Dr. Diandra: Predicting Kansas contenders

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Last week, I developed an algorithm to predict the first four drivers to be knocked out of the playoffs. Since we have to wait two races before evaluating how well that algorithm worked, let’s try something else.

Let’s try predicting the contenders in today’s Cup playoff race a Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA Network).

Predicting Kansas with only one Kansas race

Picking drivers based on only May’s Kansas race won’t give us very robust results. So we’ll add a couple of comparable tracks that have already hosted a race this year.

The track most similar to Kansas is Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Both are 1.5-mile, D-shaped tracks with low tire wear. Las Vegas has progressive banking between 18 and 20 degrees while Kansas’s banking ranges from 17 to 20 degrees.

The other track is Michigan International Speedway. Kansas and Michigan share the same shape and level of tire wear. They’re different lengths, but only by a half-mile. The corner banking at Michigan is 18 degrees, similar to Kansas’s turns.

That makes our sample data the May Kansas race, Michigan and Las Vegas.

I weighted averages to make the Kansas data equal to the other two tracks combined. Basically, I added Kansas twice and Michigan and Las Vegas once and divided by four. When I refer to average finishing position or average running position for the dataset, I mean the weighted averages.

I developed the algorithm using the same techniques I described before, but valued winning a little more here. I used the driver’s average finish over the last five races to capture momentum. For reference, all drivers but one have average finishes of 10th or worse in their last five races.

The top three contenders

No one will be surprised to see Kyle Larson at the top of my list. He’s at the top of a lot of lists. The graph of weighted finishing positions below shows his 3.25 average finishing position. That’s half the average finishing position of the second-place driver, Martin Truex Jr.

A vertical bar chart showing the weighted average finish for drivers at 2022 Kansas, Las Vegas and Michigan races

Larson enters Kansas confident, but realistic about the level of competition he expects from Toyota.

“I’m sure they’ll get the pole,” Larson said. “I’m sure they’ll be in the hunt all race long. It’ll be tough, but they can be beat, for sure.”

Larson is one of only three drivers to have top-10 finishes at all three tracks. The other two are Truex and Alex Bowman. Although Larson didn’t win any of the three races, he put up a fierce battle with eventual winner Kurt Busch at Kansas in May. He also led 7.6% of all laps run at these three tracks this year.

Drivers two and three score well behind Larson, but very close to each other.

Although Christopher Bell had a DNF at Michigan, he still had the fifth best average running position for that race. Bell led 13.5% of laps at the three tracks in 2022, the second highest total of any driver. And he’s one of only two drivers to lead laps at all three tracks this year.

Denny Hamlin has the second-best average finishing position in his last five races at 10.8. That boosted him to third place in the Kansas prediction list. Despite not finishing the Las Vegas race due to a drivetrain problem, Hamlin led 9.3% of all possible laps at the three target races.

The last of the top six Kansas predictions

The final three drivers are tightly grouped in score, but below Bell and Hamlin.

Ross Chastain takes fourth place. He’s led the most laps of any driver (15.7%) at our three-track sample. He also led each one of the three races we’re considering. Bell is the only other driver who’s done that.

“It’s pretty wild that our wins have not come on 1.5-mile tracks,” Chastain said, “because I feel like those have been our strongest races.”

Strongest or not, Chastain’s position on the list isn’t higher because his average finishing position for the last five races is 23.2. That’s the worst of any of the top-nine drivers the algorithm identified.

Las Vegas winner Alex Bowman comes in fifth, with a 7.0 average finish position. Although he had a series of P30+ finishes in the middle of the season, his average finishing in the last five races is 13.4. He’s also one of the three drivers to have top-10 finishes at all three races in the sample.

No. 6 on my list is Kevin Harvick. Aside from winning Michigan, he doesn’t have a single standout stat like the other drivers. Just solid numbers in every metric. If he can channel last week’s frustration into a strong run, he just might solidify his spot in the next round of the playoffs this Sunday (3 p.m. ET on USA Network.)

Other drivers

With the second-highest average finish at the sample tracks, how did Truex rank only seventh? He finished in the top 10 in all three races, but never cracked the top five. He only led one lap between all three tracks. But if you’re looking for a driver to run top 10, he’s a solid choice.

Joey Logano is on a hot streak with the best last-five-race average (5.8). But his average finishing position at these tracks is 13.0, with zero laps led.

Chase Elliott, who had a disappointing 36th-place finish at Darlington, has a 19.5 average finish at the three comparable tracks this year.

Chase Briscoe and Daniel Suárez have average finishes of 25.8 and 32.0 respectively. While Suárez has shown improvement since his Sonoma win, his average finishing position at the last five races is still only 18.2.

Kansas predicts tires for the playoffs

Goodyear continues to develop the 18-inch Next Gen tire. Just as teams have learned a lot about the car during the season, so have the tire engineers.

They’ve changed the construction and the tread compounds for Kansas relative to the May race. The right-side tire code was run at Pocono and Michigan, but the left-side is new.

Texas and Las Vegas are scheduled to use the same tire codes. So in addition to points, teams will scramble to gather tire data in the hopes they’ll be able to use it to their advantage in the fourth and seventh playoff races.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.