Dr. Diandra: Drivers who run better than they finish


“We’ve been running better than we finish.” We’ve all heard drivers make that claim.

But how many drivers really do run better than they finish? It can’t be all of them. If some drivers run better than they finish, others must finish better than they run.

To answer this question, I compared season-long average running position to average finishing position.

The more I use average running position, the more I like it as a metric for driver performance. Average running position reflects a driver’s entire race, not just an accident, a penalty or an equipment failure.

For example, Kyle Busch had the best average running position at Darlington: 3.99, according to NASCAR’s loop data stats. After an engine failure took him out on lap 345, he finished 30th.

But Darlington was one race. Let’s see how the season-to-date looks.

Drivers running better than they finish

I include in this category all drivers who finished at least one position worse than they ran on average. I only graphed drivers who ran more than 1.5 positions better than they finished.

On the graph below, the top of each bar shows the driver’s running position. The bar extends downward to their finishing position. I made the bars red to remind myself that these drivers finished worse than they ran.

A graph illustrating which drivers run better than they finish in 2022 and by how much

William Byron has the largest difference between average running position and average finishing position, finishing four positions worse than his 13.8 running position.

Byron has six DNFs and has been involved in 12 incidents this season. Five of those incidents caused cautions, while the other seven include accidents and spins at road courses, losing a wheel at Kansas and steering rack troubles at Nashville. Byron was leading the first Darlington race going into Turn 4 of the next-to-last lap, but finished 13th.

I tend to think of Byron and Alex Bowman as having the same issues. Both won early, but their performances fell off later in the regular season.

While Byron finishes four positions worse than he runs, Bowman finishes 0.6 positions better than he runs. Byron’s average running position of 13.77 is almost two-and-a-half positions better than Bowman’s.

I would have expected Bowman to run better than he finishes as well. After all, he has 16 incidents and five DNFs, which is not too different from Byron’s record. But this analysis suggests the two drivers have different problems in need of solving.

Why drivers run better than they finish

Denny Hamlin has the second largest negative difference at –2.84. While his six DNFs definitely contribute to a high running-better-than-finishing score, they’re not the only factor. Ross Chastain has five DNFs, but Ryan Blaney has only three and Martin Truex Jr. two.

One piece of good news for Hamlin is that penalties are self-inflicted and thus avoidable. His team has been better at avoiding penalties in the second half of the regular season relative to the first.

Four additional drivers compiled enough DNFs, penalties and incidents that they ran better than they finished, but didn’t make the graph. They are: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (–1.38), Chase Briscoe (–1.38), Kyle Larson (–1.24) and Kyle Busch (–1.21).

Consistent runners and finishers

I define any driver with a running-better-than-finishing difference (RBF) between -1 and +1 to be running about where they finish.

I listed these drivers in the table below. The last column is the average running position minus the average finish position. Negative means the driver finishes worse than where he runs, while positive means the opposite.

A table comparing average running position to average finishing position for those drivers who run about where they finish

Of course, the RBF doesn’t tell the entire story.

Chase Elliott has the highest finishing and running positions of any Cup Series driver. But the –0.55 difference between them doesn’t mean he runs close to where he finishes every race. The 2020 champion ran better than he finished at 11 tracks, and worse than he finished at the other 16.

Another example of how running position can help distinguish between seemingly similar drivers: Kevin Harvick and Christopher Bell have average finish positions of 14.11 and 14.22 respectively. But Harvick runs a little worse (14.63) than he finishes and Bell a bit better (13.63.)

Daniel Suárez runs closest to how he finishes so far this year. A net 0.23 positions separate his running and finishing positions.

Finishing better than they run

The final group is the drivers whose average finishing positions are at least 1.5 positions better than their average running positions.

A graph illustrating which drivers finish better than they run in 2022 and by how much

Justin Haley has the largest difference in this group, finishing 3.21 positions better than where he runs. Although that’s a significant increase, he starts with an average running position of 22.2. That means Haley runs 8.4 positions worse than Byron, but finishes only 1.2 positions behind.

The two playoff drivers on this graph — Austin Dillon (+2.09) and Austin Cindric (+2.06) — have similar differences between running and finishing positions. Cindric has the slightly better average finish by about one position.

Unsurprisingly, superspeedway races produce the largest differences between running and finishing positions because so many drivers fail to finish these races. But that cuts both ways. Drivers who get caught up in crashes usually finish worse than they run, and the drivers still in the race move up in the running order.

So some drivers do indeed run better than they finish. And the next time one claims he’s been doing that, you know how to figure out if the claim is true.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum


The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:


Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.


Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?







Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing


Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.