Eliminating four drivers every three races ups the playoff tension, but resetting points sometimes obscures drivers’ playoff performances. Knowing who’s been consistently strong may give a hint as to who moves on after Martinsville — and who to watch in 2023.
The most important metric in racing is where drivers finish. The graph below shows the 11 drivers with average finishing positions below 15 in the playoffs. Kyle Larson has a 15.4 average finish, but no one else is better than 16.
Denny Hamlin’s average finishing position of 6.6 is the best of all drivers and markedly improved over his regular-season average finish of 19.0.
William Byron ranks second. He is a full three positions behind Hamlin, but, again, much better than his regular-season average finish of 18.1.
After Ross Chastain (11.4), the remaining eight drivers are all within 1.2 positions of each other. Five of those eight are non-playoff drivers.
Best average running position
Average running position highlights drivers who have had races cut short by accidents or equipment problems. I included drivers with average running positions of 15 and better on this graph.
Seven of the eight playoff drivers make the cut here. The exception is Chase Briscoe, who has an 18.4 average running position for the eight playoff races run thus far.
Byron leads with an average running position of 8.2, which is 1.4 positions better than his average finishing position of 9.6.
Hamlin is second with an average running position of 10.8, more than five positions worse than his average finish.
Top green-flag speed
NASCAR’s loop data ranks each driver in terms of green-flag speed relative to the field. I averaged those numbers for the playoff races and plotted the drivers with the highest average ranks.
Seven of the eight playoff drivers make the top 10 this time, along with Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Tyler Reddick. Briscoe is again the sole playoff driver missing the cut with an average green-flag speed rank of 20.4.
Byron leads with an average green-flag speed rank of 6.0. More impressive is that Byron never ranked worse than 12th in green-flag speed in playoff races.
All three Hendrick Motorsports contenders make the top five. Larson comes in second at an average 8.0 rank and Elliott is fifth at 10.9.
Christopher Bell takes third place and is the top Toyota driver. He ranked in the top three in green-flag speed for the first four races, but broke the top 15 only once in the second four races.
Playoff drivers with the best playoff performance
I weighted race and stage points earned by each driver, average finishing position, average running position and average green-flag speed rank. I weighted the latter two combined the same as average finishing position. The maximum score possible is 58.
Byron takes first place with a score of 53.2. That’s not too surprising given that he leads every metric except average finishing position. He’s made quite a turnaround from entering the playoffs with only six top-10 finishes.
Hamlin comes in second with 48.9 points. He has the best finishing average in the playoffs and comes in second on the other metrics.
Chastain (44.4), Bell (41.0) and Joey Logano (40.9) round out the top-five playoff drivers. The remaining playoff drivers are: Blaney (seventh overall: 35.3), Elliott (eighth: 32.2) and Briscoe (16th: 26.5).
Of the non-playoff drivers, Larson takes sixth place overall, just 1.4 points behind Logano. Despite not making it into the round of eight, Larson has kept up with the playoff contenders.
Daniel Suárez ranks second highest of the non-playoff drivers. His 31.4 total puts him ninth overall, behind Blaney and Elliott. Suárez has the eighth highest race plus stage points total in the playoffs and the 10th best average running position.
A 100-point penalty at the start of the year kept Brad Keselowski off most “best of” lists this year. But he has the third-best playoffs of non-playoff drivers with a score of 30.8. That puts him 10th overall.
Michael McDowell (29.2) has a 13.6 average finishing position for the playoffs, behind only Hamlin, Byron and Chastain — and tied with Bell. His season average finish is 16.4, four positions higher than his previous career best.
The final top-five non-playoff driver is Erik Jones, who is 12th overall with 29.1 points. His season average finishing position is 16.3, the same as in 2019 when he ran for Joe Gibbs Racing. His playoffs have been even better, with a win at Darlington and top-10 finishes at Texas, Talladega and Las Vegas.
The driver with the best overall playoff performance doesn’t necessarily win the championship. Find out whether these stats predict who makes it to the Championship Four at Martinsville (2 p.m. ET; NBC).