Dr. Diandra: Next Gen road course masters


Watkins Glen marks the fifth road course race with the Next Gen car. That’s enough data to start separating Next Gen road course masters from those still struggling with the new car. That’s particularly important given the impact of a 16th winner on the playoffs.

Overall average finishing positions

Before delving into road course stats, let’s consider drivers’ overall average finishing positions. They look a lot different than at this point last season.

A vertical bar chart showing average finishing positions for 2022

Some drivers, even those with wins, struggle with the Next Gen car.

  • Denny Hamlin’s current average finishing position is 18.7, which is 9.6 positions higher than in 2021.
  • Hamlin’s drop is double that of the driver with the next largest change. Brad Keselowski‘s average finishing position of 18.8 is 4.8 positions worse relative to 2021.
  • William Byron (up 4.7 positions), Kyle Larson (up 4.4 positions) and Kyle Busch (up 3.7 positions) round out the top-five drivers with worse average finishing positions in 2022 than 2021.

Other drivers have found advantages.

  • Justin Haley has improved the most, from a mean finish of 25.9 to 18.6. That’s 7.3 positions. (This comparison may be a little unfair. Kaulig Racing had very limited experience with the Gen-6 car.)
  • Aric Almirola improved by 4.6 positions.
  • Ross Chastain has improved 4.5 positions, and teammate Daniel Suárez has improved 4.4 positions.

Gaining in the middle

Most of 2021’s top-ranked drivers have worse average finishes in 2022. This year’s gainers are predominantly last year’s mid-tier drivers. That’s consistent with the large number of winners.

  • In 2021, 21 full-time drivers had average finish positions under 20 after 24 races.
  • In 2022, 25 full-time drivers have average finish positions under 20.

Compare those numbers with the numbers of drivers with top-15 average finishes.

  • Thirteen drivers had average finishing positions under 15 in 2021.
  • Only eight drivers have average finishing positions under 15 in 2022.

That’s numerical confirmation of a more-level playing field.

The drivers with under-15 average finishes in both 2021 and 2022 are Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Larson and Kevin Harvick, winner of the season’s past two races. The two drivers with average finishing positions above 15 in 2021 but under 15 in 2022 are Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell.

But these drivers arrived at their average finishing positions in very different ways.

The best 2022 road racers

The next graph shows average finishing positions for road courses in 2022.

A vertical bar chart showing the average finishing position at road courses in 2022 for drivers with an average finishing position under 17

Austin Cindric hasn’t won a Cup Series road course race, but he holds the highest average finish in 2022 road course competitions. Two of Cindric’s four top-five finishes came at road courses. His worst finish at a road course is eighth at Circuit of the Americas.

Cindric beats second-place Elliott by two full positions. A 16th-place finish at the Indianapolis road course pulls Elliott’s average down. He has a 4.7 average finishing position at the other three road course races. Elliott’s 7.5 average finishing position is 1.4 positions higher than his 2021 average.

Michael McDowell ranks third in 2022 with an average finishing position of 8.0 — an 18-position improvement. In 2021, McDowell tied for 20th with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Toyota’s highest ranking driver on road courses is 10th overall. Christopher Bell has a 15.0 average finishing position. He’s improved 1.6 positions over 2021.

Biggest gains and losses 2021 versus 2022

Let’s compare drivers’ 2021 and 2022 average finishes at road courses directly. The bar length indicates the size of the change. Red arrows indicate poorer performance in 2022 than 2021. Blue arrows indicate improvement.

A difference chart showing the changes in average driver finish position at road courses from 2021 to 2022

I arranged the drivers from biggest loss to biggest gain.

Drivers whose performance hasn’t changed very much occupy the graph’s center. In addition to Elliott’s already noted consistency:

  • Truex’s average finish dropped from 15.1 to 16.8.
  • A.J. Allmendinger’s average finishing position is up one spot relative to 2021.
  • Blaney is better in 2022, but only by 0.18 positions.

Comparing changes in road course finishes to overall finishes shows that some drivers are doing much better — or much worse — at road courses than in general.

  • Kyle Busch’s average finish at road courses showed the largest drop. But his overall average finish position is only 3.7 positions worse than 2021.
  • McDowell has the largest improvement in road course finishes, but his overall average only improved by 1.7.

Those differences prompted me to separate road course data from other track types.

Road course versus non-road course finishes

I compared each driver’s change in average finish at road courses relative to his change in finish at non-road courses on the scatter plot below.

A scatter plot comparing change in average finish at road courses vs. change in average finish at non-road courses

The horizontal axis represents change in finish at road courses. A positive number (i.e., the right side of the graph) means the driver finished better at road courses in 2022. Being on the left side means the opposite.

The vertical axis is the change in non-road course finishes. Being in the top half of the graph means improvement relative to 2021. Being in the lower half means the driver’s performance at non-road courses is worse this year than last.

The best place on this graph is the upper right-hand quadrant. Drivers there improved in road course and non-road course tracks.

The worst place is the bottom-left quadrant. Drivers there have worse performances this year in both categories of tracks.

The upper-left quadrant includes drivers doing worse on road courses, but better on non-road courses. The lower-right quadrant holds drivers doing better on road courses and worse on non-road courses.

  • McDowell is in the upper-right quadrant, but close to the horizontal axis. That means his road course improvement is much greater than his improvement on non-road courses.
  • Kyle Busch exemplifies the opposite situation. His average finish in non-road course races is worse by just 0.21 positions. But his road course average finish is worse by almost 13 positions.
  • Larson’s numbers are smaller but in the same direction as Kyle Busch. His non-road course average is worse by 3.2 positions, but his average road course finish was 12.8 positions worse.

When choosing drivers for Watkins Glen (3 p.m., USA Network), give the drivers on the right-hand side of this graph a second look.

Comparing last year with this year necessarily eliminates rookies. It also neglects this year’s non-Cup Series regulars. Although Cindric’s rookie season has been rocky, road courses have been some of his best races. Don’t overlook him.

Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup: Kyle Larson wins pole


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson will start on the pole for Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Larson won the pole with an average speed of 91.393 mph around the 1.99-mile road course. Justin Allgaier joins Larson on the front row after a lap of 90.562 mph. Sheldon Creed (90.429 mph) qualified third. Aric Almirola (90.375) will start fourth. AJ Allmendinger (90.274) will start fifth.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup

MORE: Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing

Larson is one of seven Cup drivers entered. The others are Almirola (starting fourth), Allmendinger (fifth), Ty Gibbs (seventh), Ross Chastain (15th), Daniel Suarez (17th) and Ty Dillon (32nd).

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Could Daytona International Speedway host NFL games?


The president of Daytona International Speedway says track officials plan to speak with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting the team’s games if Jacksonville’s stadium is renovated.

The Jaguars will need a temporary home site if plans go forward to renovate the team’s stadium. Daytona International Speedway has been mentioned as a possible candidate. The Jaguars released details Wednesday of what the stadium will look like after the renovation project.

Provided the project is approved by the city of Jacksonville, it is believed the Jaguars would need to find another home site for a couple of seasons while work is being done to its stadium. Daytona International Speedway is among possible sites for the Jaguars to play. More than 100,000 people saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win this year’s Daytona 500.

“Daytona International Speedway is a world-renowned sports and entertainment venue and hosts a full schedule of events each year,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway, in a statement. “As good neighbors in the Florida sports community, DIS will be speaking with the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if we can assist them with their potential upcoming facility needs around our scheduled events.”

Daytona International Speedway hosted Soccer Fest in July 2022. An announced crowd of 7,573 fans saw the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville play in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Daytona.

NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


SONOMA, Calif. — NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


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Concussion-like symptoms sideline Noah Gragson

NASCAR implements safety changes after Talladega crash

Dr. Diandra: Brad Keselowski driving RFK Racing revival 

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway 

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2