Sunday, January 31, 2010

Will Denny Hamlin's Injury Affect His 2010 Performance?

The big story right now is Denny Hamlin's injury. We are seeing a lot of discussion out there wondering whether his 2010 start will be just as good as his 2009 ending. Some of the PR from the Joe Gibbs camp is that this will be no problem.

Let's compare some recent examples of NASCAR injuries.

In 2009, Carl Edwards broke his right foot in September. In the following twelve races after the injury (the last twelve of 2009), he had three Top Tens, and a total of ZERO Top Fives. His average finish was 19th.

But in the twelve races BEFORE the injury, he had five Top Fives, six Top Tens, and finished all twelve of those races on the lead lap in the top 20, for an average finish of 10th.

Clearly his injury made a difference, as those two sets of a dozen races were like two totally different drivers. An injured Carl Edwards is like Casey Mears on a good day. Huge drop.

But you could say Edwards's injury was much more severe from a driving point of view than Hamlin's ACL tear in his left knee. Very different than Edwards broken right foot - but still, a lot of people at that time thought Edwards wouldn't suffer from the injury. The result suggest an immediate drop in performance.

The other notable injury was Jimmie Johnson, who before the 2007 season started broke his wrist by falling off the roof of a golf cart. After the first dozen races in 2007, he had four wins and was second in points, eventually winning the title that year. I guess you can't complain about that.

Based on such good results, Jimmie Johnson came back before the 2009 season with a gash in his left hand. He didn't start the season nearly as strong as in 2007, but still came back to win the title. Again, no complaints here.

We also saw Jeff Gordon's back issues come up this year, but he held strong for a third place chase finish, though you kept wondering if he could have been closer to winning the title had he not been injured.

In 2006 we saw defending champion Tony Stewart's nasty injury cause him to miss the Chase, even though in those final ten races he had extraordinary performance.

The lesson here is if you want to get injured, do it before the season starts, so you have time to recover. Injuries that happen in the summer or later could spell doom, since there just isn't enough time to recover. Hamlin might have a slow start to the year, but it shouldn't affect his overall standings assuming he qualifies for the Chase.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman most affected by Track Length Changes in 2009

We saw the news recently that NASCAR decided to make changes to the lengths of two races. You can find the details here.

The basic summary is:
  • The first Phoenix race is getting longer.
  • The second Fontana race is getting shorter.
Of course the main question on our mind is which drivers will these changes affect the most?

Let's consider all drivers who have raced in at least five of the last ten events at Phoenix or Fontana. (Our analysis will exclude less experienced drivers like Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose, but does that honestly really concern you here?)

If we compare average starting position with average finishing position, we can see which drivers did the best job increasing their track position during the course of the race (Sorry Dave Blaney.)

Based on that, we can estimate that in a longer race, those drivers should continue to have more opportunity to improve their position. In a shorter race they'll be hurt the most.

In the Phoenix example, notice the big winner here is Jeff Burton. Look for him to take advantage of the longer Phoenix race to come up with a better finish. Other notables on here include Bobby Labonta, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson. Maybe retired drivers like Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett could help a struggling team by taking the wheel for the Phoenix race, as they do a good job of improving their race standing as well.

On the flip side, the longer race spells trouble for guys like Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Dale Jr, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman. More time at Phoenix means more time going backwards.

Now let's consider the opposite problem, which is Fontana's race-shortening.

In this case, the guys who lose position during the race will get the help, since the shorter race means less time to keep getting passed. Congrats Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. The Roush cars of Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, and Carl Edwards are the big losers here. They usually qualify poorly, but do a great job during the race to make up spots. The shorter race means they need to improve their Friday results.

Obviously this isn't exact science, but they are nevertheless some helpful indicators of what changes we might see at these two tracks from the past. This might also help your fantasy leagues and (legal where available) gambling opportunities.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Toyota Drivers Helped the Stock Market Most in 2009

Late in 2008 I did some analysis, showing which drivers over their careers helped the stock market the most. Who do you root for if you want the stock market to go up? And which winners hit your wallet the most?

I resurrect the data for the 2009 season. I considered the first trading day after a race, and compared the performance of the S&P 500 to the winning driver and manufacturer of the most recent race. Here is what I found out:

Kyle Busch's four wins produced a total stock market gain of 5.7%.

Matt Kenseth's two wins to start the season caused an 8% loss in the stock market. Despite not doing any other damage on the track the rest of the year, his two wins in February did enough damage to everybody's wallets for the whole year. If you look at my list from 2008, the -8 percent Kenseth displayed this past year is enough to put him in the bottom echelon of *all-time performers*

Maybe people don't like Jimmie Johnson that much, but his seven wins turned into a positive 4 percent gain in the stock market, good for all of us.

And despite Mark Martin's -6.7% contribution in 2009, his career totals still put him in the top 10 of all time positive contributors.

Now let's just consider the per-race *average* stock market performance for wins. So Matt Kenseth's negative 8 percent over 2 wins is a negative 4 percent average on this table.

Here we see a lot of single-race winners near the top: David Reutimann, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray all had a single win, but were able to parlay those wins into positive market performances.

On the flip side, Brad Keselowski and Brian Vickers had individual wins which really hurt the market the next day.

Notice Tony Stewart, in a new role as owner-driver, had a very quiet 0.1% contribution per win. Not rocking the boat at all.

Finally, the most intriguing result of all: Toyota was the only manufacturer that produced a positive stock market effect all year. Maybe the foreign automakers aren't that bad after all?

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Comparing Points vs Watermills in 2009 Chase

As we've discussed before, the simplicity of the Watermill Score is that it can summarize the entire NASCAR points system with just 4 basic inputs:
  • Wins
  • Top 10s
  • Lead Lap Finishes
  • Races at the Finish
Just a simple count of each of these gives you the Watermill Score, and it is almost 100 percent correlated with the real points system.

We've seen it work over the course of an entire season, but what happens if we just look at it during the 10-race Chase, where championships are now decided.

Consider this table, which is ranked by how many points each driver scored during the 10 Chase Races:

You will see the color-coded groupings, showing that each set of drivers with similar points also had similar Watermill scores. The relationship holds consistent from top to bottom.

Look at how tight the groups are:
  • The drivers with 26 watermills were within 35 points of each other
  • The drivers with 21-23 watermills were 65 points of each other
  • The drivers with 18-19 watermills were 67 points of each other
The bottom line here is that what holds up over 36 races also holds up in the end-of-season Chase. The Watermill score is a great predictor of points, and the simple breakdown allows teams to properly strategize during the race.

The grid also shows that if you could finish each race on the lead lap, that would earn you 20 watermills right there. Most of the title is decided just on consistency.

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