Diandra Leslie-Pelecky

Former physics professor researching nanomaterials and nanomedicine; now applying my teaching skills to racetracks and fast cars. Author: The Physics of NASCAR.

Dr. Diandra: 2022 accidents steady, spins up 200%

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Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.

Cautions

I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.

My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.

A stacked bar chart showing the planned and natural cautions from 2013 to 2022

The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.

Causes

Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?

This year presented an even thornier problem.

The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.

To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.

The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.

Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.

My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.

The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.

A table comparing breakdowns of cautions

The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.

There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.

Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls

I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.

And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.

The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.

A stacked bar graph showing the drivers involved in the most accidents, spins and/or stalls

Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.

Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.

No full-time driver evaded incidents entirely. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron tallied six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell came in at eight each.

Cautions by race

The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.

But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.

The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.

A vertical bar graph showing the races with the most cautions per 100 miles of racing

That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.

Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4  The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).

What about superspeedways?

The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.

But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.

The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.

Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.

We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.

And there were a lot more spins that didn’t bring out cautions.

Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.

Dr. Diandra: 2022 by the numbers – Penalties

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NASCAR’s 2022 penalties fall into three categories.

  • The most common pre-race penalties are failing inspection, switching to a backup car or making unapproved adjustments.
  • In-race penalties are issued to drivers and crew on pit road (such as speeding and too many crew members over the wall) and on-track penalties such as yellow line violations and running over the choose box.
  • Post-race violations may stem from an incident during the race, like a loose wheel, or they may arise from post-race inspections, either at the track or at NASCAR’s Research & Development Center.

Penalties can significantly impact a driver’s race. With racing as close as it was in 2022, every penalty matters. That’s why I pulled together every penalty issued by NASCAR in the 2022 season to determine who made the most — and the fewest — mistakes.

Method

NASCAR issued a total of 808 penalties in the 2022 season, but not all of those penalties are mistakes.

Crew chiefs often choose to pit before pit road is open when the penalty for doing so is less important than getting the car to the pit box. That may be because the car is damaged, or the driver is running so far back in the field that it won’t make much of a difference.

I eliminated all pitting before pit road is open. I also axed any penalties issued on the same pit stop. If you pit while pit road is closed, it doesn’t make much difference if you send more people over the wall than allowed when the car arrives.

Following the same rationale, I removed penalties issued on pit road where the offending car went to garage.

Different sources often cite different penalty numbers, depending on what they include. The graphic below shows my breakdown of the 2022 Cup Series penalties.

A diagram showing the breakdown of the 808 total 2022 penalties in the Cup Series

Once the 406 intentional penalties are subtracted, that leaves 402 unintentional penalties.

Of the unintentional penalties:

  • 102 (25.3%) were levied pre-race. That’s down from 2021, when there were 128 pre-race penalties.
  • 273 (68.0%) were imposed during races. That continues a downward trend from 317 last year and 337 the year before
  • 27 (6.7%) were imposed after races.

Of the 402 unintentional penalties, 188 (46.8%) are attributable to drivers. The crew gets the blame for 204 (50.7%). I couldn’t definitively pin the remaining 10 penalties on either group.

Pre-race penalties

Unapproved adjustments comprised 67.6% of all pre-race penalties. Going to a backup car and inspection failures tie for a distant second with 10.8% each.

No team incurred more than five pre-race penalties. On the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Dillon had no pre-race penalties.

The table below compares 2022 pre-race penalties with prior years. Recall that the 2020 season was interrupted by COVID, which changed the practice, qualifying and inspection timelines.

A table breaking down the 2022 penalties for pre-race violations

Inspection failures significantly declined this year, no doubt aided by the uniformity of single-source parts. Unapproved adjustments continued rising. Two rained-out practices at Atlanta likely kept the backup car count a little lower than it might be otherwise.

In-race penalties

I consolidated in-race penalties to maintain a manageable number of categories. For example, ‘equipment related’ includes penalties for throwing or tossing equipment, equipment over the wall too early, equipment interference, etc.

Drivers incurred 163 (59.7%) of the 2022 in-race penalties, as shown in the pie chart below on the left. The remaining 101 in-race penalties assessed to crew members are shown on the pie chart on the right side.

A pie chart showing the 2022 penalties incurred by drivers. A pie chart showing the 2022 penalties incurred by crew members

Speeding on pit road comprised the largest driver contribution, with 122 citations. Speeding accounts for almost 75% of driver penalties.

The top pit-road speeder in 2022 was B.J. McLeod, who was nabbed 11 times in just 29 races. Of full-time competitors, Corey LaJoie notched eight speeding penalties and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seven. Rounding out the top five were Truex with six and Daniel Suárez with five.

The only full-time drivers who didn’t garner a single speeding on pit road penalty this year are series champion Joey Logano and Chase Elliott.

Equipment-related penalties account for more than one-third of the total penalties incurred by pit crews. Crew member(s) over the wall too soon comes in second, and too many crew members over the wall follows in third place. Note that tire violations in this graph do not include loose wheels.

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 team was the most penalized during race with a total of eight penalties. Ty Dillon’s No. 42 team had six in-race penalties while the teams of Suárez (five), Cody Ware and Denny Hamlin each had five.

Joe Gibbs Racing had the most crew penalties with 19 across four cars. Hendrick Motorsports, with the same number of cars, had only eight crew penalties.

Post-race penalties

There were only 27 post-race penalties; however, post-race penalties tend to carry heavier consequences: fines, points penalties and suspensions.

I counted 15 loose-wheel penalties in 2022, although additional loose wheels were caught before they became penalties. It will be interesting to see if that number goes down next year as familiarity with the new wheel increases.

The series also racked up four behavioral penalties, two disqualifications, three L1-penalties and three L2 penalties.

Totals

The graph below shows the total penalties — pre-, in- and post-race — for drivers who ran all 36 races and finished the season in the top 30. If you’re interested in more detailed information, you can find it in my post on buildingspeed.org.

Busch and Hamlin make the top of this list, with 18 total penalties for Busch and 16 for Hamlin. Both JGR drivers had four speeding penalties. Busch’s crew had four equipment penalties while Hamlin’s had three. Both drivers had a loose-wheel penalty during the season. Both were disqualified at Pocono. But where Busch accounted for only four of the team’s 18 penalties (22.2%), Hamlin generated six of 16 (37.5%).

The least-penalized drivers of 2022 are the teams of Logano, Blaney and Chase Briscoe. Each team had four penalties.

Logano’s crew got one penalty and the other three were pre-race penalties due to needing a backup car twice and one case of unapproved adjustments. Logano had no driver penalties in 2022.

Blaney, however, had three speeding penalties. His team takes the blame for a loose wheel. Briscoe’s team split the penalties evenly between driver and crew.

Elliott finished the year with five penalties total.

These numbers show that making mistakes definitely hurt a driver’s chances of winning. But not making mistakes doesn’t guarantee success, either.

Dr. Diandra: 2022 by the numbers: Overview

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The champion has been crowned and the desert wind has swept away the last bit of confetti from Victory Lane. That means it’s time for a numerical overview of the 2022 season.

I’ll start with a broad overview of who raced, when they raced and where they raced. In the coming weeks, I’ll delve deeper into topics like penalties, accidents and loop data stats. That analysis will focus on comparing drivers, but also comparing the Next Gen car’s performance against the previous car.

Logistics

45: The number of Cup Series races NASCAR officiated in 2022. That total includes:

  • The 36-race season
  • The Busch Clash
  • Two Daytona Duels
  • Four heat races for the Bristol dirt race
  • The All-Star qualifying race.
  • The All-Star Race

38: The number of points-paying races run in 2022. This includes the Daytona Duels because they award stage points.

28: The number of tracks visited. The Bristol asphalt and dirt circuits each count one and this number includes the temporary track at the L.A. Coliseum.

20 different states hosted races in 2022.A pie chart showing the distribution of track types on the 2022 schedule

7: The number of intermediate track races. The proportion of visits to 1.5-mile tracks has decreased steadily since 2011, when the schedule featured 12 intermediate track races.

6: The most superspeedway races in the Cup Series schedule ever. With the transformation of Atlanta, two races shifted from the intermediate to the superspeedway category.

6: The number of road course races. That’s one fewer than the record, seven, which was set in 2021.

3: The number of “other” tracks on the schedule. This category comprises large ovals that aren’t superspeedways, like Michigan, Pocono and Fontana. The series made the smallest number of visits to “other” tracks this year, in part because Michigan and Pocono dropped to one race each this year.

4: The most races in any one state: Virginia. The series raced three times each in Florida and Tennessee. If the Busch Clash is included, California also hosted three races — at three different tracks.

The season of racing

The remainder of this numerical overview focuses on the 36 races that make up the NASCAR season per se.

9,446: The number of laps scheduled to be run in 2022.

9,483: The number of laps actually run in 2022.

  • That’s a bonus of 37 laps and 60 miles, all due to overtime.
  • Last year, the series ran 66 laps (186 miles) less than scheduled.
  • Michael McDowell completed the most laps of the season with 9,380, or 99.91% of all possible laps.

MORE: Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway moving closer to hosting NASCAR

13,011: The total number of miles of racing in the 36 season races.

  • The Earth’s circumference is 24,902 miles, which means that Michael McDowell drove the equivalent of a little more than halfway around the world during the 2022 season.
  • The number of miles of racing is up from 2021, which totaled 12,595.

437,267: The total number of miles Cup Series drivers logged in 2022’s 36 races.

  • That number is down from the 450,039 miles drivers collectively ran in 2021.
  • To put this number in perspective, the mean distance from the Moon to the Earth is 238,855 miles. The total distance run on track during the season is just about to the Moon and back.

Days Raced

0: The number of races that started on a Monday. That might not seem worth noting, but the last time a season had no races start on Monday was 2015. Dover started on a Sunday and, due to rain, finished on a Monday.

8.3%: The percentage of races run on Saturdays. This year represents the smallest fraction of Saturday races since 2002.

91.7%: The percentage of races run on Sundays.

  • That’s the highest percentage since 1990, when 93.1% of the year’s 29 races happened on Sundays.
  • The smallest percentage since 1990 was in 2020, when only 69.4% of races happened on Sunday because COVID rearranged the calendar. But the same percentage of Sunday races were run in 2011 and 2009.

8: The number of races that went into overtime. That’s one less overtime race than in 2021.

0: The number of races shortened by weather and/or darkness.

  • There were two rain-shortened races and one darkness-shortened race in 2021.
  • The last time no races in a season ended early was 2017.

That’s not to say that weather didn’t affect this season’s racing.

3.5: Number of weather-impacted qualifying sessions. Rain cancelled qualifying at both Atlanta races and the summer Daytona race. Drivers completed the first round of qualifying at Nashville before rain kept the top ten drivers from running their second round.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings

3:19:57: The longest red flag of the season for rain, at the Daytona summer race.

  • Nashville comes in second for red flags with two delays for rain and lightning totaling 3:09:03.

Cars, Drivers and Owners

62: The number of drivers starting races in 2022. That’s down slightly from 2021, when 68 different drivers raced.

45 different car numbers were run this year.

6: The most different drivers in a single car number. J.J. Yeley drove 17 races in the No. 15 car. Garrett Smithley, Joey Hand, David Ragan, Ryan Preece and Parker Kligerman filled out the rest of the season.

27: The number of drivers who ran all 36 races. Last year, 31 drivers ran all the races.

5 full-time drivers missed one or more races due to injury or suspension.

36.7: The average number of drivers in each race

19: The number of drivers winning races this year, which ties the record for most different drivers in a single season.

  • Last year had 16 different winners.
  • 2019 and 2022 saw only 13 different winners each.

9: The number of different owners winning races in 2022. That number is up by one from 2021.

  • In 2001, the last year in which 19 different drivers won races, there were 13 different winning owners.
  • The last time nine different owners won races was in 2017.
  • Four organizations that were winless in 2021 won in 2022: Trackhouse, Petty GMS, Richard Childress and RFK. Together, those owners won nine of 36 races.

11: Most races won by a single owner in 2022. Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers won 11 races total.

  • That’s well short of their total last year of 17.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing went from nine race wins last year to six this year.
  • Stewart-Haas Racing improved from one win last year to three this year.

The season may be over, but there’s still plenty of data to crunch. The results of these analyses tell us not only who had good (or bad) 2022 seasons, but also preview drivers’ likely strengths and weaknesses for 2023.

Dr. Diandra: By the numbers: Title contenders Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell

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Championship contenders Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell both powered their way into the Championship 4. Bell took the checkered flag in two win-or-be-eliminated races, and Chastain made an odds-defying video-game move at Martinsville.

But how will they do at Phoenix?

As I did for Joey Logano and Chase Elliott, I separate regular-season and playoff statistics. I include absolute numbers as well as the driver’s rank compared to other full-time drivers.

Green boxes indicate a driver ranking in the top five in a metric, while metrics where the driver ranks between six and 10 are shaded yellow. Anything out of the top-10 is red.

Ross Chastain

Chastain’s aggressive driving made headlines, as well as a few enemies, during the season. He lowered his profile over the summer before riding the wall into the Championship 4 at Martinsville. He enters Phoenix with 150 Cup Series starts, which is the second-smallest number of starts a driver has had entering the championship race.

Chastain, who turns 30 in December, earned personal-best numbers of wins, top fives, top 10s and laps led in 2022. And he did it with a team in its second year of existence.

A table showing Ross Chastain's finishes for the regular season and the playoffs

Chastain’s performance this year is uniformly uneven. For example: He celebrated his first two career wins at COTA and Talladega, but is the only driver in the Championship 4 not to have won a playoff race.

His string of four top-five finishes near the start of the season gave way to seven finishes of 15th or worse heading into the playoffs. But his last three finishes are two seconds and a fourth.

Chastain’s loop data stats are similarly inconsistent. Although he’s improved from the regular season to the playoffs in some areas, he’s moved down in others.

A table showing Ross Chastain's loop data for the regular season and the playoffs

In the playoffs, Chastain leads the Championship 4 drivers in finishing position and running position; however, he’s last in green-flag speed and restart speed.

The restart speed stat is worrisome because the fall Phoenix race has an average of 3.8 cautions in the last stage since 2017. Chastain ranks 3.3 positions worse in restart speed then the lowest of the other three drivers.

Chastain has the second-most penalties of the championship contenders with eight. His 30-second penalty at the Indy G.P. for shortcutting the track is a good reminder that not all of Chastain’s choices work out as well as at Martinsville.

The most concerning aspect of Chastain’s stats is the amount of on-track contact. His 15 accidents and two spins tie Kyle Busch for the most caution-causing incidents this season. Additionally, he’s been involved in a half-dozen more incidents that didn’t cause cautions but did hamper his track position.

Compounding that concern is the number of drivers holding grudges against Chastain. Even if all they do is race him extra hard, that’s one more challenge in an already tough battle.

Chastain finished second at Phoenix in the spring. Chastain has never won at Phoenix, but none of the Championship 4 drivers has ever won at Phoenix in the Next Gen car, either.

Christopher Bell

Because this is only Bell’s third full-time Cup Series season, I had assumed he was the youngest of the four competitors. He’s actually almost a year older than Chase Elliott, who is the youngest of the Championship 4.

Bell required only 107 Cup Series starts to reach the Championship 4, which breaks Elliott’s record of 184 starts. Chastain making it in on only 150 starts pushes Elliott to third place.

A table showing Christsopher Bell's finishes for the regular season and the playoffs

Bell is one of the drivers who grew into the Next Gen car. He started the season with two DNFs, a 10th-place finish at Las Vegas, and then two more finishes of 23rd and worse. That forced him to spend the first half of the season climbing out of the resulting points hole.

Bell won his sole regular-season race at New Hampshire in mid-July. That’s a positive for his championship performance because New Hampshire is a good comparison track for Phoenix.

Only six other times has a driver avoided playoff elimination by winning. Bell is the only driver to do it twice in a single season. Escaping such holes is impressive, but not getting into them is better.

Bell has six DNFS, with two in the last nine races. That’s fewer than the season record of nine, but the most of all Championship 4 drivers. He also has the most penalties (12) of the four drivers competing for the championship.

A table showing Christopher Bell's loop data for the regular season and the playoffs

Bell’s loop data averages show clear improvement in absolute numbers and rank. In the playoffs, Bell makes the top five in every metric shown except for running position. There, he ranks sixth.

Bell led more laps in the nine playoff races than he led in the 26 regular-season races. But he comes in second overall for laps led in the playoffs to Kyle Larson, who led 328.

The Crew Chiefs

If Christopher Bell wins at Phoenix, Adam Stevens will become the only active three-time Cup Series champion crew chief and only the fifth crew chief to win titles with multiple drivers.

Phil Surgen is wrapping up his second full-time year as a Cup crew chief. Seventy-one of his 88 total starts have been with Ross Chastain. If the No. 1 car wins, Surgen will become the 45th different championship-winning crew chief in the series.

 

Dr. Diandra: Championship contenders by the numbers: Joey Logano, Chase Elliott

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Joey Logano and Chase Elliott are already champions. On Sunday, they compete to join Kyle Busch as the only active driver with multiple Cup championships.

Elliott appears the obvious favorite if only season-long statistics are considered. But the Next Gen car imposed a steep learning curve on the 2022 season. Some drivers started out strong. Others played catch-up.

I separated regular-season and playoff numbers to highlight how teams have managed that learning curve. In both categories, I include absolute numbers plus the driver’s rank compared to other full-time drivers.

Green indicates a driver ranking in the top five in a metric. Metrics where the driver ranks between six and 10 are shaded yellow. The rare slice of red signifies a ranking outside the top 10.

Joey Logano

Logano’s fifth career appearance in the Cup Series Championship 4 makes him the most experienced driver in the group. At 32 years old, he’s also the senior driver.

Logano is one of the more consistent drivers this season. He ranked in the top 10 in points for most of the regular season and stayed in the top five during the playoffs. His finishes improved or stayed the same from the regular season to the playoffs.

A table showing Joey Logano's finishes in 2022 broken down into regular-season and playoff statsWins at Darlington (spring), Gateway and Las Vegas (fall) tie Logano for second place overall with Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick and Bell. All four drivers trail Elliott, who leads with five wins.

Logano’s loop-data stats show a similar trend: mostly consistency or improvement across the board.

A table showing Joey Logano's loop data stats broken down by regular season and playoffsLogano led laps in 16 of 26 regular-season races (61.5%) and five of nine playoff races (55.6%).

The table above shows how competition strengthened as the season went on. For example, Logano improved his average running position, but his rank went down because a lot of other drivers improved, too.

Logano finished eighth at Phoenix in the spring. He led four laps, although three were under the yellow flag. But given how much teams have learned about the Next Gen car since that first visit, I hesitate to weight it, or previous years’ trips to Phoenix, very heavily.

I put more emphasis on Logano’s leading 55.5% of the laps at the Fall Richmond race, where he finished sixth. Richmond is a good comparison track for Phoenix.

In a season with more DNFs than usual, Logano had three in the regular season and one in the playoffs. For comparison, Larson, Denny Hamlin, and William Byron each have six DNFs.

MORE: Kelley Earnhardt Miller: Big sister, big boss at JR Motorsports

The No. 22 team doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. During the regular season, the only penalties they incurred were being sent to the back three times. They needed a backup car twice and made unapproved adjustments once.

The team incurred only one penalty during the playoffs. Remember that I don’t count ‘pitting before pit road is open’ as a penalty because teams usually do it intentionally.

Logano ties for 18th place when it comes to caution-causing accidents, spins and stalls with 10 incidents during the regular season and one in the postseason. For comparison, Ross Chastain leads that category with 17 for the season.

Logano has led a consistently strong campaign for the championship. His challenge is that a championship decided by a single race values excellence — and luck — over consistency.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott, who will turn 27 later this month, has packed a lot into his seven full-time Cup Series seasons. His list of achievements includes winning the championship two years ago.

Elliott dominated the regular season this year, winning the points race and earning the most wins. The playoff points he earned during the regular season were critical, as his playoff performance hasn’t reached the bar he set during the regular season.

A table showing Chase Elliott's finishes in 2022 broken down into regular-season and playoff statsElliott’s win percentage didn’t change much in the playoffs. But with a 65.4% top-10 rate in the regular season, he should have five to six top-10 playoff finishes instead of the three he earned. That’s one reason he comes into the final race of the season ranked fourth of four.

A table showing Chase Elliott's loop data stats broken down by regular season and playoffs

Elliott led almost all metrics in the regular season except for starting position. (Teammate Larson took that prize). But Elliott’s rankings fell in the playoffs in every metric except for laps led. He led laps at 15 of 26 races in the regular season (57.7%) and four of the nine playoff races (44.4%).

Elliott led 50 laps at Phoenix in the spring on his way to an 11th-place finish. He had a fifth-place finish at Richmond in the fall and a second-place finish at New Hampshire. Both are good comparison tracks for Phoenix.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Elliott had only two DNFs (7.7%) in the regular season. But he also had two DNFs in nine playoff races (22.2%).

The No. 9 team is a crack organization. They incurred only five penalties in the regular season: Three committed by Elliott on pit road, one by the pit crew and they were sent to the back once for needing a backup car. They incurred no penalties in the playoffs.

Elliott was involved in 12 caution-causing incidents in the regular season (nine accidents and three spins) and two in the playoffs. That puts him in ninth place relative to other full-time drivers.

Elliott is a perennial fan favorite. He has the tools he needs to win, but he needs to bring them all to bear in Phoenix. Even just a bit of bad luck could sink his hopes for a second title.

The Crew Chiefs

Like their drivers, Alan Gustafson (Elliott) and Paul Wolfe (Logano) are series champions. Gustafson won with Elliott in 2020. Wolfe earned his championship with Brad Keselowski in 2012. Both vie for the chance to join Adam Stevens as only the second active crew chief with multiple title wins.

Their experience will be important when quick decisions must be made. When everything is on the line, those snap decisions could make the difference between winning a championship and spending the offseason thinking about what might have been.