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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