Dr. Diandra: The eight Cup Series drivers with the most untapped potential


While some teams are fulfilling their potential — doing everything their equipment and skill allow — I’ve identified eight drivers with significant untapped potential.

By “untapped potential,” I mean a difference between average running position and average finishing position. In other words, drivers who run better than they finish. Not by just a little, but by two or more positions.

With half the regular season complete, Cup Series drivers have only 13 more races to cement playoff spots. Seven of the top-16 drivers remain winless, including points leader Ross Chastain.

Who are the Big Eight?

Eight drivers have average running positions from two up to almost five positions better than their average finishes. I show the eight drivers and the size of their untapped potentials in the graph below.

An arrow graph showing the eight drivers with the highest unfulfilled potential in terms of running and finishing averages

Each driver’s bar extends from his average running position (the upper edge of the bar) to his average finishing position (where the arrow ends). The number underneath indicates how big the difference is. I arranged drivers from left to right in order of highest untapped potential.

The table below, which summarizes some additional stats, shows that each driver faces his own challenges. The drivers rank between first and 32nd and include the driver with most wins and top 10s, as well as drivers with no wins and no top-10 finishes.

A table comparing stats of the eight drivers with the highest unfulfilled potential

DNFs are the most-obvious culprit for low finishing averages, but they don’t explain why drivers aren’t getting the finishes they’ve shown they are capable of.

Failing to finish races isn’t the only issue affecting these drivers. Chastain has only one DNF and Denny Hamlin none. In fact, Hamlin is the only driver to finish every race this year on the lead lap. Yet Hamlin is still an example of untapped potential.

As you might guess, penalties and “incidents” (which include accidents, spins, tire issues and wheel issues) are the primary drivers of gaps between running and finishing positions.

Some of these weaknesses are addressable by the driver and some by the crew. Some are harder to address than others. But addressing them means better finishes and a better season.


Penalties are an obvious area for improvement because teams can (mostly) avoid penalties. I plotted each of the eight drivers’ penalties by type below.

I do not include what I deem to be intentional infractions here. An intentional infraction is one incurred because the penalty is less damaging than the consequences of not committing the infraction. That includes things like pitting before pit road is open or speeding when pitting after an accident. My penalty counts may thus differ from others.

A vertical bar chart showing the penalties incurred by the eight drivers with the most unfulfilled potential

The diagonally striped, yellow areas indicate an off-track excursion at a road course. While not a pit road penalty, they do hinder a driver’s track position.

As with the other statistics, this group of drivers exhibits a broad range of penalty numbers. Aric Almirola’s only penalty this year is a wheel coming off the car on track at Phoenix. Chastain and Kyle Larson each have only one speeding penalty. Preece and Gragson, on the other hand, each incurred seven penalties.

Penalty impacts stretch beyond the race at which the penalty is incurred. For example, Preece sped on pit road at Martinsville after leading every lap up to that point. The penalty sent him to the back of the field. Although Preece finished 15th, a win (or top-five finish) would have boosted driver self-confidence and team morale.

Penalties also hit harder when they happen in latter stages of races because there isn’t as much time to recover. For example, three of Daniel Suárez’s four speeding penalties happened in the third stage of races.

Speeding on pit road is the most common penalty and — in theory — entirely preventable. I remain surprised by the sheer number of reports of incorrectly set dash lights causing speeding penalties. The calculations for pit road speed are not complicated.

The rest, however, is up to the driver.


The graph below tallies the number of caution-causing incidents each driver has been involved in. This number doesn’t include minor contact that may impact track position but doesn’t cause a caution.

A vertical bar chart showing the participating in caution-causing incidents for the eight drivers with the most unfulfilled potential

Larson is an incident magnet this year. It doesn’t seem to matter what track or where in the field he runs. Apart from the Bristol dirt race (where he spun) and Almirola losing a wheel at Atlanta, the remaining eight of Larson’s 10 incidents are accidents.

Larson was collateral damage in the first four accidents. His run-ins with Chastain in the last month all occurred while he was running in the top 10. A frustrated Rick Hendrick addressed the situation after Darlington, suggesting there would be payback.

Chastain leads the points but hasn’t won a race, in large part because of his own actions. His team owner put Chastain on notice, even while reassuring the pilot that the team is fully behind him. The problem is that — if Chastain changes — it may be too late. He’s already antagonized a significant fraction of the field. Like Larson, Chastain should have more wins by now.

Speaking of winning, William Byron’s presence on this list may seem a surprise. While making news for other reasons, he quietly became the statistically best driver this year. And he should be finishing almost four positions better than he is already. If Byron can tap into that untapped potential, this might be his year to make it all the way.

Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup: Kyle Larson wins pole


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson will start on the pole for Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Larson won the pole with an average speed of 91.393 mph around the 1.99-mile road course. Justin Allgaier joins Larson on the front row after a lap of 90.562 mph. Sheldon Creed (90.429 mph) qualified third. Aric Almirola (90.375) will start fourth. AJ Allmendinger (90.274) will start fifth.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup

MORE: Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing

Larson is one of seven Cup drivers entered. The others are Almirola (starting fourth), Allmendinger (fifth), Ty Gibbs (seventh), Ross Chastain (15th), Daniel Suarez (17th) and Ty Dillon (32nd).

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Could Daytona International Speedway host NFL games?


The president of Daytona International Speedway says track officials plan to speak with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting the team’s games if Jacksonville’s stadium is renovated.

The Jaguars will need a temporary home site if plans go forward to renovate the team’s stadium. Daytona International Speedway has been mentioned as a possible candidate. The Jaguars released details Wednesday of what the stadium will look like after the renovation project.

Provided the project is approved by the city of Jacksonville, it is believed the Jaguars would need to find another home site for a couple of seasons while work is being done to its stadium. Daytona International Speedway is among possible sites for the Jaguars to play. More than 100,000 people saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win this year’s Daytona 500.

“Daytona International Speedway is a world-renowned sports and entertainment venue and hosts a full schedule of events each year,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway, in a statement. “As good neighbors in the Florida sports community, DIS will be speaking with the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if we can assist them with their potential upcoming facility needs around our scheduled events.”

Daytona International Speedway hosted Soccer Fest in July 2022. An announced crowd of 7,573 fans saw the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville play in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Daytona.

NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


SONOMA, Calif. — NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


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Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway 

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2