Thursday, December 17, 2009

Visualizing Points Accumulation in 2009

With the way the Sprint Cup points are handed out, sometimes it is easy to lose track of the big picture.

In today's post, I look at a couple ways to visualize the points accumulation, so that it doesn't seem so cumbersome.

I consider two approaches: First considering the total points, and second, looking at the Points Per Race (PPR) average across all 36 races.

I considered the top 20 in points all year, and I did not count the Chase-resetting of points, so what you see are the actual total points each driver earned on their own across the entire season. No artificial additives here.

As always, click on the images for larger versions.

In the first table, you see points color coded by each set of a thousand. I also boxed the 12th place points during the season, as well as the 26th race, to give people a reference point.

We notice many interesting things, here are some tidbits:

1) Only three drivers got to 5000 points this year

2) The points leader can hit new 1000 point levels every 6-8 races, while the 20th place driver only gets them every 10 races or so.

3) Notice the leader got to 2000 by race 14. It took until race 20 for everybody else to get above 2000 points. And at that same race, the leader had just passed 3000.

Now take a look at the PPR progression during the season. Here are the colors reference each 10 points per race average.

When you look at in terms of average points per race, the differences across drivers are much more subtle.

Consider that the end-of-year difference between 7th and 14th in points is only a measly 5 points per race.

They key to being a contender for the title hunt is to move out of the 120s range and into the 130s. The superstars are averaging 140s during the season. Remember, 8th place gets 142 points in a race, and 9th place gets 138. So an average of 140 isn't that hard to do, if you can finish on the lead lap, avoid mistakes and wrecks. That consistency each race turns into a huge points gap by the end, as we see in the first table.

Notice the 12th place in points column, hanging around mostly 117-121 points per race during the season, except right before the Chase cutoff, when the average moved up to 123 points per race. Kyle Busch even said he thought he needed just 3160 points to make the Chase. But the competition got so heated by that point that even his 3195 didn't make it. Nobody accounted for the averages picking up so much.

Last year notice only 2 drivers made it above 5000 points, and 20th place was consistently BELOW 100 PPR. This year we saw more points in that department, probably because of all the start-and-park guys guaranteeing higher finishes for everybody else.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Correlation Matrix of Top 25 Drivers in 2009

Back in July, we took a look at mid-season correlations among drivers.

We found at the time that Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson had the highest correlation among any pair of drivers.

Now that the season is over, we can finish that analysis and take a look at which drivers had the most similar finishes

You can click on the image for a larger version.

That correlation between Kahne and Johnson broke down by the finish, and you see they aren't even one of the highlighted "extreme" cases.

High positive correlation means the drivers often finished well together and poorly together, while high negative correlation means one driver finished well while the other finished poorly, and vice versa. Correlations close to 0 means the two drivers had performances unrelated to each other.

Among the 12 chase drivers, we find the most correlated pairs are
.37 Mark Martin and Ryan Newman
.32 Tony Stewart and Juan Montoya
.31 Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards
.30 Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers

The least correlated chase pairs were
-.36 Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle
-.32 Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne
-.31 Mark Martin and Brian Vickers

The overall highest correlation was .41 between teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick.

Harvick also paired in the other two highest correlations, .40 with both Jeff Gordon and .40 with AJ Allmendinger.

The most negative correlation pairs were
-.48 Marcos Ambrose and Jeff Gordon
-.45 Ambrose and Harvick
-.45 Montoya and Jeff Burton

What's interesting here is to notice how well teammates do with each other. Positive correlations between teammates mean that they tend to perform well together and badly together, a sign that their teams have them dialed in about the same. We already saw that with Harvick and Bowyer, and we notice it as well between Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, who score a very high .38 between each other.

The correlations also suggest who has similar driving styles. Notice we see smart, conservative drivers like Martin and Newman together up there, along with aggressive pairs like Montoya/Stewart, Johnson/Edwards, and Edwards/Vickers up top.

Pairs of drivers with opposite driving styles will have negative correlations, so not surprising to see Montoya and Burton with a very negative number, as Montoya is overly aggressive and Burton is a smart and smooth racer. Maybe that's also why you see two very rough drivers in Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have a high correlation between each other.

As you check out the grid yourself, you will be able to see your favorite driver paired against all the others, and see how they stack up compared to each other.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Comparing Different Points Standings for 2009

We all know that under the Chase format, Jimmie Johnson was the 2009 Champion. But let's take a look at some other points systems, and what would have happened.

1) If we used the Formula 1 System all year, with no Chase reset, Jimmie Johnson would have been the champion as well.

Notice non-chasers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth would have been in the top 12 here, replacing Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers.

We would have had a very tight race for second place among Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Denny Hamlin.

Only 34 drivers would have scored any points. Could you devise a system where those 34 drivers automatically qualify for the first five races of 2010?

2) If we used only the full standings after 36 races, without any Chase reset, we would see four distinct groups of drivers:

First off, Johnson, Gordon, and Stewart would be the class of the field, all within 100 points of each other.

Behind them would be the trio of Hamlin, Martin, and Kurt Busch, all between 300-400 points back.

Then you'd see a large group of eight drivers all 600-800 points behind Johnson. Notice Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, despite missing the Chase, outscored Vickers and Kasey Kahne by enough points to knock them out of these top 12 in points. Vickers did so poorly in the final 10 races of the year, that he would have finished 16th overall had their not been a Chase reset.

3) If we ran the Chase *without* any bonus points for wins, you would have seen an almost identical final standings. The only differences would have been swaps for 6th and 7th, along with 10th and 11th.

As we've seen in past years, these Chase bonus points are almost entirely meaningless, and not worth fighting for.

4) If you gave one point for every place (so a win equals 43 points, and a last place finish equals 1 point), then we could see the standings here:

Basically, you could quickly estimate by taking each driver's average finish. Then take 44 minus that number. So an average finish of 15 is like average points per race of 29. Multiply that number times 36 races, and you get your total.

Notice here, Jeff Gordon would have been the champion in these standings. Again we see Stewart and Johnson joining him as the best of this year's drivers.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Drivers with Momentum Going into 2010 Sprint Cup Season

Now that 2009 is over, it's time to start focusing on the upcoming 2010 season, less than three months away.

Let's take a look at who has been stepping up their game throughout 2009, and should be able to carry that momentum in next year.

First off, let's see which drivers were able to score more points in each third of the season. They are highlighted in blue here.

We see Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin, who both kept getting better as the season progressed.

We also see Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer from Richard Childress Racing. They ended the year on a positive note, and should be chase contenders in 2010.

Also notice Greg Biffle and AJ Allmendinger, who quietly kept scoring more points during the season. Allmendinger made some great gains in 2009, and might have a David Reutimann-esque "almost make the Chase" type year in 2010.

And at the bottom of the pack notice John Andretti who did his job in keeping that #34 car above the Top-35 line in owners points.

Now let's consider some of the different organizations.

Starting off with Hendrick, we see that their top 3 guys kept getting better, while Earnhardt kept getting worse. I wonder if this trend will continue, or if Earnhardt will be able to join the group as a meaningful competitor.

Next up is Stewart-Hass racing. They actually started off the year very well, but didn't do sell well during Chase-time. Was their great early start just a matter of luck, or can they repeat that again in 2010?

Or is their finish to the season more indicative of how they'll be in 2010. Notice they did just as well as the RCR guys in the final 12 races. Is Stewart-Hass more in line with RCR quality rather than Hendrick quality?

Speaking of Richard Childress Racing, they did a good job of getting their act together by the end of the year. Look for them to have good momentum going into 2010. Especially over the last two races, it seems their team has figured out how to compete again.

Now taking a look at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin stayed strong all year long, and people are now talking about him as a title contender for 2010. Notice the resurrection of Kyle Busch in the final portion of the year, outscoring many Chase drivers.

And finally, the big gains Joey Logano made during the season should keep continuing into 2010. Joe GIbbs Racing should be stronger next year than this year. peaking of Richard Childress Racing, they did a good job of getting their act together by

Our last team to consider is the about-to-be-shrunk Roush Fenway Racing. They never really made any strides all year, and their only bright spot was Carl Edwards decent run during the middle portion of the season. But remember that Edwards went from 9 wins to 0 in a year. Not a very good sign.

Matt Kenseth kept getting worse and worse as the year progressed, notice how he keeps falling on the rankings.

Roush hasn't shown any signs of improvement (like Gibbs and Childress) late this season, so their fortunes don't look so great headed into 2010.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Earnhardt's Crew Chief Showing Even Worse Results

We had previously taken a look at how Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had been performing in the first 12 and next 12 races of this 2009 season, comparing him with and without crew chief Tony Eury, Jr.

At the time, the results were inconclusive any improvement had been made, because his performance seemed to be the same in both situations.

Now we can consider the final 12 races of the year, and the results show a severe drop-off in Earnhardt's performance.

First off we consider the full performance of Earnhardt this season, color coding the three chunks of the season. You see Eury's time in orange, and the post-Eury experience in yellow and green. The green period is everything since our last update.

Remember the last two races in yellow were top 10 finishes, so there was momentum going into the final chunk of the year, but in fact it has been a struggle. Zero top 10s since. Most of the time he didn't even finish on the lead lap.

Also notice the summary breakdown of those three parts of the year. Reflects the big dropoff that's occurred.

Finally, look at the points accumulated in each third of the season. See how Earnhardt's ranking has really fallen, while his teammates finished 1-2-3 in points during the same 12 races. The fact that Earnhardt is right between Bobby Labonte and Scott Speed is very weak, considering the equipment he is in.

I don't know what the problem is with the 88 team, or how they are going to turn it around. The numbers are scary though.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Congratulations to Paul Menard, the 2009 FLOPPER

By starting Sunday's race in Homestead, Paul Menard took home the 2009 FLOPPER award.

He follows in the footsteps of legendary drivers like Richard Petty, Dale Jarrett, and Darrell Waltrip, and Harry Gant. Former winners of the award also include Kyle Petty, Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader, Brett Bodine, and Bobby Hamilton The full list of past winners is here if you click on this link.

Of the 31 drivers who started every race, Menard took home a few titles:
1) The only driver without a top 10
2) The worst starting average (31)
3) The fewest Lead Lap Finishes (12)
4) Of course, scoring the fewest points (2979)

Interestingly enough, Menard was able to improve his finishing position by an average of 4 places over his starting position. That's the second best improvement of all the people on this list. Maybe they just need to get their equipment and qualifying setup better on Fridays.

Special kudos go to AJ Allmendinger, who managed to go the whole year without leading a single lap. Good job not pushing it.

We saw Michael Waltrip finish his fulltime career in 2009, and surprisingly was NEVER able to win a FLOPPER title during his career. He missed races in 3 of the last 4 years, so that's what held him back.

Now the question begins on who will win the FLOPPER in 2010. Anybody have any guesses? Maybe we can do a prize to the first person who comments with next year's correct FLOPPER.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Menard Clinches FLOPPER Award Unless He Skips Homestead

After Sunday's race in Phoenix, Paul Menard now takes a commanding 164 point lead in the FLOPPER race going into the final race of the year.

Some interesting notes:

1) Menard actually still has fewer points than David Stremme, who has missed the last two races of the year.

2) Menard is the only driver on this list with ZERO Top 10s all year long

3) The max difference between first and 43rd is 161 points. So if Menard starts the race at Homestead, he will automatically win the FLOPPER award.

4) AJ Allmendinger, despite all that "young potential" attention he's been getting this year, still has not led a single lap all season.

5) How do these prize winnings add up. Of this list of ten drivers, Menard has the 3rd most winnings. And Jamie McMurray is 9th on the list, even though McMurray just won at Talladega. I thought they gave a lot of money to winners of big races. How does any of this make sense?

6) It will be interesting to see if any of these guys accidentally run into Jimmie Johnson and wreck his title hopes at Homestead...And how many of these guys will be in FLOPPER contention next year, either by running better, or not having a full-time ride.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

97 percent chance Johnson takes title, 3 percent shot for Martin

After Sunday's race at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson's lead is now 108 points over Mark Martin.

We almost don't even need a table for this week, but let's go ahead and check it out anyway.

1) First off, everybody third place on down is eliminated.

2) Martin needs to outscore Johnson by 109 points or more in this last race in order to win the title.

Obviously that's a tough task to do, basically requiring that Johnson has some sort of problem.

Let's take a look at examples from earlier this season:
A) In the spring Richmond race, Martin finished 5th and Johnson finished 36th, for a difference of 100 points.

B) In the spring Michigan race, Johnson ran out of gas and finished 22nd, while Martin won. Martin outscored him by 83 points in that race.

C) Labor day weekend in Atlanta saw Martin finish 5th and Johnson 36th, for a difference in 95 points.

D) Obviously just last week at Texas, Martin finished 4th, Johnson was 38th, for a point difference of 111 points.

3) As we see, there have been cases this year where Mark has made huge points gaps on Johnson, and it's possible that will happen again. Not likely, but possible. That's why 3 percent is still something.

You never know...Let's go Mark!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Is the Chase Having the Opposite Effect?

We all know that the Chase was implemented to bring more drama into the championship story all the way to the end of the year.

But has that really been working?

Let's take a look at the last six years now of data:

What you see here is the difference in points between first and second in the standings with one race to go.

Notice in 2009, if we were using the old points system, there would only be an 8 point difference between first and second. With the Chase, that difference is now 100 points higher.

If you look at the trend, the difference in points under the Chase format has been going up steadily over time.
From 18 points in 2004 to above 100 points in both 2008 and 2009. This trend to less competitive title races is most disturbing of all.

With the exception of blowouts by Tony Stewart in 2005 and Jeff Gordon in 2007, the Chase hasn't really done much to bring parity to the standings this late into the season.

This is something that top brass at NASCAR should be thinking about.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Actually, Using Formula 1 Points System, Johnson Would Have Just Clinched

Due to Jimmie Johnson's win on Sunday at Phoenix, if we were using the F1 points system in NASCAR, Johnson actually would have clinched the title.

You can click on the image here for a bigger version.

Johnson would have more than a 10 point lead now, and that would be enough to clinch it.

However, the race for second place would be super close. With 2 points separating 3 drivers, that would be quite a race to watch Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Mark Martin battle it out all race long in Homestead.

The interesting part about these standings is that it might help tone down some of the complaints that Johnson only won this year because of the points reset and the Chase tracks working in his favor. Because these standings go for the whole year, it's actually an impressive feat for Johnson.

Despite our earlier blogs showing how close the F1-system title race had been proceeding, Johnson's performance in the last two months have really put him out of reach of everybody else. Four of his seven wins this season have come in the Chase. The ironic part about is that this F1 system was much closer than the real Chase standings were...until this week when Johnson got this clinch.

I'm actually personally not a Johnson fan, and actually am still hoping Mark Martin will win the title, but as far as this format goes, Johnson is the winner. Good job.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Paul Menard Could Clinch the FLOPPER Title at Phoenix

After Sunday's race in Texas, we are starting to see a very clear FLOPPER title picture wrap up.

1) If Paul Menard leaves Phoenix more than 161 points behind the next racer, Menard will clinch the award.

2) David Stremme lost his ride early this year, in place of Brad Keselowski, so he's not in the running for the title anymore this year. Remember you need to complete every single race to be in contention.

3) Menard's best bet is to sit out one of the next two races, and let the drivers between 27-30 compete for the award.

4) Sam Hornish gets special thanks for helping making this Chase interesting once again.

5) The weird thing is that in 2008, Juan Montoya and Paul Menard finished 25th and 26th in the standings. Only 1 spot apart. This year they are 26 spots apart. Imagine if we had seen Menard make the Chase this year instead of Montoya. Wouldn't that have been strange? Somehow I don't think we'll see Menard make the chase next year either. I don't even need a probability table for that.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jimmie Johnson 82 Percent, Mark Martin 12 Percent: Chase Chances for Every Driver

After Sunday's huge shakeup in Texas, the Chase picture is looking a lot more competitive with just two races to go.

1) Anytime you are trying to pass BOTH David Reutimann and Sam Hornish on the outside of the same turn of the same lap on lap three of any race is a boneheaded move. When you have a big points leads in the 34th race of the year, and are that close to a historic fourth consecutive title, that move is even more boneheaded. And to immediately blame Hornish at the end of the race for your own mistake just shows what an ass you really are. Good job Jimmie Johnson for making this Chase interesting.

2) Mark Martin, my own personal favorite in this race, saw his chances go way up after beating Johnson by 34 positions. If you combine Talladega and Texas, Martin has gained 45 points on Johnson in those two races. Only 73 points left to go. He can still pull it out, and there's life in him now.

3) By gaining into Johnson's lead, Jeff Gordon also gained a small chance of being the title winner. But 13th place isn't going to get the job done, especially when you started on the pole.

4) Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart would have stayed at 0 percent the rest of the season had the races played out like we'd seen so far this year. But Jimmie Johnson scored his *worst* finish of the entire year, which shifted our numbers a little bit. That helped bring Busch and Stewart (slightly) into the title picture.

5) We add three more drivers to the official "out" section at the bottom in pink. Hamlin was already eliminated last week, so even his second place wasn't good enough to do anything for him.

6) The most points Martin can score is 6614, meaning Johnson needs 317 points in the next to races to clinch. That's an average of 4th place in both races. All of a sudden that's not a very simple task. He needs two ninth places to stay ahead of Jeff Gordon.

7) Interesting tidbit: in the last two races combined, the Chase driver who has scored the most points is......Greg Biffle, with a 4th and 8th place earning him 302 points total.

8) Looking forward to Phoenix, where in April this year, Martin won and outscored Johnson by 30 points. A repeat of that this weekend would really shift the picture.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

A Very Close Title Race Using F1 points system

I am getting a lot of demand for this table, so I will update it again this week. This is what the NASCAR points standings would look like if we used the Formula 1 points system.

Click on the image for a bigger and clearer version.

1) Notice we have a very close title chase at the top, among Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Mark Martin. Any one of them has a reasonable chance of winning the title.

2) Denny Hamlin would have just been eliminated, but he could still finish in second place this season.

3) Remember these are standings that go back all year long, so there is no need for a Chase reset. Doesn't this system seem to make more sense from a logical point of view, from anybody who has watched all the races this year?

4) What do people think about this? Do readers out there think this system is better, or do they like the current system instead?

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Friday, November 6, 2009

With different points system, we'd still have a close title race right now

After Jimmie Johnson's lucky sixth place finish at Talladega, he now has a lead that is basically insurmountable.

First notice the F1 points system. If we used that in NASCAR, we'd have a very close championship race still. Anybody within 30 points of the leader (including Denny Hamlin) would have a shot at the title.

The ironic part about the Chase is that again this year it has a bigger difference in points than if we had just left the original points alone. In the old format, the top three drivers would be 79 points apart. Johnson and Tony Stewart would only be 7 points apart.

Obviously in the chase format the top 2 drivers are nearly 200 points apart. Much further away than without the chase format.

We've seen the same thing in years before. Very ironic. Or just more evidence we need a better points system.

Notice in that link, each year the gap between first and second keeps getting wider and wider going into the last race of the year. We'll probably see that trend continue again this year. The chases have become less competitive every single year. Is it time for a new tweak?

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Paul Menard running away with FLOPPER award

After Sunday's very early wreck at Talladega, Paul Menard is running away with this year's FLOPPER award. His lead rivals Jimmie Johnson's points lead at the top of the standings.

Big congratulations to former FLOPPER contender, Jamie McMurray, who won the race this weekend. He had been in the charts consistently through two races ago. After four straight finishes 28th or worse, McMurray got 6th at Martinsville and followed that up with his win at Talladega. Good job breaking out of the FLOPPER table this year. Let's see if you can stay off the table the rest of 2009.

McMurray now has 2 of his 3 career wins at Daytona and Talladega. Looks like a Michael Waltrip type of resume.

Bobby Labonte's 10th place finish moved him far away from the FLOPPER lead.

Unless Menard can come through with three straight top 10s to end the season, I think he has this title wrapped up. He might have this clinched before we even reach Homestead. Another way to have an early celebration at Ford Championship Weekend.

Of course, David Stremme has lost his ride now for the rest of the season, taking out another one of our FLOPPER contenders.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Martin and Gordon have a narrow shot of beating Johnson

After Sunday's bizarre Talladega finish, Jimmie Johnson found yet another way to beat the rest of his competition.

As much as I hate to say it, Johnson is going to coast to the title unless he has three bad results in a row.

First off, we can "officially" eliminate Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers from the title. Anybody more than 483 points behind can't catch up to Johnson.

After next week's race, anybody 322 points back or more will be eliminated "officially". Of course we know we don't have to wait that long for the official elimination, since our advanced math already tells us only two guys have a chance at catching Johnson, and that chance is really small. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have a combined 1.4 percent of beating Johnson.

How could Johnson lose the title? For example, take a look at the results of three races earlier this year: Richmond (May), Michigan (June), and Atlanta (September). In those races, Johnson finished 36th, 22nd, and 36th. Jeff Gordon finished 8th, 2nd, and 8th. Mark Martin finished 5th, 1st, and 5th.

If the next three races have similar results to those three above, then Johnson would lose to Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. In that case, Martin would win with 6564, Gordon second at 6520, and Johnson third at 6470.

Obviously this is not a likely scenario, cherry-picking three of Johnson's worst races and hoping that pattern repeats itself consecutively. This shows that it's not likely but still possible. It's Johnson's title to lose at this point.

Consider another example:
Martin has 6064 points right now. The maximum he can earn from now till the end of the season is 195 times 3, or 585 points. That would leave him with 6649 points.

Johnson has 6248 already, so needs another 401 points to beat Martin's maximum. That's an average of 134 points per race over the final three.

10th place is awarded 134 points, so if Johnson just rides around and gets 10th place each week, there will be no way he loses the title.

I wonder if he'll start taking it easy now.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paul Menard extends his FLOPPER Lead

After Sunday's Race in Martinsville, Paul Menard extends his FLOPPER lead.

Though right behind him is a cluster of four drivers that are fighting to get back to Menard.

As I mentioned last week
, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has cracked the top 10 in the FLOPPER standings. It definitely seems that his crew chief switch hasn't helped his bad luck.

As I promised last week, let's consider how much money each driver has made, and how much that actually is on a per lap and per mile basis.

Martin Truex makes $463 per lap, the most of everybody here. The lowest is Elliott Sadler at $371.12, just squeaking below David Ragan by nine cents per lap.

Per mile David Ragan is the lowest at $282. And Reed Sorenson makes the most at $349 per mile.

I can't tell if a high dollar number here is good or bad. If you are running a lot of laps, that will bring your average down.

For comparison, Jimmie Johnson has made $518 per mile this year, more than any of the guys in our table above. But Kurt Busch, another Chase contender, has made $330 per mile (less than Reed Sorenson for example).

But all of that that pales in comparison to the whopping $1416 per mile Dave Blaney has accumulated this season. Way to stay efficient Dave. Good job.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon Would Lead F1 Points Standings in NASCAR

Following up on our previous post considering what the NASCAR standings would look like if they used a Formula 1 point system, we have a very interesting table:

You can click on the image for a larger version of the table.

What I find fascinating here is seeing Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon tied atop these standings. This is certainly much closer than the current Sprint Cup standings. And this point system doesn't need a "chase reset" to bring everybody back together.

The last time we looked, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin were the top two in this system, but after a string of good runs recently, Johnson and Gordon have taken over the top stop. Previously, Johnson was in 4th place, 10 points behind Stewart. Now he is 4 points ahead of Stewart, due to his current hot streak.

In this system, anybody within 40 points of the leader is within reach of the title. If they score 4 straight wins, they'll get 40 points. So the entire top five, including Denny Hamlin, would still have a shot at the title.

The good thing about this system is it doesn't punish you that much for a bad race. Getting 43rd is no different than getting 23rd. It allows you a chance throughout the season as long as you have the ability to run up front.

I think this system would result in more competitive driving up front, which would give the fans the type of aggressive and strong racing they really want to see. Everybody needs to race to the front.

Right now, the only way Johnson isn't going to win the title (in real points) is if he wrecks. There really isn't any way to catch up to him as long as he keeps getting top 10s.

In the F1 system, top 10s don't really get it done. Johnson couldn't just "take it easy" the rest of the year and coast to a victory. In fact, he'd only be tied right now, so he'd still have no choice but to race hard.

I know with a 43-driver field, having points go to the top 8 might be a bit too extreme. But if we only gave points to the top 15 drivers? That might be a fair compromise. Anything 16th or worse is worth 1 point, so at least you get credit for qualifying and competing. Maybe even say DNFs get 0 points, so there is some encouragement to stay out there and race, which might be a compromise with NASCAR's current system of being so focused on "consistency" rather than racing up front.

And the good news would be you wouldn't need a Chase to reset the points just to bring everybody back together again.

The concept of the Chase to reset all the points together is the same as having a "phantom debris caution" late in a race to bring all the drivers back together again to make it a close race again. But with a better points system, we wouldn't need that.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jimmie Johnson has 89 Percent Chance of Winning the Championship

After Sunday's race in Martinsville, we have a new updated championship probability table.

1) With the exception of already-eliminated Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson's second place finish gained him points on all his Chase competitors.

2) There really isn't much to say here, with Johnson pulling off finishes like this, it's really going to take a wreck for him to lose this title. And that assumes his competitors are able to finish cleanly at the same time.

3) Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon are really the only two guys with a reasonable shot of trying to catch Johnson.

4) I know some people like to wait for drivers to be "officially mathematically eliminated", so with 4 races to go, any driver more than 644 points will be out. Technically all 12 drivers are within that number. After next week, all drivers 483 points behind will be officially knocked out.

5) But we don't need to wait till next week, since a full half of the field has no chance of winning the championship anyway. And if you consider Juan Montoya and Kurt Busch as practically having no chance too, that leaves 8 guys on the outs.

6) I don't think having a blowout like this was the intention of creating the chase. The ironic part is that if there were no chase system right now, the top 3 drivers would be separated by only 122 points. In fact the chase system has *widened* that number, making the championship less competitive than it otherwise would have been. Click here to see I made this point last year as well.

7) Not much else to say this week other than "will Johnson wreck?"

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bobby Labonte Closing in on Paul Menard's FLOPPER Lead

Bobby Labonte's 31st place finish at Charlotte brought him a bit closer to the FLOPPER lead.

Not that far back are three more drivers within striking distance. And in the next group back in yellow, we find Sam Hornish, who single-handedly spun himself out twice to bring out the first two cautions of the race. Nice job.

I thought it would be interesting this week to include the prize winnings of each driver in this grouping, and compare how it's totally unrelated to their place in the standings.

Just to be sure, the total combined winnings for these ten drivers is nearly 36 million dollars this year.

Would you have guessed that Reed Sorenson has made nearly a million dollars more than David Ragan this year? That's 26 percent more than Ragan over the course of the season, for basically the same performance.

Jamie McMurray's prize winnings are the lowest in this group. But he's still averaging more than $101,000 per race. Martin Truex, the highest on this list, is averaging over $131,000 per race. Next week we'll consider how much money they make per lap and per mile.

One last point: Dale Earnhardt Jr is only 1 point ahead of Martin Truex in the standings, and could very possibly find himself on this table next week.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jimmie Johnson 73 Percent, Mark Martin 10 Percent: Chase Winning Percentages for Every Driver

After Saturday Night's win in Charlotte, Jimmie Johnson now takes a commanding lead in his quest to win a fourth straight title.

1) Johnson has scored 3 wins in the last four races. And in each of those wins, he has also scored the bonus points for leading the most laps.

2) The top four drivers, all in Hendrick-powered equipment, now have over a 99 percent chance of winning the championship. That's up from last week's 94 percent.

3) Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, by finishing outside the top 10, each lost 12 percent from their title chances.

4) Kurt Busch's crew chief Pat Tryson might leave the team early if they are out of the title hunt. I wonder if having less than a one percent chance counts as being out.

5) We now have 4 drivers with 0 chance of winning the title. Bad nights from Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin knocked them out. Good luck next year.

6) The previous line is being generous, because we technically haven't eliminated Juan Montoya, Ryan Newman, and Greg Biffle. But their combined chance of winning is about one in a thousand. Most likely all three of them will be eliminated after the next race at Martinsville.

7) The question now is can Martin, Stewart, or Jeff Gordon come back to topple Jimmie Johnson? A lot of racing left to go, and freak accidents happen at Martinsville and Talladega, so maybe they can make up lost ground if Johnson suffers some bad luck.

8) Remember back to the summer, with 6 races to go before the Chase started, Brian Vickers only had a six percent chance of making it in. But he rolled off a great stretch of performance and did qualify. That means the three guys behind Johnson still have a shot of getting it done.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Paul Menard holding onto FLOPPER lead

With only six races to go, we don't see much change in the FLOPPER standings.

1) Paul Menard still holds a decent lead, with 4 guys back between 85 and 144 points back.

2) There is still a chance for one of them to make a late move to the top of these standings. 6 races is a lot of time to make something happen.

3) I'm surprised to see two Roush cars down here (Jamie McMurray and David Ragan). A big fall from 2005 when all five of their cars made the Chase.

4) Not surprising, however, is finding three cars from Richard Petty Motorsports in this group. It makes you wonder how well Kasey Kahne would perform if he didn't have teammates performing so poorly.

5) Today I highlight a very surprising item, the fact that Paul Menard has completed more laps this season than anybody else on this list. He's done a good job of staying on the track all year. Would you have guessed this? Menard's 8371 laps completed ranks him 11th among all drivers this season in laps completed, ahead of five chase drivers. Very impressive.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jimmie Johnson 42 Percent, Mark Martin 22 Percent, Chase Winning Percentages for Every Driver

After Sunday's race in Fontana, California, we now see a very big shakeup in the percentage standings.

1) Jimmie Johnson is the big winner in every department. He wins the race, takes the points lead, and gains 18 percentage points here, moving from 24 percent to 42 percent. His chance of winning the title is almost double the next best competitor.

2) Fortunately for Mark Martin, his fourth place finish kept him in striking distance of the points lead, and his 22 percent title chances are the same as last week. He hasn't really lost any ground versus the competition as a whole.

3) Tony Stewart, despite getting fifth place, took a bigger hit, losing six percentage points.

4) The biggest loser of the group was Denny Hamlin, who went from a six percent chance to virtually zero.

5) Six drivers have been virtually eliminated after Fontana. That's a big shakeup.

6) The top four Hendrick-powered cars now have a combined 94 percent chance of winning the title.

7) Despite the TV announcers calling this one of the closest Chases ever, I see the data showing a big divide between who has a shot and who does not.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stewart, Johnson, Martin have equal Championship Winning Probabilities

Three races down, seven to go. The season is quickly winding up as the Chase rolls on.

After Sunday's race in Kansas, we now have a very different title winning probability table.

1) Obviously the big winner was Tony Stewart, as he halved the points gap to Mark Martin, and in doing so doubled his percentage chances of winning the title. What was once a two-man race between Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin is now a three-man race with the inclusion of Stewart. You can also throw Jeff Gordon in there, who still has a great shot of winning the title, despite his lower standing in the points.

2) Is it really a coincidence that three of the greatest drivers of this generation have won the three Chase races this season? This part of the year is when the best rise to the top, and we are seeing that again. And no surprise to see Gordon right there lurking behind the three race winners.

3) Juan Montoya is the only driver with top fives in each of the three Chase races. However, he only had 2 top fives in the first 26 races, so it's unclear how hot he can stay in the final 7. If he does keep getting top fives, obviously his percentage chances will keep growing on this table.

4) Martin and Johnson's top 10 runs didn't do much to help or hurt their causes, just good runs to keep them in contention as before.

5) We now add Brian Vickers to our list of "his chance is so low we need to go past the decimal point to show it." Congrats on showing everybody your place in the Chase was indeed a fluke.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ragan, Labonte, Stremme all within range of FLOPPER lead

After Sunday's race in Kansas, we see one of our tightest races in the FLOPPER standings in a while.

1) David Ragan, Bobby Labonte, and David Stremme are virtually tied, all about 80 points ahead of Paul Menard for the title.

2) I also included this week a list of each person's laps led on the seasons. Interesting to see the range of those numbers from 0 to 179. Definitely some surprises in there.

3) Funny to think that AJ Allmendinger is the only guy on this list who has 0 laps led all year. Would you have guessed that? His 0 laps led are still good enough to stay ahead of Martin Truex Jr, who has led a respectable 179 laps this season.

4) Truex's 179 laps led is actually more than (would you have guessed this): Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhart Jr, David Reutimann, and is just 9 laps less than all four Richard Childress cars combined. I'm serious. Maybe he does have some potential to bounce back next year, and his move to Michael Waltrip Racing will be a good one.

5) If Bobby Labonte keeps getting last place finishes like he did at Kansas, he'll quickly find himself at the top of this table.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Formula 1 Points System in NASCAR: Tony Stewart would lead Mark Martin by 2 points

Could we simply replace the entire points system (and the Chase too) by simply instituting the F1 points system in NASCAR

Right now the current points system is setup to punish drivers for bad finishes. It is not setup to reward drivers for good finishes. That is the fundamental problem here.

Click on the table for a larger version. This is updated through the Dover race.

It also has such a wide disparity that somebody like Tony Stewart can build up a huge lead on the rest of the field. And the only way to catch up to him is to hope he crashes out, rather than trying to hope your own driver runs well enough to beat him.

The F1 system is based on rewarding good finishes. Only score the Top 8, and forget about the rest.

I know that NASCAR has 43-car fields, so only scoring the Top 8 is a bit extreme. But it's an interesting example to use here.

We find that Mark Martin would be in the thick of the title race, without needing any Chase-reset. It would show Kyle Busch up there as well. And we'd see Chase drivers like Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers outside the top 12 on these standings.

Here's the point. If Martin and Stewart are basically tied here, based on their top-8 finishes, but the NASCAR system has them over 400 points apart (not Chase Adjusted), then doesn't that just show that the current NASCAR system is just more interested in punish bad finishes rather than rewarding good ones?

Do we really want our champion to be the guy who was "least bad on his bad days" or the guy who was "the absolute best on his good days"?

No chase-format or two extra drivers or bonus points for wins is going to fix any of that. As long as the current system of awarding positions 1-43 points stays the same, people will still keep complaining that the champion isn't a true reflection for the best car. I'm not saying we should use the F1 system, I'm just saying we should use it as a comparison to what we have, and see which one "makes more sense" from a normal person's point of view.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guys looking for rides: Updated FLOPPER standings

After Dover's race, we take a look at an expanded version of the FLOPPER standings.

1) First off, congratulations to Paul Menard for his strong lead-lap finish in 19th place, really took a big chunk out of his previous 100 point lead in these standings. He finished ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and David Reutimann.

2) What's most surprising to me on this list is the fact that Sam Hornish, Jr. has SEVEN top 10 finishes this year. I honestly thought that was a typo, so I had to go back and look through his results this year. Yup it's true, he really does have seven top 10s. Would you have guessed that correctly? But he's still down here so low because of his 5 DNFs and the fact that only 11 times out of 28 has he finished on the lead lap. His finishes are either very good or very bad.

3) I am still shocked at how poorly David Ragan is doing this year. For a guy who was 13th in the standings last year, and was racing even hotter at the end of the year, I don't know how they've been so far off the entire season. It just doesn't make any sense to me. I know Roush is struggling generally this season, but I don't get why Ragan has dropped this much. Maybe 2008 was the fluke and this is his normal capability?

4) Good job to Reed Sorenson, who has zero DNFs this year, while everybody else around him in the standings (26th - 31st) has four or five of them. Nice job staying on track. Maybe use this stat to convince sponsors and owners to give you a ride.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jimmie Johnson 29 Percent, Mark Martin 23 Percent: Chase Winning Percentages for Every Driver

After Dover's race this past Sunday, we now have only eight more races to go in the 2009 season.

Time for another updated probability table. Some interesting notes:

1) The big winner this week was Jimmie Johnson, who nearly doubled his chance of winning the chase.

2) Mark Martin's second place finish kept him in second place on this table, but his percentage moved up a good chunk from 18 to 23.

3) Tony Stewart's ninth place finish dropped him from first to third here, down to 15 percent, only half of Johnson's title chances. The key lesson here is that top fives and wins will be necessary to win this year's chase, not just top 10s. Notice that Stewart is now closer in points to 12th place Kasey Kahne than he is to points leader Mark Martin.

4) The big loser was Denny Hamlin, who finished 2 laps down in 22nd. That's *never* going to get the job done.

5) Carl Edwards joins Kasey Kahne in the dreaded "less than one percent so I had to add another decimal place" category.

6) Johnson and Martin combine for 52 percent of the championship possibilities. If you include Stewart and Jeff Gordon, that's a 79 percent chance of the title going to somebody in the Hendrick stable.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

LONG VERSION: Introducing the Watermill Score: The new breathtakingly simple way to estimate NASCAR points system.

(Note: this is the longer version of
what I wrote a month ago.)

Introducing the Watermill Score: The new breathtakingly simple way to estimate NASCAR points system. Why it’s important, and how you can use it to affect race strategy.

I. Introducing the Watermill Score

There is a startlingly basic relationship that almost fully defines the traditional NASCAR points system as it was created by Bob Latford a generation ago.

The current Latford system gives points all the way from first to last, and bonus points for leading laps. You can score anywhere between 34 and 195 points in a single race.

But take a look at this super simple revelation: We can simplify the points system to just this: Add up for each driver just four data points:

Wins + Top 10s + Lead Lap Finishes + Races at the Finish

The total of just these four numbers gets you to basically the same rankings as the current Latford system. We have W+T+L+R. For purposes of this article, and with currently no other name I can think of, I will refer to this number as a Watermill Score. Also notice the letters W, T, L, and R all get used up in there.

II. Examples of the Watermill Score in use

Let’s briefly review two examples:

First consider the driver with the highest Watermill Score in each season this decade. Notice that in every case but one, the driver with the highest Watermill Score also scored the most NASCAR points that season. 2002 is the only exception because of a rare closeness in the competition, where seven drivers were within 226 points of the champion that year.

Notice I am *not* resetting the points for the Chase. I want to look purely at how many total points drivers accumulated during the year. The Chase reset doesn’t allow for a fair comparison.

Now let’s look at our second example, the current 2009 standings. The drivers are sorted by their NASCAR points ranking. But notice that the Watermill Score is broken up into color coded groups by score. In almost every case, the groups are in distinct blocks separating the various drivers. As the Watermill Score goes down, so do the total points for each driver.

With the exception of Mark Martin’s 56 score in the middle of the blue section, notice that each group of scores goes along perfectly with the overall points standings. If Martin had just 26 more points in the standings to go ahead of Newman, then this entire lineup would be 100% in unbroken blocks. Despite this one small difference, you can visually see very easily how the Watermill Score is a very good estimator for the overall points system.

What’s most important is that the Watermill Score has is just as accurate at the top of the points system as at the bottom. Some data (like lead lap numbers) may only be relevant to the Top 10 in points, since most people at the bottom of the standings do not have a significant number of laps led. But this score is consistently accurate throughout the standings. That’s what makes it so valuable.

III. Watermill Score Compares the Best Among Different Estimators

I attempted a modified version of the Watermill Score, using Top 5s instead of Top 10s. It turns out this metric is very good as well, but the original version is slightly more predictive. The table below shows the results, along with the value of some of the most basic metrics commonly cited by industry professionals today:

These correlations were done each year using the Top 30 in the driver points standings. (I only used 30 to remove affect of part-time teams, mid-season driver switches, teams who don’t qualify for every race, etc.)

Some thoughts about the data:

1. The correlation of the Watermill Score is high, repeatable, and consistent:
  • The Watermill Score is more correlated to the points standings than every other metric listed.
  • Notice the minimum score in blue at the bottom, .977, is better than the average score of any other metric, including Average Finish.
  • Average Finish can be deceptively inaccurate in some years (like last year with a .90 correlation and other years with .92 and .94).
  • The Watermill Score is very consistent, and always correlates between .977 and .988 every year this decade.

2. The number of wins by itself is not a great measure of success. In fact wins is a worse predictor than average starting spot.

3. Notice in every single season, Top 10s are a much better predictor of success than Top 5s.

4. Racing at the Finish (inverse of DNF) on its own is not a very important statistic, but when combined with the other data, it becomes very important as a needed measure of consistency.

In conclusion, the data shows us that the Watermill Score is in fact a truly helpful statistic, and it is the best estimator the points standings than any other dataset.

IV. How can the Watermill Score be used to affect race strategy?

Now that we’ve seen the value of the Watermill Score, we can see that the way to maximize your points during the season is to simply focus on four tasks:
  • Finishing races
  • Finishing on the lead lap
  • Getting Top 10s
  • Winning

If you win a race you’ve accomplished all four tasks, earning a Watermill Score of 4 in that race. If you crash out of a race, you accomplish none of these tasks, earning 0 watermills. A lead-lap top 10 earns you 3 watermills.

Notice that the points are split between accomplishing basic tasks (finishing and on the lead lap) while the other half is focused on up-front results (top 10s and wins). This makes a lot of sense to anybody who has been watching NASCAR for years: the Latford system punishes you for bad results just as much as it rewards you for good ones.

Notice that Tony Stewart has 66 watermills this year, an average of 2.75 per race. Matt Kenseth, in the final chase spot, has 53 watermills, an average of 2.21 per race this season. In the entire decade, nobody has ever averaged 3 watermills throughout a season.

Think about what this means for crew chiefs deciding race strategy. If you can walk away from each race with your 3 watermills by finishing in the top 10, do you really want to risk that going for the win, when the possible bad outcome if you finish off the lead lap?

Example 1: Fuel mileage game
You can fill up right now on caution and guarantee yourself a Top 10 finish. The other option is to stay out and hope your fuel will make it to the end. Reward is a win, risk is you run out of gas and finish off the lead lap.

A top 10 guarantees 3 watermills.

A win gets you 4 watermills. Finishing off the lead lap gets you 1.

So if you had a 50/50 shot of making it, the risk-weighted watermill score is .5*4 + .5*1 = 2.5 watermills, which is *LESS* than the guaranteed top 10.
In fact, you’d need at least an 67 percent chance of making it to get your risk-weighted watermill score back up to 3 points, the same as you’re guaranteed top 10. Then you’d have .666*4+.333*1 = 3.0, the same as the guaranteed top 10.

This math suggests that in most cases, unless you are almost absolutely sure you can make it all the way, you are better off not risking a top 10 to go for the win.

However, if you were running further in the pack, and filling up the tank would guarantee you a lead lap finish OUTSIDE the top 10, then your math is very different. Filling up the tank guarantees you 2 watermills, but stretching fuel means you might win (4 watermills) or finish off the lead lap (1 watermill). Now the math is much easier, because you are risking less. All you need is better than a 33 percent chance of being able to stretch fuel for the risk to be worth it.

By just focusing on whether you’ll win, get a top 10, and finish on the lead lap, a crew chief can more quickly and easily come up with the best risk/reward strategy, without having to worry about the more complicated points scheme. As we’ve shown, if you can win the competition of Watermill scores, you will also win the championship.

Example 2: potential flat tire?

Many times we’ve heard a driver complaining that he might have a flat tire. Or we’ve seen instances where there is a fender rubbing the tire, and nobody is sure whether that will cut it down flat. Sometimes it’s not obvious if the tire is actually going down, so what’s a crew chief to do?

Go back to the watermill score. 1 watermill for finishing a race, 1 watermill for staying on the lead lap. Even on bad days, if you can just get out with 2 watermills, that’s not too bad. As we’ve seen, the best seasons average less than 3 watermills per race. So a few 2s won’t kill you, but a few zeros will.

If you pit on green, you’ll probably lose a lap and potentially never recover. If you stay out, and the tire does go bust, you’ll probably crash the car in the wall and won’t finish the race. How do you approach it?

• If you are already off the lead lap, go ahead and come in to fix the tire. At this point your best bet is to get 1 watermill for finishing the race, so you lose nothing extra by falling back another lap or two. Come in and pit, get the new tires.

• If you are on the lead lap, outside the top 10, you have 2 watermills right now. Lose a lap to pit and you have 1 watermill. Stay out and crash and you get 0 watermills. Stay out and nothing happens, you keep your 2 watermills (with some potential upside of reaching the top 10). The math here suggests you only pit if you think there’s more than a 50 percent chance of the tire actually being flat. If you are just guessing, and you think it’s less than a 50 percent chance of being a flat, stay out.

• If you are on the lead lap, in the top 10, you’d now have 3 watermills if the race ended now. Again your options are to crash out, lose laps by pitting, or stay in the top 10 by staying out. In this case you only pit if you are more than 66% sure that it’s a flat. Even a 50/50 guess is worth staying out, because your risk weighted watermill score in that case is .5*3 + .5*1 = 1.5.

• Similarly, if you are leading the race, then you only pit if you are more than 75% sure you have a flat. Since it’s such a big loss to lose those laps, you might as well take the chance on getting your full 4 watermills, stay out and see what happens.

Again, without thinking about the complicated points system, crew chiefs can very quickly think about risk/reward and whether it’s worth pitting now. This depends on where you are running on the track. Be smart about accumulating watermills and you will do well in the points standings.

Example 3: Four tires, two tires, or no tires?

If you are in the top 10 right now, going into the last stop of the race, and fuel mileage isn’t a concern, what is your tire strategy?

If you finish in the top 10, you get 3 watermills. If you take 4 tires, you can guarantee yourself a top 10.

If you take no tires, let’s say that gives you a 20 percent chance of winning (4 watermills), 50 percent chance of finishing in the top 10 (3 watermills), and 30 percent chance of finishing below the top 10 (watermills). The weighted average of all this is .2*4+.5*3+.3*2 = 2.9, or worse than the guaranteed 3.0 you could have had by taking four tires. As long as the chance of falling outside the top 10 is higher than your chance of winning, then it’s a bad strategy. You need your chance of winning to be higher than your chance of falling outside the top 10 for this to be a good idea.

Let’s say by taking two tires you change your chances to 30 percent winning, 60 percent staying in the top 10, and 10 percent falling out the top 10. In this case it makes sense to go with the two tire strategy, since the risk-weighted watermill average here is .30*4+.60*3+.10*2 = 3.2, better than the 3.0 you’d get for taking four tires.

Again, these examples do not focus on what specific place you are in or what your competitors in the standings are doing. I also do not give you the specific percentages for what different gambles are worth. That’s where a good crew chief comes in, using his smarts and experience. What I am suggesting is a simple way to take those percentages, risk-weight them to the watermill score, and be able to more simply and quickly come up with appropriate race-time strategy. Because the overall points system is too complicated to quickly figure out, by following this simpler program, and thinking about the four simple tasks (winning, top 10s, lead lap finishes, finishing the race), this concept can help teams look past all the endless combinations of results and focus only on these four tasks that matter, and that can help them win a championship.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Paul Menard Leads FLOPPER Standings by 100 Points

New Hampshire provided Paul Menard with a strong 34th place finish, 13 laps off the lead.

He now has a triple digit lead in the FLOPPER standings. With only 9 races to go, this might be too much of a lead for anybody else to overcome.

How about the effort by Bobby Labonte to get last minute funding, and drive his #71 TRG car to a lead lap finish in 22nd place. He even led a lap, for a total of 102 points on Sunday.

If Labonte does end up falling short of funding in his upcoming TRG races, he might find himself in a start-and-park situation, which could very quickly bring him up to the top of these standings.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tony Stewart 21 Percent, Mark Martin 18 Percent: Chase Winning Probabilities for Every Driver

Coming off Mark Martin's dramatic win at New Hampshire this Sunday, we have a brand new updated table of championship probabilities.

What do we see here:

1) Martin is now only 3 percent behind Tony Stewart, after Stewart came home 14th. This is particularly encouraging for Martin, considering he had never won at Loudon before, and disliked the track so much he left it off his schedule the last two years.

2) Juan Montoya's strong run moved him higher up in the points standings, but his title percentage still stays very low. He'll need a lot more top 5s to make a dent in these percentages. It's still possible though, if he can successfully upgrade his early season "points racing" strategy.

3) The top 5 guys on this table (Stewart, Martin, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson) have a combined 83 percent chance of winning the title. Look at these 5 for your true contenders.

4) The midpack guys in yellow (Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards) did not races to meaningfully change their situations. Their percentages stayed practically the same.

5) Kasey Kahne was never really a threat to win the title (3 percent last week), so his engine failure only set him back 2.5 percentage points (to 0.5 percent).

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Counting Cards - The NASCAR Points Way

I showed in a previous article how we can simplify the NASCAR points system to just four basic metrics. I also suggested how this can allow for smarter gambles by crew chiefs.

Another way to think about this concept is the analogy of counting cards in blackjack. For a refresher go here.

The point in blackjack is that you have 52 cards in a deck, but only certain cards are worth points. In a simple counting scheme, many cards are worth 0 points, but some are worth positive 1 or negative 1. These gamblers keep track of the cards with point values, and based on the count, they use different tactics.

We can see the same analogy here in NASCAR. If you take that same card-counting approach, instead of keeping track of all 43 positions, all you need to do is keep track of the four important metrics:

1 point for finishing the race
1 point for finishing on the lead lap

1 point for a Top 10

1 point for a Win.

Every other place in the final results is worth 0.

Remember that over the past decade this Watermill points ranking has a .98 correlation with the real NASCAR points ranking. It's equally valuable whether you are fighting for 1st in points or 35th in points.

If you can just maximize your Watermill score, you're also maximizing your real place in the standings.

Crew chiefs and teams just need to "count" these four points, ignore everything else, and let the rest of math's magic work in their favor. They can quickly use this Watermill count to decide whether or not it's risking a fuel mileage gamble, how much they should gamble on over-adjusting a mediocre car, decide if it's worth pitting for a tire they aren't sure is going down, etc. They can stop focusing on the complicated points system of 43 places, and instead just focus on these four factors. Keep track of the count and they'll be all set.

They don't have to pay attention to all 43 places anymore (just like blackjack players don't have to pay attention to all 52 cards). Just focus on counting the 4 points that matter.

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