Dr. Diandra: Predicting the first four playoff eliminations using only 2022 statistics


Darlington Raceway hosts the first of the three races (Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on USA Network) that will eliminate four drivers from the Cup Series playoffs.

But which drivers?

That’s a harder question to answer this year than in previous years. Only nine points separate the fifth seed from the 16th seed. In addition, the changes the Next Gen car caused make historical statistics of questionable utility.

So I developed an algorithm to predict the first four playoff eliminations — based only on 2022 numbers.

How to build an algorithm

Predicting the first drivers eliminated from the playoffs is a significantly different task than predicting the championship four. I used the following metrics in my algorithm.

Top-10 finishes: By definition, none of the first four playoff-eliminated drivers will have won a playoff race. Therefore, the algorithm must value running well and scoring points over winning. Playoff drivers have between four (Chase Briscoe) and 17 (Chase Elliott) top-10 finishes.

Average finishing position: A driver with a low average finishing position has few bad finishes or enough good finishes to offset the bad ones. Elliott has the best average finishing position by far, at 10.5. Briscoe and Denny Hamlin are tied for the worst average finishing position at 19.0.

Average running position: Although Hamlin and Briscoe have the same average finishing position, Hamlin has twice as many DNFs. Average running position provides a better measure of drivers’ strength in races they didn’t finish. Elliott has the best average running position (10.2) and Austin Cindric the worst (17.9).

Stage wins: I included stage wins because they reflect playoff points. Playoff drivers have between 0 (Austin Dillon) and 5 (Elliott, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain) stage wins.

Stage points: The points spread between drivers seeded fifth and up is small, so stage points will make a difference. The caveat is that some crew chiefs choose track position over good stage finishes.

Here’s the ratings from my first iteration of the algorithm.

A table showing the intial prediction by the algorithm designed to identify the first four drivers out.

As always, though, there’s room for improvement.

The Mishap Multiplier

DNFs are high this year, as are accidents and spins. Some drivers have a lot of penalties. I folded these into what I call the mishap multiplier. I didn’t want it to be too big an effect, so I set it to one for the driver with the fewest mishaps. That’s Logano, with three penalties and 10 caution-causing incidents.

I set it to 0.8 for the driver with the most mishaps. Hamlin holds that unfortunate distinction with 17 penalties and 14 accidents/spins.

After scaling the numbers for everyone else, I subtracted 0.01 for each DNF.

Chastain drops from second to fourth, while Hamlin drops from 10th to 14th. But Hamlin’s avoided penalties recently. Chastain’s performance in the second half of the regular season wasn’t as good as in the first. Plus, all the teams know a lot more about the Next Gen car than they did at the season’s start.

Improvement Factor

I compared metrics from the first half of the regular season to the second half. The results confirmed some things I already suspected, but also held a few surprises.

Among the suspicions confirmed was that Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch have struggled recently.

Bowman’s average finish is 7.7 positions worse in the second half of the regular season relative to the first. His average running position is worse by 5.7 positions. Eight of Bowman’s 10 top-10 finishes came in the first half of the regular season.

Kyle Busch’s average finishing position worsened by 7.3 spots, although his average running position dropped by only 3.1.

Their drops are more than double the next-biggest decrease in average finishing position. Austin Dillon has a 3.3-position drop in average finishing position and a 1.2-position drop in average running position.

On the surprise side, Daniel Suárez tops the list of improved drivers. His average finishing position is better by 4.1 positions and his average running position by 6.1. Suárez had six fewer penalties and five fewer accidents/spins in the second half of the regular season.

Hamlin and Cindric tie for second-most-improved average finishing position at 3.92 positions higher. But Cindric’s average running position is 2.0 positions worse, while Hamlin’s is 3.7 positions better. Hamlin’s team reduced the number of penalties committed in the second half of the season, too.

I expected Kevin Harvick to be on the list of big improvers, but he isn’t. His average finishing position got better by only 0.31 positions in the second half.

Chastain has mixed results. His average running position is better by 1.2 spots, but his average finishing position is worse by 2.2. I bundled all of this data into an “improvement bonus,” which I worked into the algorithm.

The prediction

Here are the final rankings:

A table showing the final predictions of the algorithm to identify the first four drivers out.

The top eight drivers have small improvement bonuses. Elliott’s is closest to zero because he’s been so consistently good this season.

Again: This algorithm is designed to predict the first four drivers eliminated, not the final order for the season.

And because it’s my first stab at developing an algorithm, there’s lots of room for me to be wrong. For example, I may not have weighted the different elements properly.

There’s a significant gap between the final rankings for the last four drivers and Cindric. It’s possible Cindric and perhaps even Hamlin could exit in round one if any of the drivers below them perform unexpectedly well.

As far as Darlington, Hamlin had a 9.9 average running position in the spring despite a 29th-place finish, He led 42 laps. Bowman, Briscoe, Cindric and Dillon all had average running positions of 18.5 or worse, and led no laps.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.


LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024


LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

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LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash


NASCAR Saturday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


NASCAR drivers are scheduled to hit the track today in competitive mode for the first time in 2023.

Practice is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on the oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum is scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. (ET). The 36 drivers will be divided into three 12-driver groups for practice.

Cup practice groups

Cup qualfying order

Saturday’s qualifying will set the starting lineups for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races. The top five finishers in each heat race will advance to the main event. Two 50-lap “last chance” races will follow, and the top three finishers in each of those events will join the feature field.

The 150-lap main event is scheduled at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

For the second consecutive year, the Clash is being held on a purpose-built track inside the LA Coliseum, one of sport’s iconic venues. Joey Logano won last year’s race and last year’s series championship and will be among the favorites Sunday.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High 71.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)