Dr. Diandra: Can the Cup Series reach 20 different winners?

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It’s nail-biting time for people who predicted the NASCAR Cup Series would reach 20 different winners this year.

The 2022 season tied the record for most distinct winners after Chris Buescher became the 19th winner at Bristol. But how likely is it that a new driver gets his first win of the season in the last two races?

How many drivers win their first race in the season’s last 10 races?

Let’s consider seasons from 2001 to the present. I picked 2001 because that’s when 36 races per season became the norm.

In the plot below, I represent the number of distinct winners after the first 26 races of each year — what we now call the regular season — in green. New winners in the last 10 races of each year are shown in gray. The red numbers at the top are the totals for each season. Even before 2001, the series never reached 20 different winners.

A stacked vertical bar chart comparing the number of distinct winners after 26 races to the number after 36 races

The most recent season with 19 different winners was 2001. Although there were no playoffs then, 15 different drivers won during the first 26 races. Drivers notching their first wins of the season took four of the last 10 races.

That tells us that it’s possible to have four new winners in the last 10 races of a season. It happened in 2013 as well. Seasons like 2014 and 2016, however, had zero new winners in the playoffs.

The average number of new winners in the final 10 races is 1.9 over the last 21 years. We’re already over the average with three this year.

But the 2022 season has bucked more trends than it has followed.

Records already broken

The 2022 playoffs are already unlike any other playoffs since the format began in 2014. The next graph details who typically wins the last 10 playoff races.

A stacked bar chart showing the status of drivers who won playoff races, 2014-2022

Let’s start with the simplest year: 2016. The solid green tells you that all 10 playoff races were won by a driver still eligible for the championship at the time of the win.

The bars for 2018 and 2019 are also all green, but with two hatched races. Eight races in each of those years were won by drivers still in the hunt for the championship. Two drivers who had qualified for the playoffs on points won their first races of the season in each of those years.

In total, seven drivers pointed into the playoffs and then won their first race of the season during the playoffs. That hasn’t happened this year, but only one driver made the playoffs on points.

Yellow bars represent drivers who made the playoffs, but had been eliminated when they won. That happened to Alex Bowman last year, along with two drivers each in 2014, 2015 and this year.

Hatches on yellow are for drivers who won their first race of the season after they’d been eliminated from the playoffs. That was Kyle Busch in 2020 and Matt Kenseth in 2017.

I reserved red for drivers who didn’t make the playoffs but won a playoff race. No red appears until 2021 when Bubba Wallace won Talladega. That was both his first win of the season and his first career win.

Drivers not in the playoffs at the time of their win have won more playoff races in 2022 than any other year. Three drivers got their first race wins of the season in the playoffs this year.

Even if playoff drivers win the last two races, they will have won only 50% of the playoff races, the lowest percentage in playoff history. If non-playoff drivers win the next two races, playoff drivers will have claimed only 30%.

Running out of time

Only two races remain in the 2022 season. So how many of these new winners in the last 10 races won the last or second-to-last race?

Here’s the same type of graph, with blue bars representing the number of winners in the first 34 races of each season. The seven gray bars show years in which a new winner won the last or second-to-last race of the season. About one-third of the seasons featured a new winner in the last two races.

A stacked vertical bar chart comparing the number of distinct winners after 34 races to the number after 36 races

In 2001 and 2013, winless drivers took the checkered flag at the final race of the year. Robby Gordon accomplished that feat in 2001 and Denny Hamlin in 2013. But both years were before the current playoff system started.

That leaves five drivers who got their first win of the season in the second-to-last race of the year. Those five seasons are 2003, ’10, ’11, ’12 and — importantly — ’17. Importantly because 2017 is the only season in this sample using the current playoff system. Matt Kenseth won the second-to-last race that year.

Getting to 20 different winners

Here’s the catch: Who’s left to win? Ryan Blaney is the only driver who made it into the playoffs on points. He has the fourth best average finish (14.3) and the fourth best qualifying average (10.5). He did win the All-Star Race this year. To secure the record and his place in the championship four, Blaney must minimize mistakes, avoid fading at race end, and focus on getting good restarts.

It looked like Martin Truex Jr. might get his first win of the year at Homestead last week. Then a combination of sun in his eyes and Kyle Larson on his tail sent him for a spin on pit road. And that’s hardly the only bit of bad luck he’s had this year.

Truex’s season stats don’t engender much optimism. Although he has the second-highest number of fastest laps, he is seventh in average running position, sixth in laps led and eighth in average finish. His average qualifying is only 15.0 (tied for 15th), which doesn’t bode well for a track like Martinsville.

Between a new team and a new car, Brad Keselowski has an average finish of 18.3. Keselowski has improved over the season, but so have his competitors.

Aric Almirola has a better average finish than teammate and playoff driver Chase Briscoe by 0.1 positions. But his average finish at Martinsville is only 20.3.

Overall, Blaney seems the best bet for the Cup Series to reach 20 different winners in 2022.


NASCAR fines Daniel Suarez $50,000 for pit road incident


NASCAR fined Daniel Suarez $50,000 for running into the cars of Alex Bowman and teammate Ross Chastain on pit road after last weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas.

Suarez was upset after a potential top-five finish was lost in an incident in overtime.

MORE: Appeals Panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers 

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“It’s uncharacteristic of Daniel,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s no excuse for what happened.”

Appeals panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers


Alex Bowman is back leading the points after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team Wednesday. The Appeals Panel also rescinded the 10-point playoff to each Hendrick driver and team.

The Appeals Panel found that Hendrick violated the rule by modifying the hood louvers on the cars of Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Josh Berry at Phoenix. The louvers were taken after practice that weekend.

The Appeals Panel kept the $100,000 fine and four-race suspension to each Hendrick crew chief: Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris and Rudy Fugle. All four sat out the past two races, meaning they’ll miss this weekend’s race at Richmond and next weekend’s race on the dirt at Bristol before returning the following weekend at Martinsville.

The Appeals Panel did not give a reason for its decision.

Bowman had been 16th in the standings with the 100-point penalty. He now has a 15-point lead on Ross Chastain after getting all those points back.

Byron goes from 22nd to third after getting his points back. He’s 29 points behind Bowman, 14 points behind Chastain and five points ahead of Kyle Busch. Byron also gets his 10 playoff points back for his wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Larson goes from 27th to ninth with getting his points back.

“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond (Raceway).”

NASCAR stated its displeasure with part of the penalty being rescinded.

“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book. However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”

The panelists on the appeal were former driver Bill Lester, Kelly Housby and Dixon Johnston.

Here is the updated points

1. Alex Bowman       226 points

2. Ross Chastain      211

3. William Byron       197

4. Kyle Busch           192

5. Joey Logano        186

6. Kevin Harvick       186

7. Christopher Bell   184

8. Ryan Blaney         177

9. Kyle Larson          170

10. Austin Cindric     166

11. Martin Truex Jr.   165

12. Brad Keselowski 162

13. Tyler Reddick       161

14. Denny Hamlin      161

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 159

16. Chris Buescher     157

17. Daniel Suárez        144

18. Corey LaJoie         139

19. Michael McDowell 125

20. Ty Gibbs                 118

21. Bubba Wallace      103

22. AJ Allmendinger    103

23. Erik Jones                99

24. Chase Briscoe         96

25. Todd Gilliland          95

26. Austin Dillon            93

27. Noah Gragson        86

28. Aric Almirola            70

29. Ryan Preece           69

30. Harrison Burton      66

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 1st
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.