Dr. Diandra: How qualifying affects stage points


It’s no surprise that qualifying position affects stage points. But it’s not as simple as the fastest cars always making their way to the front. Stage racing forces crew chiefs to balance points and track position.

Stage points will be crucial for the eight drivers trying to reach the championship four. At least one of these drivers will make the championship race on points.

Chase Elliott leads Joey Logano (in second) by 20 points. Logano has five points over third-place Ross Chastain. But the drivers from Chastain to Chase Briscoe (the eighth seed) are separated by just 12 points.

Winning Stage 1

The Next Gen car has upended expectations in 2022, so we should start by asking whether previous years’ results are applicable to this season.

I tallied stage winners between 2017 — when stage racing started — and 2022, along with their starting positions. Drivers who started the race from the back of the field have their own category.

I omitted the Bristol dirt race because it is so different from other races, which leaves 210 stage ones in the dataset.

MORE: NASCAR NBC Sports Driver Rankings

Stage 1 is pretty consistent across the years. For example: From 2017-21, 62.6% of Stage 1 winners qualified in the first five positions. In the first 32 races of 2022, the percentage is 61.3%.

Each slice in the pie chart below represents the percentage of drivers who qualified in that position and went on to win Stage 1. Qualifying positions are listed in order, going counterclockwise around the chart. “TTB” indicates drivers who started the race at the back.

 A pie chart showing how qualifying position affects driver earning six or more stage points for stage two.

Fewer drivers who qualify at the rear win stages. One driver corresponds to about a half a percent. That’s not enough drivers to make distinctions between, for example, qualifying 11th or 12th.

However, the data does show that drivers qualifying in the first three positions claimed 51.4% of stage 1 wins. Top-10 qualifying drivers took 83.1% of all stage 1 wins.

Only once in 210 stages did a driver win stage 1 after being sent to the back. That was Martin Truex Jr. at Michigan in 2019.

Playoff drivers and crews must be at peak performance for these next three races. Errors will be costly in terms of stage 1 points.

Winning Stage 2

Stage 2, in contrast to Stage 1, varies significantly from year to year. The table below show the percentage of Stage 2 winners for different groups of qualifying positions for each year.

A table showing the percentage of stage-two winners qualifying in various positions.The importance of starting in the top five or even the top 10 in terms of winning Stage 2 has diminished over the years. Even so, 58.1% of all drivers winning a Stage 2 this year qualified in the top 10.

But whereas the top 50% of Stage 1 wins came from drivers qualifying in the top three, 50% of  Stage 2 wins in 2022 come from drivers in the top seven.

MORE: NASCAR considered removing Chase Briscoe from playoffs

My working hypothesis to explain the year-to-year changes is that it took a while for crew chiefs to become comfortable strategizing for stage points. Crew chiefs unable to earn decent Stage 1 points are much more willing now to give up Stage 1 points in favor of track position.

Starting from the back of the pack isn’t as much of a penalty for Stage 2 as for Stage 1. Ten out of 210 Stage 2s (4.8%) from 2017-22 were won by drivers who started the race from the back of the field. It’s been accomplished twice this year, both times by Ross Chastain.

How qualifying impacts winning six or more stage points in Stage 2

Winning a stage is usually extra important because of the playoff point awarded for each win. The final race decides the championship strictly by who finishes ahead of the other three drivers, so playoff points aren’t important. There isn’t much difference between winning a stage and earning nine points.

Because we can’t combine the data from different years, and there isn’t enough data for Stage 2 winners, I investigated how qualifying affected drivers who earned six or more points in Stage 2s.

 A pie chart showing how qualifying position affects stage points for stage one.

In 2022, 51% of drivers earning six or more points in Stage 2 in 2022 started the race in the top 10. Nine percent of drivers won six or more stage points in Stage 2 despite starting the race from the back of the field.

Playoff implications

The table below shows the total stage points earned during the playoffs for each driver in the round of eight.

A table summarizing stage points earned during the playoffs to show how important earning stage points is.The top four drivers are within four points of each other over six playoff races. Elliott ranks only sixth out of eight in this metric, despite having earned the most stage points of any driver this season.

Elliott beats only Denny Hamlin and Briscoe. Briscoe, with a 3.8 stage points per playoff race average, really needs to step up his strategy going into the third playoff round.

Or cement his spot in the final by winning this week at Las Vegas (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at goprn.com; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


Friday 5: What to do about lack of respect on the track?

Dr. Diandra: With Chase Elliott out, these are the best Next Gen road racers

Drivers to watch at COTA

North Wilkesboro’s racing surface will prove challenging to drivers 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Christopher Bell is new No. 1

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


Saturday will be a busy day at Circuit of the Americas, as all three national series are on the track.

Cup will qualify ahead of the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races.

The forecast Saturday calls for sunny conditions and no chance of rain all day. The high is expected to be 69 degrees during Cup qualifying, 76 degrees at the start of the Truck race and 81 degrees for the start of the Xfinity race.

Zane Smith looks to win his second consecutive Truck race at the road course in Austin, Texas. AJ Allmendinger seeks his second consecutive Xfinity win at COTA.

Saturday, March 25

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m.  — Truck Series
  • 2 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)