Dr. Diandra: RFK Racing by the numbers

0 Comments

Dominance — whether by manufacturers, owners or drivers — waxes and wanes with time. The racing team now known as RFK Racing is a prime example. So let’s look at RFK Racing by the numbers.

The team (then called Roush Racing) ran its first race in 1998. It became a NASCAR powerhouse by strategically pooling data from multiple cars and sharing resources.

Roush remains the only organization to have fielded five full-time Cup-level cars — and the only company to place five cars in the championship playoff system.

In 2010, NASCAR limited each owner to no more than four Cup Series teams to prevent a small number of very large companies from dominating the series.

Roush cut one car in 2010 to meet the mandate, and another in 2011. By 2017, the company was fielding only two cars.

Roush merged with Fenway Sports Group in 2007 to become Roush Fenway Racing, and then transitioned to RFK racing last year when Brad Keselowski became driver and part-owner.

Although RFK has won 137 races and 90 poles, the graph below shows its decline in recent years. The team hasn’t won a race since 2017, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had his career-best Cup season with wins at Talladega and Daytona.

A vertical bar chart showing the wins of Roush/Roush-Fenway/RFK racing from 1998 to the present

RFK in 2022

Brad Keselowski is a Cup Series champion with 35 wins over 472 races. Chris Buescher, in his seventh full-time Cup Series season, has one win.

The Next Gen car was intended to minimize the advantages dominant teams had built up. Teams like Trackhouse Racing seized on that promise, earning wins and top-10 finishes.

RFK’s season started out promising, with both drivers winning their Daytona Duels. Things went downhill from there.

Keselowski has yet to post a top-5 finish and has only three top 10s. His streak of winning at least one race each season since 2011 is in jeopardy. On a more positive note, he only has two DNFs in a year with a 55.6% increase in cars failing to finish races.

Two graphs showing Brad Keselowski's rank (upper graph, scatter) and finishes (lower graph, bar)

A 100-point penalty assessed after the team modified a single-supplier part caused a drop in Keselowski’s ranking from which he has not recovered. He stands 28th in points.

Keselowski has been involved in 10 caution-causing accidents and one spin, which puts him fifth for most accidents, spins and stalls. Those 11 incidents, however, happened in only seven races: He had two incidents in each of four different races.

While the veteran driver has led 73 laps this season, 67 of those laps were in the Daytona 500. He’s led only 4 since. The team has incurred six in-race penalties and had to start two races from the back due to unapproved adjustments.

Buescher ranks 23rd with one top-five and six top-10 finishes. He had four DNFs and missed one race due to COVID concerns. His best finish this year is a second at Sonoma.

Two graphs showing Chris Buescher's rank (upper graph, scatter) and finishes (lower graph, bar)

Buescher has gotten more attention for bad luck this season than for his racing. He was the first driver to roll the Next Gen car and remained in his car during a spectacular fire at the Indianapolis road course. After the fire was put out, Buescher drove the car to a 10th-place finish.

Both RFK drivers are among the stronger closers. Keselowski has a net gain of 20  in the final 10% of races this season, while Buescher has 24.

Is speed the problem?

Even after Kevin Harvick’s win at Michigan last week, Ford has the fewest wins (five) of any manufacturer in the Cup Series. But RFK racing lags in speed, even among Fords.

The graph below compares the average starting positions of the top-10-ranked Ford drivers. Buescher is fifth and Keselowski 10th. Chevrolet’s Kyle Larson holds the top spot with an average starting position of 9.00.

A horizontal scatter chart comparing the qualifying of Ford teams

A second measure of speed is a driver’s green-flag speed ranking from loop data. Keselowski and Buescher have each demonstrated top-10-ranked green flag speed this year.

The parenthetical numbers in the table below indicate the driver’s rank at each track.A table showing the tracks at which RFK drivers have top-10-ranked speedBuescher ranks top-10 at eight tracks and Keselowski at three. All three of Keselowski’s best tracks are also tracks where Buescher did well. Richmond is one of those tracks, offering a glimmer of hope for this weekend.

At the other end, each driver has races at which they were out of the top-25 in green-flag speed.

A table showing the tracks at which RFK drivers have below 25-ranked speed
*The second Atlanta race. Buescher ranked 16th at the first Atlanta race.

Bear with me on the next graph: It looks complex, but — I promise — it’s simple to unravel.

Single numbers, like averages or medians, provide a limited amount of information about a driver’s performance. Boxplots consolidate information about every race a driver’s run in a season.

A boxplot comparing the green-flag-speed ranking of Ford drivers

Here’s the secret code:

  • If you just want the basics, focus on the red lines on each bar. They represent the driver’s median rank over all 23 races. In half the races, the driver ranked lower than the median in green-flag speed, and ranked higher than the median in the other half. I’ve arranged the drivers in order of median rank from best to worst going left to right.
  • Each driver’s bar shows the rankings for the middle 50% of races — those races that are most representative of the driver’s year.
    • A short bar tells you the driver is consistent. Ryan Blaney ranked between fourth and 12th in green-flag speed in half the races this year.
    • A longer bar means they’re less consistent. Buescher’s bar ranges from eight to 20.
  • The “whiskers” — the lines coming from each end of the box — mark the best and worst rankings. These are the best and worst 50% of each driver’s races.

Those green diamonds are races in which the ranking was so different from the driver’s usual range that statistics make it necessary to call our attention to it.

Ryan Blaney, for example, had green-flag speed rankings from 1 to 20 in 22 races. The ranking of 25 (at Loudon) was so far off that we should view it as an anomaly.

The first thing this graph tells us about RFK is that while the RFK drivers aren’t leading the Fords in green-flag speed, they’re also not at the tail end.

  • Buescher is one of only four Ford drivers (with Blaney, Harvick and Logano) to have ranked first in green-flag speed at a race.
  • Buescher’s median green-flag speed rank is 18 for the season, sixth among Ford drivers.
  • Buescher’s bar extends much further down than up. He has the same number of races in which he ranked from 18 to 21 (3 positions) as he does 18 to eight (10 positions).

As for Keselowski:

  • His median green-flag speed rank is 20, eighth out of the top-10 Ford drivers.
  • His bar is short, which means he’s consistent. The problem is that he is consistently ranked around 20.
  • The most telling aspect of the graph is that all three of Keselowski’s top-10 rankings are statistical outliers. You can only see two of the three points because he ranked seventh twice.

While the team has shown speed, it hasn’t been enough speed, or the speed hasn’t been consistent.

The fact that Buescher outperforms Keselowski in most metrics isn’t really surprising. Two of the most disruptive events in a person’s life are the death of a loved one and a job change. The Keselowski family lost its patriarch in December 2021, and more than one race-proven driver has struggled in the first year with a new team.

In this year of surprises, a win by Keselowski or Buescher is not entirely out of the question — especially if one of them has the chance to be a spoiler in Daytona.

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

0 Comments

Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

0 Comments

Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

0 Comments

A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————

Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————

Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

————————————————————————————————————————————————

NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.