Bristol points, results: The first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs ended with a third consecutive victory by a non-playoff driver as Chris Buescher ended a 222-race winless streak Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It was the first points victory as a team owner for Brad Keselowski, who joined Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing this season. The victory by the No. 17 Ford was the first for the team since July 1, 2017 at Daytona International Speedway with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Buescher, who won for the first time since his Aug. 1, 2016 victory at Pocono Raceway, became the 19th winner in the Cup Series this year, tying a modern-era record set in 2001. The No. 17 Ford driver led a race-high 169 of 500 laps (including the final 61) and won by 0.458 seconds over Chase Elliott.
The worst thing that can happen to a playoff driver is him taking himself out of the race.
The second-worst thing is for another driver take him out.
During a discussion of accidents on SiriusXM Speedway, host Dave Moody asked if some drivers tend to run into each other more than they run into other drivers.
I suspected they did, but here are the numbers.
Never trust statistics unless you know what data was used, where it came from, and how the claimant arrived at their results.
I started with NASCAR’s caution list, selecting all accidents and spins involving two or more cars. For 2022, that totaled 69 incidents involving 280 cars.
Incidents at road courses, however, often don’t cause cautions. Therefore, I added the list of incidents I compiled from analyzing video of the five road course races. That provided 20 more incidents involving 48 cars.
I then identified all the pairwise correlations. That’s a fancy way of saying I found all the pairs of drivers who were in the same accidents.
For Ross Chastain, for example, I counted how many times the No. 1 car was in an accident that also involved the No. 2 car, the No. 3 car, etc. I repeated this for each driver.
Each pair of drivers’ score is the number of accidents they had in common. These numbers ranged from zero to six.
No analysis is ever absolute. So here are the caveats:
Counting accidents is subjective. I may not have counted one or two incidents in the road course races that someone else might. NASCAR didn’t count accidents that didn’t cautions.
I haven’t discriminated between two-car incidents and multi-car crashes. They all potentially hamper the driver’s finish. But drivers take two-car altercations a little more personally. They thus get more attention and we remember them better.
Who contacts the most cars?
I start by examining how many pairwise collisions each driver tallied in the 28 races this year. Again, a pairwise collision is simply an accident or spin involving both drivers.
If collisions were random, then every car would have about the same pairwise collision score with every other car. We already know not to expect that because where cars typically run influences who collides with whom.
Cars that tend to run at the front of the field are more likely to run into other cars that run at the front of the field. The same holds true for mid-pack and back-of-pack drivers. The only exception is at superspeedways because those crashes tend to collect a broader swathe of positions.
The two drivers involved in the largest number of common incidents this year are Cindric and Burton, with a total of six. One-ninth of Cindric’s incidents included Burton.
But running position can’t entirely explain this data.
Cindric’s average running position is 17.0, which is almost five positions away from Burton’s average running position of 22.9. But playoff driver Austin Dillon has an 18.2 average running position and has no shared incidents with Burton.
Cindric and Dillon have no shared incidents, either.
Running position can, however, explain the other two drivers that have a high score with Burton. Gilliland and Corey LaJoie each have five shared accidents with the No. 21. LaJoie’s average running position is 25.4 and Gilliland’s is 23.5.
But LaJoie has only one shared accident with Gilliland.
If this makes your head spin, the diagram below may help. I denote each driver by his car number. The numbers on the arrows tell you how many shared incidents each pair has.
Aside from the Burton/Gilliland and Burton/LaJoie pairings, only two other driver pairs had five mutual encounters. Denny Hamlin shares five accidents each with Elliott and Ryan Blaney.
How to survive Bristol
The table below shows driver pairs with scores of four or more for each of the playoff drivers. These are the cars each driver should avoid if they are to survive Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, USA Network.) Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, William Byron and Alex Bowman are not included because none had any scores of four or above.
BRISTOL, Tennessee — Aric Almirola will take the green flag in front of eight playoff drivers in the Cup starting lineup Saturday night as the first round concludes at Bristol Motor Speedway (USA, coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET).
Four drivers will be eliminated after Saturday’s 500-lap race concludes the first round of the playoffs. Only Bell is locked into the second round.
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are below the cutline to start the first race on Bristol’s high-banked concrete with the Next Gen car. Busch and Harvick are trying to avoid first-round elimination for the first time in their careers.
Harvick finished second at Bristol last year after winning therein 2020.
Busch has a series-leading eight victories in NASCAR’s premier series at Bristol — most recently in a 2019 win that is among his six top-five finishes in the past eight races there.
“There needs to be some better leadership on just the whole safety situation, and my road is shorter than most everybody’s in here,” Harvick said of his reason for being more vocal. “After the whole fire thing at Darlington — the reaction on Tuesday was drastic — but way too late.
“So, we look at the fire problem and I start digging through how that whole thing had transpired and gone down, and you look at the car, and you start asking questions. Why did everything melt? Well, this is really not 100% fire resistant. Here’s the coating that we presented a couple months ago after Chase (Briscoe’s fire) and it’s been rejected. Now, this week, it’s all in there.
“You’ve got a piece of stainless steel in there. I go back and talk to my guys, and we basically had a car catch on fire every test. So it’s not like it was a new problem. We had (Alex Bowman’s car) catch on fire it at Darlington, I think the first race, and so we’ve seen a lot of these instances, and it’s just a really, really slow reaction.
“I think if the teams were in charge of stuff like that, and the proper input was was put in place, we would have never had more than two fires … for the whole field because they would have collaborated and not been so slow to react.
“The whole safety thing is really kind of second fiddle right now. And I just don’t think that’s fair to the drivers. I do not think it’s fair to the drivers, and we can debate all day. But debating isn’t really fixing anything.
“I think when I look at the car itself, it’s not rear impacts. It’s not front impacts, it’s not side impacts. It’s all impacts. No matter what their filtered data says it’s not what the drivers are feeling.
“We need a louder voice. As I sat and thought about it this week, it really needs to have more of an independent group that makes the decisions on how to implement things and how to go through a process that’s outside of NASCAR and the teams because NASCAR is slow to react, and the teams are always worried about money. That doesn’t do anything for the drivers.”
NASCAR employs three people who work only on safety and relies on a panel of independent safety experts that includes Jeff Crandall, director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia; Barry Myers, who is on the Duke University faculty in Biomedical Engineering & Orthopaedic Surgery; James Raddin, retired US Air Force, vice commander of USAF School of Aerospace Medicine; and Joel Stitzel, head of the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.
Harvick is the most senior driver competing in Cup. His series debut came for Dale Earnhardt’s team at Richard Childress Racing a week after Earnhardt’s fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt’s death came after the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper in 2000.
“I’ve lived this, man,” Harvick said. “I watched when we had all the trouble with with Adam and Kenny Irwin and then it resulted in Dale Earnhardt and then all of a sudden, it was mandatory to wear a HANS device, it was mandatory to wear the Hutchins device. We developed soft walls.
“(Safety) can’t be slow. The safety cannot be slow and this car, it’s screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. Whether the data says that or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that it’s not right. And it hurts. Feet hurt. Hands hurt. Head hurt.
“There has to be a better solution. When we want to solve problems, we can solve them quick, super quick. That plan didn’t come together in one day because there wasn’t stuff that was not already in the process, but it was just too slow to be implemented. And now, unfortunately, we’re in the spot that we’re in. The positive that came out of it was there was a lot of progress made on on a situation that shouldn’t have been there in September.”
“I definitely think someone has to do something about it,” Blaney said Saturday. “I think Kevin’s doing the right thing of speaking up about it. I’d be upset too. There’s multiple things that I think needs to be changed and improved on, from the fires to the hits the drivers are taking. Some of that stuff we’ve talked about in the offseason and it never got changed and now look where we are.
“There’s always learning pains on you know, you have something new, and it takes time to kind of refine them. But some of these things we knew about in the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of kind of urgency to change some of the stuff. So I’m 100% with Kevin on trying to address some of these things, and sometimes it takes you being a jerk to do it.”
Asked where the dialogue with NASCAR, Harvick looked at a reporter and said “here it is. This is the dialogue.”
NASCAR stated Saturday that it met with the Drivers Advisory Council for two hours on Thursday. NASCAR met with Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie.
“I think that they’re being proactive right now,” Hamlin said of NASCAR. “Obviously, they made a bunch of changes this week. I think what the drivers and the teams are saying is that it shouldn’t take us yelling through the media to get it done.
“That doesn’t help anybody and it certainly doesn’t help them, but the proof has been that yelling through the media typically gets results. That’s just kind of the way that it’s been. This is the most powerful tool (Hamlin gestured at his microphone) you can have and sometimes you have to use it to force change, and I think that’s what Harvick did this week.
“He’s had enough of them saying they would get to it, they would get to it and we’re working on it. Instead, they made an immediate change. But we want to see it coming after the second fire, the first fire. There’s been many, many fires before that one.”
Hamlin said feels better about what NASCAR is doing after this week’s conversations.
“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.
“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”