39th place when he won Sonoma in 2015. He had injured his right leg and left foot in the season-opening Daytona Xfinity race, causing him to miss the first 11 races of the season.

The last two cases are pretty exceptional. Busch went on to win the championship in 2015, and Stewart finished 15th in 2016. If we eliminate those two races, we’re left with drivers outside the top 15 winning only 6.7% of Sonoma races.

The two remaining drivers — Gordon and Montoya — were road course specialists. Of Gordon’s three career NASCAR Cup Series wins, two came at road courses. Montoya’s two career wins both came at road courses.

Looking at the remaining 28 wins earned by drivers ranked P15 or better:

  • Drivers ranked within the top five won 10 races (35.7%).
  • Drivers ranked among the top 10 won 23 victories (82.1%).
  • That leaves 17.9% of the wins achieved by drivers ranking from P11-P15.

First season wins at Sonoma

Given that drivers outside the top 15 are much less likely to win, what are the the chances for winless drivers within the top 15 making Sonoma their first trip to Victory Lane in 2022? That group includes Truex, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick, and Erik Jones.

Of the 28 wins by drivers ranked in the top 15 entering Sonoma:

  • Drivers without a win coming into Sonoma won 16 races (57.1%). Winless drivers in the field Sunday who previously made Sonoma their first win of the season include Truex (2013) and Kevin Harvick (2017).
  • Seven races (25%) were won by drivers with one win. The most recent of those winners was Carl Edwards in 2014.
  • Drivers with two wins won four Sonoma races (14.3%)
  • Taking the last two stats together, drivers with one or two prior wins won 39.3% of the Sonoma races. That group includes three drivers in the same situation coming into this weekend:

Chase Elliott raced Sonoma five times without a win. But his trend is upward, with a best finish of second in 2021.

All road courses

I asserted that road courses as a class were not the magic ticket to the playoffs that superspeedways can be. While the number of underdog winners at superspeedways isn’t high, it is higher than road courses.

I limit the road course analysis to races between 1989 and 2021. I chose 1989 as the starting point because that’s when Sonoma and Watkins Glen became the mainstay road course races on the Cup Series schedule. This range of dates also includes only road tracks that has run in the last few years.

Here’s the slightly more complex treemap covering the 95 road course races comprising this dataset:

A treemap showing road course winners from 1989-2021

Remember that this only covers the period 1989-2021 so, for example, only three of Ricky Rudd’s six wins show up.

The trends from the Sonoma analysis are echoed in this data. The winningest drivers are familiar names, and most winning drivers were ranked in the top 15 entering the race they won.

During this period of time, only 11 drivers won a road course race while ranked outside the top 15. I discard Busch and Stewart for the reasons mentioned above. That leaves us with 9 out of 93 drivers (9.7%). Those drivers are:

  • Robby Gordon
  • Steve Park
  • Marcos Ambrose (twice)
  • Geoffrey Bodine
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (twice)
  • A.J. Allmendinger (twice)

Of these six, only Bodine has a significant number of non-road-course wins: Fifteen out of 18 career wins came at other types of tracks.

Twenty-nine out of 93 road course winners (31.2%) posted their first season win at a road course. That’s lower than the Sonoma percentage of 57.1%.

What about Allmendinger?

The probabilities are slim for non-ranked drivers to win at Sonoma, but it would be foolish to dismiss perennial road course favorite Allmendinger.

Although currently leading the Xfinity series standings, Allmendinger’s best finish in the six Cup Series races he’s run this year is a 10th-place finish last week at Gateway. His remaining five finishes are 20th or worse.

Both of Allmendinger’s career Cup Series wins have come at road courses: Watkins Glen in 2014 and Indianapolis last year. But his best finish at Sonoma is seventh and that was all the way back in 2009.

The caveat is that he hasn’t raced Sonoma since 2018. Allmendinger is a driver whose self-confidence level greatly affects his racing., After an Xfinity win at Portland last week, his self-confidence has to be pretty high.

If anyone is going to defy the statistics at Sonoma, Allmendinger would seem to be the one to do it. He’s done it twice at other road courses already.

 

Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”